The Family Visit

Day 47 (11th of April, 2016) – Shanghai, China

This morning we all woke up bright and early to pack for the flight to Shanghai. As with all travel, we couldn’t bear wasting even a few hours not being out and exploring the city. So Aimee, Bianca, Anneke and I all set off to Hong Kong Station. We picked up some pork buns on the way for breakfast. Aimee showed Bianca and Annie a South Korean make-up shop where they indulged in the new trend of snail skin cosmetics and vegetable face masks.

Since Aimee was sick last night and missed the trip over the harbour to dinner, I thought it would be a shame to miss the experience altogether. So, we all stepped on the Star Ferry for a round trip to Kowloon and back.

The ferry is unbelievably cheap at about 50¢ per person, especially when compared to Sydney’s ferry tickets which can set you back more than $5. Now that all the 7’s fans have flooded out of the city or back into their offices, the ferry was much more quiet.

While passing through the International Financial Centre on the way back to the hotel, we noticed that you could actually check in for your flight at the station. I thought I had accidentally stumbled into the airport – they had the proper baggage carousels and everything.

I don’t have any plans to end up back in Hong Kong this year, so it was sad to go. The exhilarating bustle of the city makes it one of my favourite places on Earth. I’m sure I’ll end up back there soon.


On the flight, I engaged in an interesting conversation with an older couple from Taiwan. Our family was scattered all throughout the plane, and so they noticed me getting up from my seat and going to visit the others every so often. They took particular note of Aimee.

“Is she with you?” they asked.

“Yeah, she is. She’s also from Australia.”

“Could we take a picture? Very pretty white skin girl. [rough but literal translation]”

“Umm… Yeah, ok. I’m sure she won’t mind.” I replied.

And sure enough, they got out their phone, zoomed in on Aimee and snapped their picture. I’m not sure I should be giving consent on Aimee’s behalf, but hopefully the photo won’t be used with malice.

Gazing down at the Shanghai cityscape from the plane reminded me that it is truly my favourite city in China. I wrote my English creative writing in the HSC picturing this very moment, and I think that the description was an eerily perfect match of what actually happened.

The aircraft yawed violently as it descended through the smog blanket. Suit-clad men shuffled through their documents, and above them the PA system blared a tinny foreign language. I eyed the steel blue cityscape in the distance, tracing the Pearl Tower’s pulsating purple lights around its central orb which sat suspended above the radiating megalopolis, ablaze with neon. The threat of the unknown beyond the enclosure of this cold fuselage excited me.

Likewise, as we battled our way through the dense traffic along the Bund, I found myself thinking about the very next paragraph of that story.

I exited the screeching taxi into the nighttime chaos of Shanghai’s waterfront at The Bund, where the birth of a new China meets its colonial past. I began hauling my belongings behind me with the control of an elderly man walking his Mastiff. Ageing women approached me pointing bright green lasers and nudged me with their products. Their blank, disgusted faces were filled with an unearthly vacuousness. Towering over them was golden Eclecticist architecture, facing the frowning skyscrapers on the opposite side of the harbour like a wall of soldiers, asserting their permanence over the insignificant hawkers below. The buildings were like none I’d ever seen. They inspired in me a peculiar sense of protection. A familiar unfamiliarity. To my left, a man sucking a Zhongnanhai cigarette spat thick mucus. The newspaper in his hand, the Jiefang Daily, was smeared with inky characters. My surroundings emanated a flat timbre. People’s movements were unnatural.

If only I put the same effort into this blog.

The hotel was unbelievable. We’re very lucky to be staying here. I even get to watch TV in the bath.

For dinner I had booked a restaurant called Hakkasan on the 5th floor of ‘Bund 18’, an incredible European style sandstone masterpiece with a prime spot on the Bund.


The restaurant was recommended to me by Angie Ross, the mother of a young Riverview boy who lives in Shanghai. She offered to help me out when I met her by coincidence at Lee’s Fortuna the day after my 18th birthday. She could not have recommended a better restaurant.

The restaurant sported what I consider to be the best dish I have ever tasted in China – truffle roast duck. Would highly, highly recommend.

Here’s a picture of mum and I enjoying ourselves on the night.


To end the evening, we sat down for a drink at the Fairmont Hotel’s jazz club. Just outside were some incredible views of the skyline.

