What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear 'Girl Scouts'? Hands down, the answer has to be those delicious cookies that they sell every spring - their shortbread is absolutely divine, not to mention the lemon cookies! Here in Suzhou, I had Manasi join the Girl Scouts mainly because a friend of mine was Troop Leader - too bad we don't get the cookies here, but they still do tons of different activities, like the Daddy-Daughter dance just last month! Being part of something like this is such a fun way to learn about being responsible and helping people!
The biggest and I think, the best Girl Scout event this year was last weekend - spend a night at the aquarium in Shanghai! Of course, Manasi wanted to go - and when the organizers were short of parent chaperons, I signed up to go as well! Now, normally I stay far away from anything that sounds like camping - I don't mind hiking or trekking or doing any other out door things all day long, but come bed time, I need a comfortable bed, and the assurance of running water and reasonably clean toilets the morning after. I know, I know - I'm a wimp! I didn't really think it through before I agreed to go - and this was kind of indoor camping, might not be too bad?!
So there I was, Saturday morning, sorting out sleeping bags and pillow - hey, I might sleep on the floor, but I have to have my down pillow! I had a suitcase all ready for my things, but Ajey 'convinced' me to take a backpack instead! Didn't have too many things to pack - a change of clothes, toiletries and food. Funny story about the food. The sleepover package at the aquarium included dinner and breakfast the next day. The chicken burgers that we were supposed to have for dinner were cancelled because of the Bird Flu scare, so we were to have a choice of fish or shrimp. The irony of eating fish in an aquarium would have been lost on most people (including me), but Manasi was totally freaked out! She just could not get over it! So, finally I decided to pack dinner for us - and maybe a little breakfast too!
A Dulwich school bus had been arranged to take us to the aquarium and back, and shortly before 3pm we were on our way. I was surprised at how big the group was - 32 girls, from ages 7 to 14, and 8 moms! The girls were all in high spirits, chattering away - thankfully, there was no singing! At the aquarium, we were taken straight to the cafeteria to have dinner - I was expecting a concession stand where they would hand out food, but this was a regular cafeteria with a regular menu. We, of course, had a set menu - which, to be honest, wasn't all that bad! French fries, soda, an egg tart (hmm, no chicken - but eggs are ok?) and the fish sandwich - It did look like a Filet-o-Fish from McDonald's, only here the fillet had bits of grey scales and skin still on it - we are in China, people! The girls were persuaded to eat the sandwich bun without the fish, and along with the packed food that most of us had brought, we did just fine!
The aquarium usually closes at 6pm, so by the time we finished eating, we had the place to ourselves! After dropping off our bags in the Information Room, we were free to explore! The girls were given a little quiz to answer about the fish that they were about to see - and they fairly tore through the exhibits searching for the answers. Kind of beat the purpose, I thought - they weren't looking at the fish, just reading the signs! The Shanghai Aquarium is not that huge - about an hour should suffice to walk through at a leisurely pace, maybe a little more if you took time to really look at all the fish! There's a really amazing jellyfish gallery - strange how something so beautiful can be so dangerous! The main attraction, of course, is the shark tunnel - again, so sleek, yet, so deadly!
|In the shark tunnel...|
The girls went absolutely crazy, of course! They were running back and forth, talking loudly, posing for pictures - the poor fish must have been scared out of their wits! I really enjoyed the absence of crowds - it was so nice to get right up to the displays, and not have to compete with jostling hordes to get a look, let alone a picture! The aquarium also has spotted seals - how adorable are these animals? They were swimming furiously in their tank, occasionally getting close to the glass to look at us - they have the softest, brownest eyes I have ever seen! I was really disappointed that I couldn't get a good picture of them! And the penguins - I think this is the first time I have ever seen live penguins! They can be so still, it took me a minute to realize they were real, and not just models! And this is absolutely my imagination, but I did think that the penguins were staring a bit wistfully at the painted ice mountain backdrop in their enclosure!
|Posing with the penguins!|
After we had our fill of fish - sorry, couldn't resist that one - we headed back to the information room. A very nice, soft spoken Aquarium lady gave us a presentation about sharks, and of course, the answers to the quiz! Then the high point of the evening - the girls actually got to pet the sharks, White Spotted Bamboo Sharks, to be very precise! With much squealing and giggling, the girls really enjoyed this - the sharks not so much! One of them was so startled that it actually leaped in the air, splashing wildly back - I think it was trying to get away from our gaggle of girls!
|Petting the sharks...|
Too soon, it was time to turn in! We trooped back to the shark tunnel to lay out our sleeping bags - about half the girls chose to sleep in the actual tunnel, and the rest of us were in a big area right next to a stingray display. The girls wee still in no mood to sleep, even after the lights were turned off - there was much whispering and giggling, until finally, at 11pm our troop leader asked them to stop talking! The lights on our side of the aquarium were off, but the lights in the aquarium were just dimmed - it was almost ethereal - the serene blue tank, and the fish that kept swimming, glowing a pearly white against the water! I woke up a couple of times, and it was just so breathtakingly beautiful! I had never thought of fish as being diurnal or nocturnal, and I had read that most fish need to keep swimming all the time - so it was a little surprising to see so many of them, including some of the sharks, laying down on the floors of the tanks for a snooze!
|Craziness at bed time...|
An early wakeup call next morning - we had to be out of there before the aquarium opened its doors at 9am! Breakfast was orange juice and a ham and egg sandwich - again, with the egg? - most of these were uneaten! Thankfully, there was coffee for the adults - caffeine badly needed! The girls were all such troopers - rolling up their sleeping bags, getting dressed, and then carrying all their stuff without a word of complaint! We were on the bus, and back in Suzhou before 10am! Sure, I was tired - but nothing that a nap wouldn't take care of, and sleeping on the floor wasn't as uncomfortable as I thought it would be! Most of the other moms that came along, I met for the first time, and it's always interesting to meet new people! Bottom line, I had a really good time! Can't wait to sign up for the next excursion!!