June was over. At last. It is the busiest season for the Shanghai Consulate visa section. And it had culminated with the Consulate’s July 4th event, our largest representational event of the year. An event I had once again volunteered to help organize.
About a month before I had reserved one night at the JW Marriott Changfeng Park even though its location is only 15 minutes away from my apartment. If I stay at home I find my weekends are often consumed with the little mundane things that capture one’s attention when you are at home. Grocery shopping. Meal preparation. Facebook checking. Watching meaningless shows on television (and I only have three English channels other than news channels so this can get pretty repetitive for me). I wanted to be “away.”
On the morning of Sunday, July 3 my daughter and I headed downstairs for the taxi queue to head off on our adventure. The taxi driver appeared to have an interest in making a go at breaking the land speed record, zig-zagging through traffic on the elevated highway with a fervor and intensity best suited to the Indianapolis Speedway.
But we made it to the hotel. I cannot say for sure if it was the taxi ride, the beautifully appointed lobby, the thrill of having a night away, or the helpful bellhop with the English name Buttery (I kid you not) that led to my agreeing to a $70 upgrade on top of an already $150 room, but I did. Probably it was the option letting me check in right away that appealed to me most. With the upgrade we secured a room on a higher floor with inclusive pricey breakfast in the executive lounge as well as snacks throughout the day. Worth every penny.
According to my plan though we had little time to dawdle. It was off to Changfeng Park right away. Because I wanted to take C to see the beluga whales. Some months ago I bought her a book on whales and she has been fascinated by the idea of white whales since. Watching Finding Dory recently only solidified her need to see them. Imagine my surprise while Googling one day to come across the Changfeng Ocean World. We had to go.
There was a show at noon. We arrived at the ticket line at 11:40. It seemed possible to make the show. There were only about 25 people in front of us. And yet at 12:30 we were still in line. How is that even possible? It could be that there was only ticket seller. But I think the real reason behind the wait were the line jumpers. There were a few people who were behind me in line who kept trying to move ahead of me, but I called them out and they edged back. However there were other groups of people who went straight to the front of the line and after a short conversation with the person second in line, handed over money for that person to buy their tickets. I saw one older woman mouth “you paidui” or “there is a line” as she motioned to all of us behind her and shook her head. At first I was buoyed that she would turn them down, but then she agreed to buy their tickets. Argh!
So by 12:35 we had the tickets. I thought we could go in to see the aquarium first and then see the show. We entered and went through a small section with fish. It took about 5 minutes. It turned out the rest of the aquarium was in a separate building on the other side of the park. Also, although the next show began at 1:30, they would let people into the arena at 1:00 and at 12:45 a line was forming. So once again we got in line. Luckily we were able to snag a front row middle seat, right in front of the show tank. Unluckily we were now there 30 minutes before the show. More waiting. I was forced to buy a light-up beluga whale toy on a necklace. If you have kids and have ever had to wait for a show like this you know exactly why I had to do it.
The “show” started at 1:32. Well some very loud screaming into a microphone began at 1:32 as the emcee welcomed us all. Then six children were selected from the audience to participate in a quiz game that dragged on for 10 minutes. C was selected after one of the show’s organizers confirmed with me she could understand Chinese. Except the questions were rather complicated, aimed at upper elementary aged. Poor C was likely chosen because of her blonde curls than her chance at winning. The winner got to pet a seal. C was not the winner, but she and the other runner-ups did each get a plush sea animal.
So there was a short show with a seal. The winner of the kids quiz show and her mom got to pet a seal. The rest of us watched them pet the seal. Riveting.
And then six more kids were selected for another kids’ quiz. Ten more minutes we watched. Then the two winners of that quiz and their parents got to go in and touch the nose of a beluga whale. We all watched them touch them.
Then FINALLY it was time for us all to watch the beluga whales do their thing. They swam in formation. There were one or two jumps. They poked their heads out of the water and looked at us with their cute faces. My daughter was very happy and that made me happy.
Still when the whole show ended at 2:30 I wondered where the last 3 hours of my life had gone. That as a lot of time for 10 minutes of beluga watching. Part of me wanted to just go back to the hotel, get my things and go home. But there was more aquarium to see.
Last year my daughter and I visited the Shanghai Ocean Aquarium in Pudong over the Chinese New Year holiday. There we fought the crowds to catch a glimpse of anything at every single display. The cacophony was deafening. After some 30 minutes of the noise and the chaos I just wanted to get out of there. The aquarium at Changfeng was busy; there were school groups, and yet you could still see everything. I was quite impressed with the information placards, in both English and Chinese. They had an impressive number of seahorses, one of my absolute favorite sea animal. Equally impressive were the signs about protecting sea life.
Then I wanted to shift into the mommy phase of this mini-vacay. It was time to head over to an adjacent park for a visit to the Shanghai Matchbox and Brand Museum. As we walked up to the building I saw what appeared to be a large amount of debris lining the sidewalks in front. Piles and piles of abandoned desks and tables and filing cabinets. And sure enough on the dusty front door was a sign indicating that the museum was closed. Strange. Just a month before I had found an online article about visiting the museum. This is not the first time I have gone to visit a a sightseeing spot in Shanghai only to find it closed, but it is disappointing nonetheless.
We had a great night at the hotel enjoying the cake and cheese desserts and beverages in the executive lounge and just being away.
On Monday morning we headed to the Parkside Plaza mall, right next door to the hotel. Here is where you can find the Shanghai Legoland Discovery Center, which just opened in April. They promised “2-3 hours of fun” and they were not kidding. I think it was three hours and one minute of fun when I called “time.”
This was my first time to any Legoland, amusement park or discovery center, so I do not have a comparison, but this place was not only fun but really cool. There were two rides, a play area with slides for toddlers and another for older kids, building areas, a car build and test drive space, an amazing miniature Shanghai built entirely of Legos (of course), a 15 minute 4D Lego movie (all in Chinese but after a few minutes even I was so into it I sort of forgot I could hardly understand the dialogue), a cafe, and more.
It was a great getaway and a good reminder that not only is Shanghai chock full of awesome things to see and do but also just a 1 1/2 days of fun and a night away from home can be enough to re-charge. Long live the mini vacay.