Day 48 (12th of April, 2016) – Shanghai, China

This morning, we all marched to East Nanjing Road subway station to buy our travel cards and head off to the Yu Gardens. We bought breakfast on the way, and Aimee was fooled by the classic “deceptive red bean bun”. Thinking she was buying some nice sweet bread, she was caught out by the Chinese habit of filling buns with anything and everything.

Yu Gardens (better known by its Chinese name of YuYuan) are a collection of old style buildings and teahouses amidst a lovely Chinese garden and coy pond.

For breakfast, we ordered plates full of Shanghai soup dumplings. I ordered myself a shark fin and crab roe soup, which was served inside a bun with a straw.


We received a lot of odd looks from the restaurant’s other patrons after playing a 5-minute long round of “catch the peanut”, where you spin the Lazy Susan as fast as you can while trying to pick up as many boiled peanuts as possible with your chopsticks. Bianca won that, somehow.

Afterwards, we washed down the meal with tea at a traditional ceremony. The best tea was brewed in a pot with a famous Chinese Molihua flower.

The gardens themselves were particularly stunning.

We even spotted Joof.

For AU$2, I also picked up a selfie stick. This has been a long-planned purchase for me, and it certainly got a lot of use today.

After the gardens, we caught the subway to the World Expo Museum. This is an incredible structure in a fairly central location of Shanghai, and it was only built a few years ago.

After many attempts of asking strangers to take our family photo, we finally found one who took a decent-ish one.


Outside the structure were dozens of statues, some of which were a bit questionable.


Back near the hotel, we talk a long walk down the Bund while looking for a HuangPu river cruise and a good place for dinner. The views we stumbled across were incredible to say the least.


Aimee’s weak stomach has been lingering on, and so her and I returned to the hotel and booked a table at a Chinese restaurant in there. The food was outstanding and the conversations carried on for hours.

Day 49 (13th of April, 2016) – Shanghai, China

After a local breakfast, we embarked on an expedition to Shanghai’s art district ‘M50’. The area is filled with winding streets of art galleries and boutique shops. The family had visited this place in 2010, and so it was fascinating to go back and see what had changed.

The journey to M50 involved a number of very new metro stations. Since our last visit, dozens of new stops have been built at a pace which would never be seen in Australia.


Following M50, we caught taxis to the French Concession. One of the taxi drivers even pulled over and took a leak just off the footpath. The French Concession is an area of Shanghai which is steeped in history. From 1849, the area was governed by the French. In 1943, the Vichy French government signed the Concession over to the Japanese who had established control in nearby Nanjing (or Nanking). It later made its way back into Chinese hands. Remnants of French influence still remain though. Tree-lined streets and Catholic churches are littered down parallel avenues. The area is also home to many of Shanghai’s foreigners.


We slowly wound our way through the characteristic alleyways between Huaihai Road and Julu Street.

Eventually we all felt worn out and Aimee’s virus had come back to bite, so we decided to resort to some more familiar food at a French restaurant. It was with out a doubt as good as France (and for half the price). This was my ‘floating island’ desert:


Some of us headed off to the fake markets at Nanjing Xi Lu, where we battled the conflicting sentiments of wanting to bargain while having Dad beg us to still give the salespeople a decent income. I settled at a healthy medium of about 80% off for most purchases. I bought myself some runners and a selfie camera lens.

The evening ended with an acrobatics show at Shanghai Circus World. I have seen a few of these shows by now, and they always have me on the edge of my seat and shaking my head at the danger in front of my eyes. We all left with sweaty palms.


Day 50 (14th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Today was centred around the train journey to Xuzhou in nearby Jiangsu Province. Coincidentally, Malcolm Turnbull signed an agreement at the very hotel we were staying at this morning (, hence the heightened security and plethora of Australian delegates marching around the complex. After being frisked and searched, we were off to Shanghai Hongqiao Station.

The station itself is an incredible place. The thousands of businessmen and tour groups rushing to their trains is fun to just sit back and watch.


The train was a 高铁 (gaotie), a Chinese fast train which links all of the cities the way that Australia’s train network ought to. Stops on this particular line included Suzhou, Chuzhou and Xuzhou (all pronounced in very similar ways), and so it was difficult to determine if we were in fact getting off at the right stop.

