Thursday, May 10, 2012

Berkley's Birthday

Hongmei Pedestrian Street.  In China, brown sign = of interest to foreigners. This one actually means Foreigner Street

Sunday was Berkley’s birthday. After driving back from our Ningbo outing that morning, we gave him the choice of lunch. He picked sushi. Nice call, Berk. I mentioned this to our friend from Japan, Mayumi, whose kids share our bus stop. Next day she gave us a bamboo sushi rolling mat, sushi rice seasoning and seaweed sheets. How nice! She and her daughters also got Berkley a birthday present. Good people.

Dinner was also Berkley’s decision, and he delivered with more evidence we’re raising him right: Shanghai Brewery. Of course, the beer isn’t the attraction for him but rather the pizza and amazing fries, and its location on the Hongmei pedestrian street. This is one of the expat centers of gravity in Shanghai, with dozens of bars and restaurants serving a variety of world cuisines. Most have extensive outdoor seating. It’s a fun scene. Next to Shanghai Brewery is another restaurant with a little playground and kids running amok. Berkley wandered across, found a friend from school and had a blast. It even made up for the fact that their pizza didn’t get made, then got made wrong, and finally arrived almost an hour-and-a-half after we ordered it. No problem for Shannon and me: it facilitated more consumption of their excellent beer.

Disliking cake, Berkley chose a Dairy Queen sundae.  We sang; Chinese people stared.

In order to give him a true birthday celebration, we yanked them out of school on Monday and took them to the Happy Valley amusement park. We rode some world-class rides and roller coasters there; clearly the Chinese do engineering well.

Where they fall short is customer experience. Many rides didn’t open until afternoon. Concessions closed before 5:00, even though the park was open until 7:30 (our efforts to secure soft serve failed).

Line management was baffling. A typical ride would work like this: First, everyone would disembark the roller coaster. But, before they’d open the exit gate, they’d let everyone gather up in a mass (this proved troubling when someone starting barfing as we waited to exit the Diving Coaster). After opening the exit gate, they’d let everyone leave the ride area. Then, and only then, would they let people from the entry line into the little corrals to enter the roller coaster cars. After a pause—and in one case, warm-up exercises—people would load. Then, after instructions, the ride would finally start. And, making it worse, there was always only one set of cars. So, it would typically take 4-5 minutes to complete the cycle for a ride that might last 30 seconds. Fortunately, the park was quite empty, it being a school day, so we rarely waited very long. But the inefficiencies were still mind-boggling. On a busy day, it must be explosively frustrating!

The Mongolian horse show was impressive.  In back is part of the wicked-fun Diving Coaster.

Soaked after the water ride.

Berkley, despite being a big, 8-year old kid now, still hasn’t embraced the most intense rides. His first ride was on this giant, rotating pendulum. He went alone, as Shannon and Quin were in line for a ride Berkley was too short to ride and I was wise enough to realize it would make me hurl big time, Dramamine notwithstanding. He came off looking stoic enough, as he waited at the exit gate for everyone to line up, but when he got to me he broke down. “I wish I never went on that ride!” he cried to me. Luckily, Happy Valley had a great collection of mid-level rides and roller coasters, so he was able to find plenty of options that were thrilling but not too scary.

(photo credit to


We do have one more birthday celebration in the works. This Saturday, he’s having a few friends from school over to our apartment for a little party. It’s great that he has friends to invite; in Hong Kong, it would have been more of a play date than a party. He does miss all his friends and family from home, though. So, sing a round of Happy Birthday for him. And eat some cake. Or Dairy Queen.


  1. Ningbo, sushi, pizza and fries, DQ, day off from school and roller coasters. Awesome birthday if you ask me, Berk!

  2. Sounds like you had a pretty fun birthday!! Those rides would have made me sick too!! Glad the adults could have some GOOD beer!