I know some working mothers who have travelling jobs. I don’t know how they do it. Me, I’m just a giant marshmallow, and being apart from the boys for more than 24 hours turns me a bit soppy. So ever since Athos was born, I’ve turned down all work-related travel. (Not that there have been that many opportunities, of course!)
Anyhow, late last year an offer came to do a project in Phuket, Thailand. It’s a resort island that’s a short flight away from Singapore, and I thought the Pilgrim family might even make a holiday out of it, so I agreed. But early this year the project venue was changed to Shanghai! I had already committed and so could not pull out. But the cost meant that I would have to go alone, sans family.
I have never gone overseas without the children, whether for work or pleasure. So this was something of a milestone for me. And since it would be my first visit to this great city, I decided – gulp – to go a couple of days early to explore the place, with the blessings of Pilgrim Dad who would have to man the fort at home.
There’s no other way to say this except straight: I had a BLAST. The freedom of being in Shanghai, away from Pilgrim Dad and the boys, was absolutely intoxicating. I could go anywhere I wanted, do anything I pleased, and not have to worry about child safety, kids meals, dirty diapers or nap times. Accompanied by the Lonely Planet and my rusty Mandarin, I walked for hours and hours, drinking in this emblem of modern China. I explored the French Concession district, Fuxing Park, the Bund, the Old Town, the Shanghai Museum and the Pudong area. I ate at a local foodstreet, at YuYuan’s famous Nanxiang Xiao Long Bao, and at the sophisticated M on the Bund. I stayed at a tourist hotel for two nights, then at the uber chic Grand Hyatt at JingMao Tower for the third. I squashed in with the locals on the subway, took taxis, and even had access to a friend’s chauffeur for an evening. And in the absence of Aramis’ night-time interruptions, I slept very very well.
Every evening I would log onto Skype. And as I regaled Pilgrim Dad with my day’s adventures, how I wished he could have experienced it all with me. And then when the kids came onscreen to say goodnight, I confess I turned into a watery basket case.
And such was the bittersweetness of my first trip away from my family.
The French Concession district, with modern Shanghai in the background. If you look hard you’ll also see a half-moon rising.
Part of my degustation lunch at Nanxiang Xiao Long Bao. This famous restaurant comprises four floors, and prices increase as you go up, as seating gets more exclusive.
Yu Yuan on the outskirts of the Old Town. This was the private garden of a Ming Dynasty government official.
The internal staircase at the Shanghai Museum
View of Pudong from the Bund