Sorry it has taken so long to get this post up - I've been 1) traipsing around cities near Shanghai without Internet access and then 2) soaking up the Australian culture and language - it's so good to be able to communicate easily with anybody you choose!
So, I've got quite a bit of stuff to talk about, so this could end up being quite a long post.
The final day of performances was great. We went to the bar for the time between our second and last performances, and marched straight to the bar again at the end of our last show. In order to shut them all up, I flung for the crowd (Victor in particular had been pressing me to dance), and everybody had a lot of fun. Our farewell party was a big hit, with a good time being had by all. The clowns did a couple of skits for us, and much booze was consumed (although I managed to stay fairly sober). The muttonchops that I sported for that party ended up staying with me in one form or another for almost a week!
We then had a day or so to prepare for our band trip, which turned out to be an interesting experience in its own right! We had been lumped with two Chinese couples on a Chinese tour, with a Chinese tour guide. Angelina (her English name) was a fairly young girl, so she had had some schooling in English, and the Twins lent her their translator to help with some of the more uncommon words. She actually did a fantastic job - she would sit up in the evening and make out a list of words that she would be likely to use the next day. She showed a willingness to prepare that was unlike any other Chinese person that we ever dealt with, and her English improved out of sight. We spend a night in each of the following 5 cities: Hangzhou, Nanjing, Wuxi, Suzhou and Shanghai. Our routine was pretty much: breakfast at the hotel, go see something, have lunch, go see something, drive to the next city, go see something, have dinner, go to our hotel. There were of course, variations on that, depending on how much time we had, but it was very fast paced. We saw lots of temples (and while they were all impressive, once you've seen one, you've seen them all!). We saw the giant Buddha at Wuxi, and lots of other places that are 'very famourse'.
The food was a bit of a disappointment, though, because it was the same everywhere, and unnervingly similar to what we'd been fed at the slop shop for the past 8 months (10 months for the rest of them). But at least it was slightly higher quality. Unfortunately, Wayne had some sort of allergic reaction to some of the food, and broke out in hives. Even sitting in the same room as us while we ate brought on the reaction - it was KFC and Maccas for him for a couple of days! However, he had got over it by the time we reached Suzhou.
I was most impressed with Shanghai. Even though we only saw the city centre, it was quite nice. Clean (for the most part - the river was brown!), and some of the most interesting architecture I've ever seen - some of the buildings would seem at home in a domed city in the clouds (or some other sci-fi setting). We went out to an Irish Pub for our last night as a band (Wayne and Ashley would not be returning to Shenzhen with us, they would instead continue up to Beijing for some more tourist stuff). That was a great night, and much beer was drunk. We had a couple of sets of pipes with us, so we made sure to give the crowd a bit of entertainment. I, of course, did the Highland Fling, and we all had a good time. For the protection of those involved, I won't mention what happened when I got back to the hotel, interested parties can ask me direct about the 'Shanghai hooker incident'.
It was an interesting experience leaving the country - I was dropped off at the airport half an hour after I wanted to be there, and the flight left half an hour earlier that the time that was printed on the (8 month old) ticket. Thus the relaxing 2-hour checkin that I had counted on was reduced to a mad rush to clear customs etc before my plane took off. On top of all that, I was stung for being 10kg over the baggage limit (about AU$300). On the plus side, though, the seat next to me was vacant, so the flight was quite bearable, once I finally got on the plane.
All in all, I'm glad I went, even though there were times there that I though "if I had my time again I would never have come". It's something I'll remember for a long time to come, and I've met some wonderful people. I don't know when I'll post to here again, but I am working on one wrap-up piece that should be up within the next week or so. I am also busy collating and organising the photos that I've taken, and they should be up at http://picasaweb.google.com.au/captainowie within the week. Although it may well take longer than that.
It's great to be back in the country!
[Update] After some cajolery I was able to get a refund on the excess baggage, so that was good.