Letting someone else run the show in Suzhou

Trip Start Jul 03, 2009
Trip End Aug 16, 2009

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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Friday, July 31, 2009

I woke up on Friday morning a little weary of Shanghai. It is an amazing city but not the most pedestrian friendly. After another incident of someone trying to scam us by taking us to a tea ceremony (we didn't bite) and a run in with a cabbie trying to charge us double (we got out of the cab), I was in the mood for a change of pace. The hotel signed us up for a group tour to Suzhou, a city south west of Shanghai known as "The Venice of China." Since I have heard that Venice is dirty and sinking, my excitement was minimal.

However, I was pleasantly surprised when our guide Chen or Troy (his American name…) picked us up and there were only going to be four of us on the tour. The other two were a Belgian couple, more on them later. An aside, Joe and I are amazed that most Chinese folks in the hotels and service industries seem to have chosen American names. For the remainder of the trip, Joe’s Chinese name will be CHO (pronounced like it’s spelled but with the speed and passion of a sneeze) and mine will be MXERQP (pronounced meeerrp).

We headed out to greet our driver, Mr. Wu, in his rickety white van whose seats were not made for chunky American women. The driving in Shanghai is insane. Lane markers are merely suggestions and horns are used to let someone know that you are about to pass them at seventy miles per hour terrifying the passengers inside. After some information on the recent history of Shanghai, we managed to get to our first stop--the Master of the Nets garden--safely. It was certainly the most beautiful of its type and it was great to have Chen there to explain the intricacies of what we had been seeing in other gardens. For example, the height of the step that one has to take to get into each room indicates the class of the people to whom the room belongs.

Next up we headed to a silk factory which was definitely one of the most exciting stops in China thus far. There was a museum display on how silk was made back in the day and then we walked right through a modern silk shop. At one point on the tour they had baby silk worms on leaves. Like everything else in China, once I let out a small comment like, “huh” or, “oh wow” I had committed completely to the experience. Next thing I knew, I had a silkworm in my hand letting out a massive bowel movement. Where does a poop the size of a pebble come from in a little worm? We later found out that the worm dung is collected to fill pillows. FYI, the poop smelled like poop. Don’t know how restful my nights’ sleep would be…although I do sleep next to Joe every night which does offer some residual odors.

After the tour we were subjected to a disgusting lunch at the silk factory but did enjoy some nice conversation with the Belgians on our tour. They were a lively couple in their fifties, the wife a professor of tax law and the husband a civil engineer focused on green building! He and Joe nerded out for a good bit of the meal and we also swapped some travel stories. The Belgians were so well-traveled; they were doing the full silk road on this particular trip. After poking at some odd-looking fish in red sauce, cabbage, and some raw-looking chicken it was time to head to the silk mall in the silk factory to do some shopping.

We did manage to find some nice things for some special people back at home, but at times it was hard to tell what was real--which made us doubtful of all of our purchases. I noticed the PASHMINA name brand that is sold on the streets of New York for $5.00 per scarf but we both really enjoyed looking at the largest pair of underwear we had ever seen. It just so happened that the air conditioner was situated in the women’s undergarment section so Joe looked like a pervert standing there for some extra time to get cool. We can usually manage to make anything fun.

Off to The Water Village which was not listed in our tour book so we were grateful to be taken there. The town was beautiful and full of canals. We took a boat ride with the Belgians through the canal system and walked through some shops. After growing weary of calls of “looky looky” and “pretty lady like pearls?” we headed back to our van to head back to the comfort of our hotel.

After narrowly dodging Friday rush hour Shanghai traffic, we hung out in the hotel for a minute as the smog and exhaust from the city were starting to take their toll, but a few minutes later it was right back out to Old Town for some more dumplings at Nan Xing. They were delicious; Joe got more of his gluten balls and actually said the following: “I love these gluten balls so much that if we were Mormon I would make them my second wife. Don’t worry, you could still be first wife since there are a lot of things a gluten rice ball can’t do.” Thanks Joe.

After some Dairy Queen for dessert--which I had to make all the more classy by literally dumping a quarter of my blizzard down my shirt into my bra—I felt like a kid after a long day at the zoo: kind of cranky and rubbing my eyes from exhaustion. We had to get back to the hotel to get plenty of rest for our flight to Xi’an the next morning.

TSHIRT OF THE DAY: We will put on a show in Vegas with honesty and integrity.

SHOUTOUT: My dad retired today!! Thanks for working forall of those years dad. I hope that your last day was fantastic and that you have some time on the links tomorrow.
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