Cultural Immersion Experience

Cultural Immersion Experience

Wow–I haven’t posted a blog since Christmas. I have been working on a series of posts about our trip to Australia and New Zealand last winter. Here is the first one:

My husband and I took a major trip this winter. We traveled to Australia to take a cruise to New Zealand. We flew to Sidney by Eastern China Air. With a stopover of 15 hours in Shanghai, we decided to venture out of the airport into the city for a little taste of China. But the China experience began in JFK airport.

As passengers began to gather at the check in gate, I noticed a large number of Chinese people. Young—college-aged people. An attendant from Al Italia came by and asked if we were going to Rome.

“No,” I answered. Did we look like people who were in the wrong line? As I looked around, I realized that we did. Two older, white folks were a bit out of place in a crowd of young, Chinese people. We waited quietly in line. As we found out, Chinese people like to line up early. The quietness was probably due to the lateness of the hour.

We plodded through the security line—which crossed the whole terminal—and made our way to the gate, and then finally to the plane. By this time there were a few older Chinese people, but my husband and I were still in the minority. This was my first experience in a situation where the primary language was not English!

We found our seats and sorted out our entertainment supplies—tablets, knitting, and e-readers. Things had to be inserted into a very narrow space, but we soon settled in.

After about an hour of this fifteen hour flight, the flight attendants served a meal. The choice was fish-rice or beef-rice. The seafood came in a sweet sauce with a side of rice some fruit and a couple of other items. It was similar to an American Chinese restaurant selection.  The selections were all like that—fish, beef or pork with rice or noodles. The early morning selection also included an omelet. I hadn’t thought about the food on the Chinese airline being Chinese food. Some of it was tasty, some of it was awful, but I kept an open mind and tried everything. One thing we found out was that Chinese food is identified by its main ingredients, hence fish-rice or beef-noodle. Every time the dish came, its other ingredients and basic flavors were completely different. One nice part was a dish of fresh fruit came with every meal.

When we got to Shanghai, we had three goals: to see a little of the city, to have a Chinese meal in China and to buy some silk.

We started by taking the mag-lev into the city. It was fun. A sign posted the KPH and we watched the speed move up to 300 KPH. The scenery whisked by, the usual industry and low income residences you see outside a major city becoming more and more built up as we reached the center of the metropolis.

We strolled around and found a nice place for lunch. Any language barrier with the waiter was resolved by the pictures in the menu. We pointed to the dishes we wanted. When I asked for tea to drink, he asked me what kind. I shrugged and he opened the menu to the back page with the list of teas. None of the exotic names looked familiar, so I picked one randomly. It turned out to be delicious. After dinner we ran into the language problem: the bill was in Chinese. The waiter did not understand our question and said, “You pay.”Photo Dec 21, 11 54 21 PM

My delicious lunch–eggplant with flaked bonita.

Lee assured him that we wanted to pay but did not understand how much. He went to get the manager. After insisting that we pay, he finally grasped the problem. He sent the waiter who quickly returned with a register printout in English numbers. “Yes!” We smiled and laughed and paid the bill. We just wanted to know how much.

After lunch we boarded a tour bus and plugged into the English version of the narration. I thoroughly enjoyed the snippets of city history as we passed from the older sections to the newer. It was fun to notice that Christmas decorations seemed to be primarily on the Western stores—Tiffany had a giant signature blue tree outside their store.

After the tour we spotted a shop called Silk King. We asked the staff at the door if they sold silk by the yard, and they escorted us to the lower floor. Two sales women were happy to help me ooh and ahh over their goods. I spotted one piece I liked and held it up for my husband to see. Then I put it back as I spotted another piece. Now here is where the salesmanship of these two women came in. One supplied the price, and suggestions of how much I should buy, but the second made sure we did not lose track of the two pieces I had admired. She did not speak much English, but her enthusiasm made up for it. I left with two pieces of silk!

We strolled around some more and I bought some souvenirs for my son and daughter. It was fun to look for things that were small, flat, unbreakable, and useful. Any language problem was resolved with smiles and pointing.

Photo Dec 21, 7 59 28 PM

With our goals all accomplished, we decided to return to the airport. We had a few hours to spare, but we didn’t want to chance getting hung up in the airport bureaucracy. The Chinese take airport security very seriously! Fortunately, there was a row of stores across from our gate that provided some fun browsing and a Starbucks to take care of our caffeine needs.

It was time to embark on the next stage of our journey with a ten hour flight. Sigh. Australia is very far away. It is as far away as you can get without starting home again!

I did not try the corn juice–but it was so unusual to me that I had to take a picture!

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