There is no greater feeling than getting to a hotel late at night and no one’s credit card is working. Scouting around for some cardboard to sleep on and snuggling in next to the local homeless on the corner of the hotel wasn’t overly appealing so thankfully we had backups.
Another 6 hours sleep and we were all bright eyed, bushy tailed and ready to scout out another half dozen new Toorak Girls. Again, we were nestled in between Trinity and Tintern, again the arrogance just swamped us and again with our red ribbons at the ready we stood and ripped out our best ‘Ni hao!’ and railroaded girls to our table. It was a steady day but without KK busting out a number from Cats and without Lauren being handed a flower and being told ‘I love you’ by a little kid we walked away not having a huge amount of confidence we would get any conversion.
Tonight was our only free night for the whole trip so I had organised to go to one of my fave western restaurants in Shanghai called Liquid Laundry. It is super funky with great food and wouldn’t be out of place in Brunswick for example. Melbourne Language Centre have been pretty good to us and have recommended Toorak to many, many families not only on this trip but in the past year or so. They handed us our very first little year 5 in December so we owed them and asked them to come along. Good food, good wine and good company then a trip to the Bund to see the pretty lights of Shanghai and a quiet beverage at Bar Rouge. Hands down the best vantage point to see the lights of the new side of Shanghai.
KK had Lucie from Melbourne Language Centre ask for some 90’s music and as they were carving it up on the dancefloor with some rather young boys trying to cut in on them. Lauren and I were cut in on by some older Chinese businessmen smoking cigars. Eww! Poor Lauren copped a weird handshake (she is happy to re-enact) and I just had cigar smoke blown in my face. Hot! So even though Chris from Melbourne Language Centre was trying to tell us that these were some VIP high ranking businessmen and we should stay for the free drinks we still decided to split. Our souls were not worth selling for the sake of a wine and losing a lung from the cigar smoke.
After talking about Toorak all day to around 18 different agencies, we pulled it together and went to our first parent dinner. I had organised it in the French Concession area at a place I had been taken to by some Mum’s a year or so ago when I was on holidays in Shanghai. It was once a private residence and is now a hotel. Gorgeous French architecture both in and out and quite honestly the biggest table I have ever seen in my life. It was round as all Chinese banquet tables are and had to be at least 5 meters in diameter. To speak to someone on the opposite side meant you had to yell. Let the awkwardness begin!!
Because KK is the most important person at the table, she had to sit at the top. We had a few no-shows so that meant a few empty seats and in Chinese dining etiquette that meant KK had to sit on her own. So there she was in her culturally appropriate red dress, in this enormous room, sitting at the top of this enormous table surrounded by… no one. You could pretty much hear the crickets chirping and definitely see everyone squirming uncomfortably. As always, a wonderful welcome speech by our fearless leader relaxed everyone a little. We went around the table and introduced ourselves as if we were in school and then went about eating the dinner. All the while KK sitting there. On. Her. Own. Thankfully the wine came out and we all relaxed a bit more once Diana’s dad threw in a few Ganbei’s!! (Cheers!) It all hummed along well. The food was really good and no weirdness as I had been able to intercept the menu a couple of days prior and take out the Braised Sea Cucumber with 5 kinds of corn and some other culinary question marks and replace it with food we could actually identify.
At the end Watson (who had the best English out of the parents and had been doing a bit of translating for us) exclaimed it was a great night but too formal and whisked us away to a German pub on the new side of Shanghai so we could see the lights of the old side. The opposite view of what we had seen the night before. With each of us struggling to keep our eyes open, we were told that we could not get a taxi and would have Watson take us back to the hotel… Oh and there are some Mum’s waiting there with a gift for us. It was the night that never ended. As Watson dropped us off at the hotel, we were greeted by two Mum’s that had sat and waited for us. They each handed us a gift and waved us towards the lift. Their staying power was impressive and the beautiful silk scarves that we each received were stunning. We really have very happy and very generous parents. It is a nice feeling to walk into a room and every single one of them are happy with what Toorak is providing for their daughters. Each of them have a different reason for being with us and somehow we have managed to provide what they wanted. We have happy girls and grateful, happy parents.
SHANGHAI PARENT DINNER No. 2
Sometimes we have girls start with us that are broken. Villa in Year 10 was this before she started. She had been at Avalon College and had a terrible time. When she visited us in November she could not lift her eyes from the ground. Towards the end of our time on our tour there was a little smile but not much. If you were to meet Villa now she is a different kid. Happy, open, an average excitable teenage girl. Her whole demeanour is different. She has found her place with us and is loving it. Because of this, Villa’s parents and her uncle think we are pretty amazing and asked us out to dinner. Uncle Rong is an international corporate lawyer that works out of Shanghai and Melbourne. He has been an Australian for 30 years. You know when you meet people and you can feel their wisdom? He is one of those people. A little intimidating because he is such a smart guy but very nice.
