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Mother Nature’s Nature

Shanghai - January 12, 2008

40 °F
View The Scholar Ship on mpho3's travel map.

Mother Nature has been full of the dickens. 700 ships were rooted in the Huangpou River, when last I posted. The following day the fog was even thicker and a mild panic ensued amongst staff and students alike. Nobody said it but I wondered if I was the only one who thought about the fact that if we’d just gone to Shanghai straight away instead of sailing around in circles for days, none of this would have happened.

The Onboard life people handled things by organizing events to keep the students from going stir crazy. Among the offerings – a talk on global warming, a series of challenges (e.g. scavenger hunt) pegging all the residential communities against each other, salsa lessons taught by a student, and ghost storytelling hosted by an IRC. G. and I maintained limited LRC hours, and the library turned out to be very busy indeed. Though there wasn’t any open whining, the mood was a bit heavier than the day before.

Early in the day, the faculty was called to a meeting to discuss possible contingency plans. One was to conduct regular classes the next day, and I found the discussion of how that would affect morale to be quite interesting. I didn’t realize teaching staff would care about that necessarily. Meanwhile, I was a bit concerned about their morale – nobody seemed pleased about having to teach a class with so little prep time involved. The dean was sympathetic. After about 45 minutes of deliberation it was agreed the classes would be held but that an announcement would be made that the instructors would email the students with very short assignments so that neither the students nor the instructors would feel overwhelmed.

Meanwhile, we also discussed what would happen if the fog failed to lift within a reasonable amount of time and what would constitute a reasonable amount of time. Ultimately it was decided that we’d wait out one more day and hold classes. Beyond that we could try going elsewhere in China but the fog was said to extend more than 3,000 miles! Other possibilities included going into our next port of call, Thailand, early or trying a new location altogether. Ho Chi Minh and Kuala Lumpur were among those bandied about, but as the ship’s captain later told us, ships can’t just show up at a port unannounced; some ports are booked as early as a year in advance. Also, some of these places could have consequences for students who might have visa requirements. Taiwan was suggested as alternate destination, but going there would ruffle the feathers of mainland China, and TSS has a relationship w/ Shanghai’s Fudan University that is essential to the program.

That evening, a community-wide meeting was hosted by the TSS executive officer. They outlined some of the above, and then said that though there was a slim chance that we could move that evening, that it was more likely that we wouldn’t reach Shanghai until the 13th – two days later than planned. Even if we did get permission to head for shore, the captain expected it to take eight hours. This was quite disconcerting to me since Eric was supposed to arrive in Shanghai on the 11th, and we hadn’t been able to connect. I emailed him that night to deliver the news about our situation, with an emphasis that we probably wouldn’t make it to Shanghai until the 13th, if at all.

Imagine my surprise then, when I was greeted in the morning by neither fog nor the murky brown water of the river, but construction. During the night we had received the okay and had arrived in Shanghai! This should have been great news, but I was totally stunned because I had written Eric to warn him from coming at all. The first thing I did was hop on the Internet. Eric had sent two messages during the night – one to say that he was on his way and the second saying that he was here, but was disappointed to see that we were not and possibly wouldn’t be coming at all. He mentioned that he’d stick around for one more day, but he didn’t say where he was staying and he didn’t leave a phone number. I was really bummed out. I was completely demoralized the entire morning. I sent him a message explaining that we’d come in after all and telling him to leave his contact info.

Then I went out to join the queue. The immigration officers came on board and we all had to pass through a quick inspection. Afterward, I joined up with a bunch of people who were heading out. Most of the group wanted to get tailored suits so we went to a fabric market and lingered there for a couple of frustrating (for me) hours. While the idea of a hand-sewn, custom-made wool suit for under $100 sounds great, I have to spend my limited resources wisely, so I had to pass since I’ve no immediate need for a suit. The next stop was food, which was more my cup of tea. We wound up going to a Malaysian restaurant that one of the group had been to before, and it was quite nice. There were seven of us, so we ordered dishes family-style and had a veritable feast – hot and sour prawns, spicy curry chicken, etc. I had a fabulous fresh juice concoction – apple, ginger, kiwi, pineapple – that tasted like dessert. After splitting the bill seven ways, we each payed 120 yuan, or roughly $15 a piece, including beverages. Next we split into two groups – one that wanted to do more shopping and another that wanted massages. I got an hour-long Chinese Finger Pressure massage for about $10. After that, I thought it best to head back to the ship to see if there was any news from Eric.

Now here’s the kicker. When I boarded the ship, one of the crew members immediately rushed to the gangway and asked if I’d been expecting a guest. I had missed Eric by about 20 minutes. He had come by the ship and not finding me there, had left. But he did leave a cell number. I spent about an hour fumbling around, trying to find a way to call him. Just as I was about to leave again, I was paged to the reception area and told that I had a guest at the gangway. Our paths finally crossed. It was a fun little reunion, and Eric’s side of the story was quite funny. He had not been able to check his email before leaving Beijing. When he got the airport, his flight was delayed due to fog. They spent three hours on the tarmac. He had raced into a cab in order to make it to the Shanghai International Cruise terminal and was sorely disappointed to find it empty despite the fact that the newspapers had announced our arrival the day before! He ended up checking into a hotel literally located across the street and then finding an Internet café, where he read my messages that we’d come a day later. After discovering we weren’t around and probably wouldn’t be, he went out to a nightclub by himself and ended up meeting a girl! He was out to the wee hours and didn’t wake up until 2pm. When he rose to look out the window, The Scholar Ship was docked and visible from one block away! Like me, he saw the thing the least expected to see.

Though we finally connected, our time together was further shortened by fact that thinking we wouldn’t be around, he’d made a follow up date with the woman from the night before. We had about 2 hours together before his date; I gave him a tour of the ship and then we went out so that I could grab a quick bite to eat. We ended up at a local streetside eatery full of laborers dressed in their blue jump suits. We definitely turned heads. I think having a white man and a black woman show up in their midst was unusual enough, but when Eric started speaking Mandarin, that really threw them off. We became instant celebrities, which included additional plates of food that we hadn’t ordered. That would have been a fantastic treat except that the longer we stayed the more I noticed things that a health board would never approve in the U.S. For instance, after we initially sat down, I wasn’t sure what to do with the gum I’d been chewing. I didn’t have the wrapper, and there were no napkins. I wasn’t sure if it would culturally rude for me to remove the gum and put it on my plate, since I knew that like in South Africa, people cover their mouths when using toothpicks. As I was pondering my dilemma, I turned my head just in time to see a man who was sitting behind us hork up a huge loogy and spat it on the floor. Though I would have preferred not to have witnessed that, I took it as an indicator that removing my gum in public wouldn’t be a big deal.

Posted by mpho3 06:59 Archived in China

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