“Ahh, back home in Shanghai,” I said to Karen as we landed at Pudong airport after a glorious, tropical week in Phuket, Thailand. Then, we looked at each other and both realized that those may have been the four strangest words I had ever uttered. “Back home in Shanghai.” That was something I immediately put in the “I never thought I’d say that” file.
We have lived here going on nine weeks now, but it was truly upon touchdown from Bangkok that I felt like I was home in Shanghai. Hell, maybe I’m not lost in Shanghai anymore! Sure, our home will always be in the States, presently in Grosse Pointe Park, Michigan. But what these eight weeks in Shanghai and this vacation have taught me (and here’s where things get a little sappy) is that it’s not the location of the house that makes a home, it’s the lives of the inhabitants of that house that make a home.
In China, we have our daily routines, interactions, fun moments, fights, meals, stuff (yes, the sea shipment arrived!), dog and all the other things that help a family make a home. Yes, we are far from friends and family, but we are together. We are making new friends, new life experiences, and possibly even adding to the family (have you met our ayi, Sunny? She may be coming back to Michigan with us). Thailand was amazing, and what it gave to me besides sun, rum, and elephants (see below) was a sense of returning home with my family to Shanghai. And that was a huge and happy emotional space to cross.
Then there is Phuket. Holy crap! How do I share such a ridiculously beautiful place? I’ll try to hit just the highlights and show some pictures. It was a very relaxing trip spent at the J.W. Marriot, Phuket, which is beautiful and just family-oriented enough. It’s the kind of resort where you could not venture out for the entire week and still be perfectly certain of having a great vacation. It has six restaurants of varying cuisines, three pools, and a baby elephant that goes swimming in the ocean with guests every afternoon.
We, however, chose to leave the resort several times for various side adventures. One of those trips was to fulfill a lifelong dream of our youngest daughter Stephanie: Riding an elephant. Since she was 0, Stephanie has slept with a stuffed elephant that, when she could speak, she named Ellie. To this day she won’t sleep without Ellie. She has always been fascinated with elephants and anything to do with them. She has been known to scream “elephant” disconcertingly loud when a picture of one appears on television.
So we took an elephant trek through the rainforest. At first, Stephanie was a little nervous around the elephants (they are freaking huge) and didn’t want to feed them. But when our trek started, and she and Karen got on the first elephant in line, Stephanie was all smiles and joy. Each elephant has a guide called a Mahout who sits on its neck and uses a tool called an Ankusa to guide and control the animal. Karen and Stephanie had a great Mahout who led them on the path up and down the mountain, stopping at scenic overlooks and turning around and sitting on the elephant’s head so he could take their picture. Stephanie actually said to Karen that it was her dream come true.
Cassidy and I had a Mahout that was clearly newer to the business. This was made all the more apparent when our elephant went rogue on us. At some point early in the trek, the beast decided it was hungry and wandered off the path toward the edge of the mountain to eat some greenery. As four tons of elephant stood perilously close to the edge, our Mahout started screaming and whacking the monster with his Ankusa, which looks like a large meathook, all to no avail. I was pretty sure he was pissing the elephant off and that the thing would make a break for it down the mountain, dooming all three of us. He kept whacking and the elephant kept pulling on trees and bushes as Cassidy and I, now at about a 45-degree tilt high up on the back of the elephant, looked down the mountain in horror.
Finally, the elephant ambled back onto the trail and we got going, hanging on a little tighter. The rest of the trek was smooth going and really very fun, once we got over concerns about our elephant. Overall, the trek was enjoyable and educational. We learned about elephants and their importance in Thailand. We used a company called Siam Safari elephant camp on the Chalong Highlands (siamsafari.com) and our guide Tick was awesome.
We also went snorkeling one day and saw the beach where the movie “The Beach” was shot (no sign of Leo, just lots of tourists looking for him). And one night we went to see a show called Phuket FantaSea (phuket-fantasea.com) which, though somewhat cheesy like a Vegas-style production, was visually exciting and highlighted some cool aspects of Thai culture. But for most of the trip, we hung out tropical style, playing in the pool or sea, hitting the swim-up bar for food and drinks, and just basically chilling. Returning after a great vacation is always bittersweet, but after a long day of travel it was nice to get home. In Shanghai.