Once again the experiential offerings of Margaret River SHS have taken to the skies in search of international opportunities for both staff and students. 37 highly excited students from Year’s 9 and 10 have left behind hearth and home for the 12 day chance to get away from the rigors of traditional school learning to enjoy the chance to learn through physical immersion in an alternative culture (read – ‘when do we get to go shopping”); 3 equally exited staff members- Angela (“can’t wait to try all the great foods of China”); Martin (“loving the chance to travel”); Liam (“cultural experience junkie”) and Andrew – who arrived at the airport chanting “shop –eat – travel –experience/ shop – eat – travel- experience” and hasn’t stopped yet.

Step 1, getting to the airport was achieved easily, Liam, Griffin and I went by car to Bunbury, train to Perth city and taxi to the airport arriving a good hour and a half earlier than the 7.30 deadline – to be greeted by Angela who had been sitting there for some time already. Remy won the student arrival pool, but all participants were there well on time and eager to start. Airport staff got us through in good order at 8.30pm; parents were duly farewelled and the trip had begun. Students got to know their groups, received their third version of the complete itinerary and set up a new chant “when do we leave –what do we do first – what next – what next – what time do we get to the hotel” etc etc. Next time I am voting we save ourselves at least 200 hours of preparation time and several hundred trees, don’t produce any itinerary documents, which clearly are never read (a bit like Microsoft instruction books) and just record the whole thing to an ‘instagram’ message played on a repeating loop. Over the top of all this of course was the inescapable chant “shop – eat – travel – experience”; we didn’t need to record that, I suspect it will continue to play by itself for some time yet.

Flight was reasonably uneventful, most grabbed some shuteye, those who stayed up watching movies will pay for that in due course.

Arrival was followed by the organised chaos that is Chinese immigration/customs – a seemingly endless series of security steps that drove us nuts then – ended. We were through to the terminal, and on to the domestic terminal for a second flight from Gangzhou to Shanghai. A fraction shorter (2.5 hours) and a bit less paperwork and security and we were out on the streets of China and on to our bus for a bit more travel. We met our guide for the Shanghai leg, a character named Snow (more on him later) and reacquainted ourselves with Rebecca, our Beijing guide last time who will be with us throughout our trip this time – good news for us. Not sure if that is because she understands us but at least she has the experience to know what she is in for.

“shop – eat – travel – experience” (damm now it’s stuck there)

On to lunch – for the students at least, their first experience of a Chinese restaurant in China. The food was good, the kids willingness to dig in and try everything, was great and bodes well for the success of this great adventure.

A tour guide of the Yu Garden followed, satisfying the cultural aims of the trip for day one, much busier than last time but the students handled the crowds very well. Our red caps for id were resisted by a few at first but by the end of this venue most had realised the advantages of being readily found by the group. A trip around part of Old Shanghai and on to dinner, another banquet, and then on to the Shanghai Circus for an acrobatics display; despite having now been on the move for well over 24 hours this exciting show kept everyone awake and on their toes (although one managed to stay apparently awake and excited, while having eyes close and making noises that sounded suspiciously like snoring- he denies falling asleep, so who are we to suggest otherwise.

Finally – 10pm plus – on to the hotel. A fairly orderly process followed to get everyone into rooms and address all important questions:

What are we doing tomorrow? –  A. Read your itinerary.
Didn’t bring it !! –  A. Read the one given at the airport.
Didn’t see it/can’t find it  – A. Look
Can’t you just tell us? –  A. we did – it’s called an itinerary – goodnight

Rooms are ok but we have some teething issues. First hotel that won’t accept 2 pin plugs, lots of flat phones. A significant number of room phones don’t work. (walking to each room for final checks but OK) fridges are locked. What the heck, it’s nearly 11pm.

Phones have again proven to be a problems, some work most don’t or have connection phones – my Year Leader phone works, as does Angela’s phone, the boss has a working number and several kids. A list will follow soon and all parents will be contacted over the next day or so as soon as I can get a minutes space to do so, with all working contact numbers.

All kids settled well – no issues or problems that can’t be looked at in the morning. Tomorrow, for those not privy to the itinerary – Zhujiajiao Water Town, Shanghai museum, the Bund, Nanjing Pedestrian Road and a river cruise. (another 10pm back to hotel day)

And above it all:

“shop – eat – travel – experience”