Back in 2015 we got to know Nancy. Nancy was one of the Chinese students studying at our University for a semester that we looked after. She is the one at the front in this picture visiting the Christmas Tree Festival in Morecambe Parish Church.
And here in the middle on a blustery day on Morecambe seafront.
We saw her again in 2017 when we visited Jiaxing University on our big trip to China (little thinking at the time that we would end up living and working here)
Nancy got married last November but although we were invited to the wedding, at that stage, COVID restrictions meant that unfortunately, we were unable to leave Shanghai.
Then in April this year, Nancy gave birth to a lovely baby girl called Niu Niu (pronounced new new).
Nancy lives in the Anhui Province which is about 3.5 hours on a high speed train away from Shanghai. We traveled by train to ChiZhou where she picked us up and then it is another hours drive to her small town of Qingyang. It’s the sort of ‘off the beaten track’ town that doesn’t see many foreign tourists. In fact when we checked in to the hotel the reception staff hadn’t dealt with a foreign passport before so it took some time!
Visiting here isn’t really a day trip affair so we had been looking for a nice long weekend occasion to make the journey . Preferably one when there was no covid alert anywhere nearby. That occasion arrived when Nancy invited us to celebrate Nui Nui’s 100 day ceremony on 24th July.
To be honest, ceremony is probably overstating the occasion. I understand that in some parts of China the parents place 5 specific objects in front of the baby and whichever one the child grabs for first is supposed to symbolize what type of person they will be or what the future might have in store for them. This is then followed by a banquet for family and friends. It is a rite of passage done at the same sort of stage in a new life that we would do a christening.
In Niu Nui’s case everyone just gathered in a large function room in the hotel (where we were staying which was handy) that had been specially decorated. There was a very short speech made by her father thanking everyone for their support.
Then it was straight onto the banquet. And what a feast it was. In traditional Chinese banquet style there was dish after dish after dish for nearly 2 hours. Some dishes were recognizable and utterly delicious. Others were strange and a bit dubious. The tiny stewed turtles were a very definite no no!
A consequence China’s one child policy, I have noticed, is that this new generation of babies has a set of four very devoted grandparents each of whom was only permitted one child of their own. These grandchildren are therefore extremely precious and the grandparents don’t like to let go of them.
The upside of this is that the parents have loads of free childcare. This meant that they were available to show us around, have meals with us and do train station transfers. The downside was that I didn’t get much of a look in when it came to cuddles. The one brief time that I was able to pry Niu Niu away from her grandmother is captured here.
After the sumptuous feast it was back to our room for a quick nap before Nancy, her husband Xu Zhi Nan and their friends Stacey and Timon took us to see the local sights. Namely, the big Buddha of Jiu Hua. This Buddha is renowned for bringing good fortune and we were going to need it.
It was at that point that In-Fa happened. In-Fa is the name of the typhoon which had been forecast to hit Shanghai on the Thursday but actually landed in China on Sunday. You can see the weather chart below.
If you are going to visit the Jiu Hua Buddha I would recommend that you don’t go during a typhoon!!! It was fine when we set out but very quickly got wet.
Very wet. Umbrellas were the order of the day.
At least there weren’t crowds of people getting in the way of our photo!!
The Buddha was magnificent. but we were soaked through and Kevin needed some dry shoes as he had not packed a spare pair.
We thought that having stuffed ourselves to the gunnels at lunchtime, that that would be it for the day. But no!!! We were corralled and taken to the next eating event which was a hot pot.
Breakfast the next morning (while we were still digesting the excesses of the day before) was noodles.
Fortunately we had a little walk afterwards to a lotus lake
Then it was time to say goodbye. Nancy and Xu Zhi Nan had another 100 day celebration to attend in the afternoon so they put us in a taxi back to the train station. The driver thought it was a F1 race and we made the hour long trip in 30 minutes with us clutching whatever we could in the back as there were no seatbelts! It was then that things started to go pear shaped!!!
First of all there was a slight problem with Kevin’s ticket. It had been booked for us by a Chinese colleague but Kevin’s old passport number was used which didn’t match his new passport which he needed to get into the train station. At Shanghai they had just waved us through but here the lady was extremely officious and spoke no English whatsoever. After a few phones calls to friends for translation services we understood that we needed to take the passport and ticket to the ticket office to get it changed. And it’s a good job that we did.
The line at the ticket office looked like this
And our train was due to depart in 45 minutes. The queue was not moving.
Then we heard that all the trains to Shanghai had been cancelled. Thanks to In-Fa.
Some of you may remember seeing scenes on the news from a flooded subway station in ZhengZhou the week before. The authorities were not taking the same chances again.
Then to our utter amazement a foreigner approached Kevin. He was an Austrian guy and probably the only other non-Chinese person there. He worked for a metallurgy company and had been visiting a mine nearby. His train was also cancelled but his company had approved him a driver and a car to make the journey back because was needed in the office in Shanghai for an important meeting the next morning. He had seen our British passports clutched in our hands in the stationary queue and offered us a lift back to the city in his hired vehicle. The Big Buddha brought us good fortune indeed.
The drive on the way back was fairly scary though as we were driving into a typhoon and it got dark. At times it was more aqua planing that driving but fortunately there wasn’t much in the way of other traffic on the road. The gusts of wind howled and buffeted us. I tried not to look!!!
Four and a half nail biting hours later we arrived at his apartment block in Shanghai on the Puxi side of the Huangpu river; we needed to cross the river to get to our apartment in Pudong. The metro system had been closed so we had no choice but to call a Didi (like an Uber) but there were over 200 people in the queue ahead of us. We were tired, wet (but not hungry)
Then a car suddenly appeared and we had jumped the queue. Another piece of good fortune? We surmised that this car needed to go our way and wanted the fare. It did. But largely because it was broken. The suspension was shot and the engine kept failing. Only minutes away from home and I wasn’t sure that we were going to make it!!!
Luckily many prayers and the continued good fortune of the Big Buddha later and we made it.
That has to rank among the top 3 scariest journeys of our lives. (Although Kevin still maintains that the drive over the mountains in Nepal was fun and not scary!)