At Xuzhou Dong station, the driver who met us was holding up a placard which read “Greeting Sign”. He insisted that he wasn’t our driver since our name didn’t match the one on his sign, but I had to slowly explain to him that written on the sign wasn’t a name at all.

Driving into Xuzhou was an incredibly difficult experience for me. It was unusually hot, and I felt myself on edge at the realisation that the family’s visit was coming to an end. Sitting in my hotel room, it hit me just how little time was left. I’ll have to work hard to make sure that showing everyone places in the city doesn’t make me sad when returning to them in the future.

It only took an hour in the hotel for Mum, Dad, Bianca and Annie to all discover the hard way that you’re not supposed to flush toilet paper down toilets in China. I should have warned them of that.

After unpacking, I led everyone for a walk through the surrounding area of YunLong Lake. The parks surrounding the lake are a welcome relief from the city.

There were a few funny signs along the way.


Bamboo scaffolding is used in China for everything from the tallest skyscrapers to simple landscaping.


We made sure to get a family picture in front of one of the gates.


入乡随俗 (When in Rome…)


The walk ended at YunLong Mountain, where we took a cable car up to the top to soak up the incredible views.


In Xuzhou, ATM’s are a rarity. Since we had all run out of money, we were not able to buy a cable car ticket down. Instead, we walked down the mountain trail.


After the long walk, we caught taxis to KuangDa (where I met Maddie), and we sampled street food for over an hour. We all tried street sponge cake, JianBing crepes, Mooncake and peach milk.

For dinner, we at Hot Pot with my friend Taff in the nearby Science and Technology Park. During the day, this is a fairly bleak and empty square. However at night, it really lights up with hordes of people doing marching and dancing activities. The dinner was superb with the highlights being the bean sprouts and the seaweed. Taff was an excellent host and ordered all of the local specialties for us.


Day 51 (15th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

With her weak stomach, poor Aimee didn’t feel like eating dinner last night. I know from my own sick experiences in this foreign place that when your stomach asks for food, you need to obey. And so in the early hours this morning, we caught a ride out to the university where we could buy a hearty crispy chicken JianBing wrap to fill up on.

A few hours later, the rest of the family met us at the uni. We ate in one of the cafeterias, and everyone spoke very highly of the food. There’s no doubt that this town’s cuisine has been one of the highlights of my experience so far.

After breakfast, we took a lengthy bus ride out to the sit of the Xuzhou Han Dynasty Cultural Site. This area is in stark contrast with the surrounding dusty industrial streets. At this site lies the Xuzhou Terracotta Warriors. Much like their better known Xi’an counterparts, this excavation site consists of thousands of small Terracotta warriors which were constructed centuries ago to protect the Emperor in the afterlife. They were buried, and only resurfaced in the 1980’s.

While at the site, we passed a number of school tour groups. Since arriving in Xuzhou, we’ve become used to “HELLO” being yelled at us by most passers-by, but this was truly a level above. We were swarmed by teenagers asking for photos and trying to converse. It quickly escalated as news spread to other tour groups (many of which were from rural areas) that there were foreigners at the park. Suddenly we were surrounded and being asked for pictures left, right and centre.

To inflame the chaos, I screamed “你们都很漂亮“ (you’re all very beautiful) to the delight of the squealing girls. It was at this point that I took this picture.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 12.23.57 AM

It was also lucky that no one had to use these facilities:


We went straight from the ancient to the modern with a trip to WanDa shopping mall. Our main aim was to divulge in some foreign lollies, which Annie has been requesting all trip. We bought many hundreds of grams of lollies and dried fruit for a fraction of the price that we would buy them for in Australia.


After WanDa, we returned to the university campus so that I could show everyone my dormitory. Everyone thought that it was smaller than it looks in videos and pictures. It was particularly surreal for me to be showing everyone a place in which I had felt so far away from home. Just knowing that everyone has been in there will help a lot in feeling much more connected to everyone in Australia.


Unfortunately Aimee’s sickness came to a peak at the University, and it gave us all memories of being in the same boat not so long ago. She’s a trooper though, and she continued on for the rest of the day’s activities.

I took everyone to the nearby food and shopping street where we tried pulled meat sandwiches, puff balls and cone swirls among other things. Then, we sat down at my favourite coffee shop and ordered their specialty sour tea. This was the funky joint where I first met Taff, and it’s filled with students napping or studying amongst the bookcases.


