By the end of our vacation, we were all a little ready to get back “home”. For the kids this was apparently Shanghai. They started moaning and groaning about missing the dog, their friends, and their bikes with a few weeks left in the United States. I was less sure about heading back to China. The summer was more stressful than I had anticipated, and when I got that feeling that I sometimes get on vacation—the one where I am missing my own bed–I realized that it wasn’t exactly the same. I wasn’t really missing Shanghai. I am still not in love with China, and I was dreading the re-entry.
I started the trip home with the kids just hoping to make it back to Shanghai without killing any of them. The long break had left us all a little tired of each other and the bickering was difficult to manage. We were rushed at the airport in Baltimore, but I had been holding out a sliver of hope that we might be upgraded to business class for the 14-hour leg of the journey. The ticketing agent said that would be unlikely, but that I should wait until we got to the gate in Newark to ask there. Then she shooed us away and we hustled through security.
Waiting for the flight to leave Newark felt a lot like waiting to leave Shanghai. The gate was full of Chinese people. An older Chinese woman took an interest in Henry and said something to him in Mandarin as we sat down. Her hands embarrassedly fluttered up to cover her mouth when she remembered where we were and that he most likely wouldn’t understand her. But Henry did understand her. He was shy, but Lucas and Ava made up for that. Once everyone knew the kids spoke a little Mandarin, it was just like being back in China. Our business was everyone’s business. The woman disapproved of Henry’s video games, and covered his iPad screen with her hands. She got out snacks and offered pumpkin seeds to the kids. Henry happily accepted a handful and munched on them as we waited. I was beginning to remember some of the things about Shanghai that were ok. Having a trio of cute blonde ambassadors certainly didn’t hurt. We got upgrades and we all did a little dance. We even saw some neighbors from our compound and the kids excitedly shared tales of their summer adventures. Maybe going back to Shanghai was going to be fine after all.
The flight was reasonable. The upgrades made it easy for the kids to sleep. There were ice cream sundaes! Lucas watched a million movies! The flight attendants were helpful! What was usually the most difficult part of the journey was–dare I say it? —almost easy. It looked like we were going to have a trouble free time getting back to Shanghai. Oh, China. Why was I worried?
We were about two hours away from the Shanghai airport when the pilot made an announcement. There was a typhoon in Shanghai and we were being diverted to Beijing. A typhoon?! Well played, China. Well played. The details were sketchy, but they would let us know more once we landed. The airline would put us up in a hotel and they would most likely fly us to Shanghai in the early morning.
The next few hours included plenty of general craziness, multiple shuttle and bus rides, and confusion. I remembered some of the things I don’t like about China, like all the pushing and shoving it takes to get on those buses and shuttles and the refusal to accept the concept of personal space. The Chinese might love my kids, but they think nothing of separating them from me in a crowd. We were only allowed to bring our carry on luggage with us. The checked things stayed on the plane. Each kid had a rolling suitcase and I was lucky to get us all on and off the million escalators in one piece with the wall of bodies both in front of and behind us. My Chinese cell phone had died during the summer and was useless without the charger so I had packed it thinking I wouldn’t need it. I had put it in one of the checked bags that would now be spending the night at the airport. My American cell phone clicked into expensive mode as I tried to get in touch with Mark to explain the details.
The airline was nice enough to provide dinner, but because we had had nothing since the midflight snack we all got hungry well before the buffet would open at 6pm. I was also skeptical that everyone from the entire flight could be reasonably fed in the one hour and thirty minutes the hotel restaurant had blocked out for us. If the earlier mad rush of people crushing each other to secure a coveted seat on one of the buses was any indication, dinner would be tricky to navigate without injury. I didn’t want to add an emergency room visit to our brief time in Beijing so I opted to take the kids down early and paid the equivalent of $100 for 4 bowls of minestrone soup, 1 small grilled cheese sandwich, 1 club sandwich, and 4 drinks. It was not delicious. We were all in bed by 6:30.
We ended up in a reasonable hotel, but in two rooms that were too far apart for my liking. I sternly told the boys that they were not to leave their room until I came to get them in the morning. As anyone could have predicted, this resulted in Henry yelling in the hallway a little after midnight having gone out to “walk around”. He had, of course, locked himself out of his room. Never in my life have I put on a pair of pants so quickly. I was still buttoning as I burst into the hall hoping to keep Henry from boarding some random elevator. This set us up nicely for the 1am wake up call and the 2am bus ride (AGAIN!) back to the airport. They had us in the air by 5am.
But the fun wasn’t over yet. We landed, but had no gate. Customs didn’t want to let us off the plane, convinced the time we had spent navigating things in Beijing was not satisfactory. Admittedly, our checked luggage hadn’t gone through customs, but at this point no one wanted to deal with the headache of processing us all again. We sat down and stood back up no less than five times. People milled about. A Chinese woman made herself at home on my armrest rather than move the 8 steps back to her own seat. Two hours later we were finally let off the plane and into the terminal where we all continued to move as if we were a swarm of bees. They changed the baggage claim carousel twice and each time everyone from the flight moved like a giant amoeba, stepping on toes and pressing up against each other. Then we all jammed ourselves around the conveyor belt and slung our bags into fellow passengers’ legs and torsos. Finally, after a sweaty taxi ride, we were back at Team Erickson’s Shanghai outpost. And I was actually just a little bit happy to be home.