December 3, 2013
Our tour didn't start until a bit later than I was used to going out, so we had some extra time in the morning at breakfast. There were about 12 of us signed up for the tour to Suzhou, the Venice of the East which includes manmade canals off of the manmade Grand Canal.
The tour required us to drive about 90 minutes outside of the city. Along the way, we had an opportunity to see some of the suburban, including a car factory town where Buick and Audi manufacture their vehicles.
We arrived in Suzhou at about 10:30 in the morning and had a short walk to our gondoliers. I was asked to board the first ship where a female sailed us down the canal. We saw many canal-side homes and businesses, including fishermen either returning or going out for their day's catch. Our gondolier even sang two songs during our ride. She also let one of us take a turn at "driving" the boat, which didn't go very well.
The ride took about 20 minutes and we exited near the other side of the historic part of the town. We were afforded the opportunity to walk about a mile to where the bus would meet us. Along the way, we ran into several couples having taking their pre-wedding photos. We also passed a few food stalls selling various dumplings in different shapes, including pigs, and candied fruit such as crab apples and dragon fruit … on a stick, of course.
We continued on to lunch, which from my point of view was one of the least impressive meals of the trip. I was starting to wonder about the overall food quality in Shanghai. While it was appealing, it lacked flavor and nuance.
After lunch, our guide took us to the silk factory which included the national silk museum … I think. I'm still not entirely sure as information was kind of wavering. A guide from the silk shop showed us how the silk worms eat, cocoon, and then how each strand of silk is harvested without destroying the thread. Afterward, there was shopping (of course) and I did purchase a silk-inclusive fruit basket that I thought I would use to hold my recently acquired tea and baby dragon.
The silk shop was interesting, but afterward we hit our third and final stop of the tour. The group visited Wangshi Yuan, Garden of the Master of the Nets. The garden included many of the traditional Chinese elements such as water, structure, and especially stone. Admittedly, this garden was a bit unremarkable. However, the framework of some of the windows was enjoyable, as was the inlaid stonework of the garden paths and terraces.
Our visit to the garden wasn't long and we headed back into Shanghai to hopefully avoid the rush hour traffic. It took about two hours to return. I used the time to write some of these blog entries, while taking the occasional picture from the bus.
When we returned to the hotel, I decided to venture back out to capture some of the last few memories of Shanghai. I had spoken to another couple during the day about the French Concession and thought it might be worth a visit. The quickest way was via the metro and this would be my last chance to travel another city's local transportation.
The metro was setup a little differently than Beijing. I prepaid for my trip to the French Concession. I arrived around 6 p.m. and began walking around. I wasn't entirely sure I was in the right place, but then I passed a bakery with eclairs and baguettes and knew I was in the right location. However, it was not all it cracked up to be as I was solicited twice to purchase drugs and once for prostitution. I decline all the offers 🙂
The streets were empty, so I decided instead to head back over to the Yu Gardens Bazaar. I remembered I needed to purchase a small gift for a family member. The metro ride was simple and I arrived at the bazaar after the main tourist rush. I was able to purchase the Chinese fan, which I tested marginally my haggling skills. The bazaar was very beautiful at night.
Again, the bazaar wasn't far from The Bund, where I still needed to capture my night photo of the Pudong with the Oriental Pearl TV Tower illuminated. SUCCESS! When I arrived, the tower and all the other buildings were lighted. My trek back to the hotel even took me where I'd missed the bronze bull, copied from NYC's Wall Street.
I returned to the hotel after a quick stop at the local convenience store. I decided to have dinner in the hotel and than hit the "only Russian bar in Shanghai," "Leningrad." I changed and went down to the restaurant on the third floor where breakfast was served and ran into three others from our tour group. They invited me to join then for dinner, which was an experience in language barriers.
This was by far the latest I'd stayed up any night of the trip, but I wanted to visit the bar. At around 10:30 p.m., I made my way down to Leningrad. The bar was empty, which wasn't surprising for any Tuesday night. I took a seat at the bar and ordered a martini. In true Russian fashion, the bar was known for it's assortment of vodkas.
The bartender made one of the best martinis I've ever had, and of course we got to talking. But that was after I saw three obviously Russian expats enter and purchase a few drinks a couple packs of smokes.
Shortly into my drink, the bartender offered me a free sample of a Russian vodka. Who was I to say "nyet?" The conversation started around where I was from and what I was doing in China. Admittedly, the cameras above the bar lead me to believe that the entire conversation was being watch, can't imagine what cold war era feeling would prompt such a response? He asked me about life in the US, the cost of living, how much a bartender makes here, that sort of thing. I did my best to convert the cost of living and average income into what he and his counterpart would understand.
After another shot of vodka, this time of a Beluga variety, and the conversation continued. I was even served a free Tiger Beer to keep the dialogue going, but it was time to head back to the room. By the time I returned, it was 1 a.m., a bit of a problem as I needed to be up at 4:45 a.m. to shower, finish packing and be downstairs in time to make it to the airport.
China, Shanghai, Suzhou, Wangshi Yuan,