While we were having tea and coffee, I brought along Maggie and Liu who are two of my Chinese friends. Their English isn’t anywhere near as good as Taff’s, so I had to help out a bit more with my Chinese. They showed us plenty of pictures from their hometowns and told us about life as a student in China.

While walking to dinner, I was also able to introduce everyone to my roommate Il Kwon and my other Korean friends. It was particularly odd thinking that Il Kwon and Dad are the same age.

We ate dinner at a nearby restaurant which I have been to once before. You order by selecting food from the kitchen. It was the most authentic Chinese meal we’ve had on the whole trip. It was extremely spicy, though, and it had everyone hoarding the one plate of cucumber for relief.



Day 52 (16th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

Dad and I woke up at 7am to go for a walk around the hotel at the lake, and we came across some very picturesque views.

We had breakfast at the hotel. You can see how my diet has changed relative to everyone else’s.


At 11am, the taxis arrived and it was time for everyone to leave for the train and flight home while I caught a separate taxi back to my dorm. It was an incredibly difficult experience. I found myself thinking that it was cruel that I have chosen to put myself through this. The most overbearing thought is the fear of being on my own at the university without any close friends, even after all this time. I know that it will only take me a day or so to get back into the study routine, but even that is a big ask.

I often think to myself how different and more comfortable my life would be if I never chose Chinese at school, or if it had never been offered to me. Or even if the judges didn’t like my performance at Chinese Bridge in 2013 which is what started the chain of events which have led me to Xuzhou. I would certainly be feeling much more comfortable.

But, counterintuitively, I’m not sure if comfort is a very ‘Xavier’ thing to pursue.

Dad told me just before leaving that he would have the opportunity in late May to drop through Guangzhou to see me for a few days, which comes as incredibly welcoming news. That can act as my next big incentive to get through the next month.

The rest of the day was spent unpacking and catching up on odd jobs before work starts up again tomorrow.


Day 53 (17th of April, 2016) – Xuzhou, Jiangsu Province, China

This morning I woke up feeling sad and empty, but it was to be expected! Leaving behind such a great experience is never easy. Waking up on my own and marching off to work in the early hours was only made tougher by having to pass by all of the places where I had just been with my family and Aimee.

It seemed that there was a sports carnival being held this morning, so there was certainly a lot of activity around the campus.


It was good to return back to teaching, and I slowly got into the rhythm of making the classes entertaining and fulfilling. I had a small class in the morning who I told all about my past week’s trip, and then we spent the lesson going over all the new words I used to tell the story.


It was a relief to get back to my favourite lunch spot between classes. These guys make a chicken stir fry like no other. The texture of the chicken is rubbery in a good way, and it is all soaked in a mild chilli oil. As a drink I had a jumbo Yakult.


It was also a familiar sound to hear the chickens running between my legs underneath the table to get my scraps.


I realised that I have never posted photos on this blog showing what teaching at the school actually looks like. The teachers assistants always take pictures of the classes and send them to the parents over WeChat, so I worked my way into the chat and was able to get these images:

After work at the school, I returned to the university to tutor my three students. One of them arrived very late from an exam. I offered to extend the class to try and show my loyalty and understanding, but it forced me into a 40 minute-long conversation with two of the parents. I came out of it very proud. It had the pressure of a job interview since they were employing me, and it was one of the longest conversations I have ever held without having to excuse myself for not understanding something.

Back at the room, I battled procrastination to get some odd jobs done and contact friends in Sydney.

Home is still playing on my mind a lot, and I can only hope that it naturally fades over the coming days.

Until next time,


4 thoughts on “The Family Visit

  1. Xave,
    Thank you once again for the blog. G & I have been in Toowoomba over the weekend GGM 6 years anniversary of her passing. One thing I learnt this trip that the best thing to come out of Toowoomba is the road east to the GC. People & cars are very slow moving & I am sure with your experience of me driving, it must be slow, for me to say this. I really think with the photo swap you would have made a very attractive woman.
    Hope you are back in the swing of things at Uni.
    G & P


  2. Xav,
    I’m disappointed that you couldn’t resist following society and purchasing a selfie stick, nonetheless some amazing places and foods your exploring. What your doing is a feat that is beyond me and I just know that you will gain so much from it. One day hoping all the cousins can head overseas with the guidance of you.
    Best Wishes


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