So there we were in front of another ‘Lazy Susan’ with unidentifiable food in front of us. In for a penny in for a pound! So I took a deep breath and just tucked in. I have no idea what I was eating but when the ‘Bird’s Nest Soup’ was explained to me I stumbled a little. Rong stated with a huge smile that “If you see anything that is a little weird you can just leave it! Mei Guanxi! (No problem) Just leave it!” Followed by a chuckle. So as I took the lid off my little clay pot I saw a stick and a whole bunch of unidentifiable fleshy looking things and a caterpillar. Oh my… here we go again. Sarah being the brave soul that she is just tucked in. I sat there nervously moving the contents around the clay pot. Then Rong piped up and said “Oh the soup is this particular restaurants specialty. It is very good. Are you enjoying it Caralyn?” Busted!
“Oh mine is a little hot I am just waiting for it to cool down a little but it smells amazing!” I managed to get a mouthful down whilst all eyes were on me. I managed to pretend long enough and avoid the caterpillar until the next plate of fried goodness appeared. Much to my delight it was a plate of Aussie style Sweet and Sour Pork. Bless you Rong and your Australianised palate. The rest of the meal went off without anymore culinary challenges.
We arrived in Guangzhou very late and had the day off on Friday. We walked around the old part of the city. It is very diverse, more so than I ever realised. We happened upon a street filled with African and Middle Eastern Muslims and loads of food cooking over coals and spices not native to China. It was super cool to see such a place in a generally mono-cultured country. We walked through parks and eventually made it to some impressive temples. It was about 30C so this is where the Swupdates should start again but I am keeping Chupdate going.
We were to be picked up by a parent and taken to Hotpot for dinner. I had requested this kind of meal because how challenging can it be right? When the girls and I go for Hotpot in the city we have lovely fresh meats and seafood, vegetables and tofu, lots of noodles of course and they try and make the broth as spicy hot as possible to test my heat sensitivity. It is really a lot of fun.
I had joked with Katerina about asking her Dad to pick me up in his new red, convertible Lamborghini. As Sarah and I stood there waiting for Raymond and his assistant Archer to pick us up, Donna from Lauriston wandered up to us what should pull up in front of us but a brand new red Lambo.
Donna joking around: “Is this your ride for the night eh ladies?”
Me taking a second and third look at the people in the Lambo: “Ummmm yep it is actually!” Donna almost fell over and I burst out laughing at the thought of even being near a car that is worth over $800K. Raymond and Archer bounced out of the flashy red car and over to Sarah and I. Before I knew it I was in the passenger seat flying through the streets of Guangzhou. I must say the way Raymond drives is like he is playing Mario cart and there were some very, very terrifying moments. There are terrifying moments on China’s roads at normal speed in clapped out old taxi’s let alone slipping in and out of heavy traffic at warp speed. Thank goodness this thing has F1 brakes! At one point I squealed and covered my eyes.
Raymond: “Are you scary? Don’t be scary! bahahahahaha”
Me: “Just a bit...” I was very scary at this moment and it is moments like these that if I was a Catholic I would be saying hail mary’s. We flew into an underground carpark at a speed that would have a normal car on two wheels and Raymond took about 6 go’s to park the shiny red piece of automotive glory. In all fairness it wouldn’t be easy to park given it is about 2cm off the ground and every spot is a blindspot.
Archer and Raymond ordered the bits for the hotpot and before we knew it out came 2 bowls of this brown flesh with little bumps all over it. The men proudly telling us “This is cow stomach. We know how much you Australian’s like cow so we get it. It is best because it is from New Zealand! Yes yes! Best. It is best!” Lots of proud smiling among them, lots of internal dying among us. Archer and Raymond put the stomach into the broth and then tossed it in our bowls. I had to eat first… Big deep breath and down the hatch it went. It wasn’t appalling just kind of chewy and believe me when I say I chewed fast and swallowed even faster. Please remember that there were 2 massive bowls of this digestive system for us to eat. It just kept coming.
Then as a bit of a break in the cow stomach we had something else. Not sure what it was but it looked like mushrooms. A different mushroom look to the jellyfish in Beijing but mushroomy none the less. As I took the first chew a flavour like no other entered my mouth. I immediately flashed my eyes towards Sarah and sent her an SOS look. I couldn’t do a Lauren and spit my Jellyfish into a napkin because there were no napkins. I was panicking the flavour was piercing every tastebud in my mouth and I had nowhere to spit it. I looked at Sarah again and dry wretched. The only thing to do was swallow this horrific tasting rubbery mass in my mouth. Another dry wretch and I knew I had to get this sucker down. I also knew I had to chew a couple more times to be able to get it down. Everything was about to come up when I managed to get it down. I pretty much skulled a beer and drank the chili oil to eliminate the taste.
Raymond: “What you want next eh?”
Me: “Noodles! I want noodles!!” so noodles it was and the rest of the meal was fine… aside from the blood jelly. Yep. They get blood and gelatine and set the blood in the gelatine and you eat it. It was at this point that I grew a spine and said no. The blood jelly was taken away and the rest of the meal was great.
Is there such thing as workers comp for trauma caused by consumption of food from a foreign country? If so I may need to apply for that when I get home.
Guangzhou and Hong Kong expo update on its way!