01.10.2013 - 07.10.2013 74 °F
For this leg of the trip, I was joined by my friend, Denise. It was the first time for both of us in the largest city by population in the world (over 23 million). However, we were there during the most important holiday of the year...national Day Week (sic) when droves of Chinese visitors come to the city. Here is Denise before the crowds got thick!
Thanks to Zoe, our friends' daughter who lived in Shanghai, we took her advice and picked a hotel very close to the Bund, the famous waterfront area, on the puxi side of the river and near Metro line 2. A view out of the bedroom window...
A view of the Bund in the evening...
Even though we were only ten minutes away from the harbor, the Nanjing pedestrian walk, and the big metro center at People's Square, it took us three times that to reach these heavily touristed areas. I'd like to say it was because of the crowds (and it was in part) but it was mostly due to my terrible sense of direction. It took longer but we got the chance to see some cool streets like this one.
Denise had good connections with flight crew members and knew the places to shop. So we hit the Pearl market on several occasions. So many pearls...so little time. Then we went on a quest to find bamboo knitting needles. Say that three times fast in mandarin! Well, we couldn't and the search was fruitless. In the process we became quite adapt at using the Metro. Denise can use the ticket machines faster than almost any of the locals. A good portion of traveling is getting from place to place and our experience was no exception. It took us several hours to get to and buy train tickets for a day excursion out of the city. You'll have to ask Denise if it was worth it.
We did try to see the National Museum, our attempt at a little culture, and gave up when we learned it was a three hour wait to get in. I had more success several days later but the special exhibit, one on Impressionists, was a wait almost as long. The "minorities dress" costume exhibit which represented all the regions of China was one of the more interesting.
We visited the area called French Concession which has lots of interesting boutiques and cafés. I think it was my favorite of all the areas that we visited in the city. Another day we visited Yu Yuan which is a pleasant enough, well-contained classical Chinese garden in the old town built in the mid 1500s. Had I read Frommers before we went, we might have skipped it. The guidebook says it is "not quite the loveliest of its kind, as local boosters would have you believe. Bearing the burden of being the most complete classical garden in urban Shanghai and therefore a must-see for every tourist, this overexposed garden overflows daily with hordes of visitors, and is no longer the pastoral haven it once was. ". I can tell you that during this holiday week all crevices were filled with visitors. This was a halcyon corner...
After that, enroute to the Superbrands Shopping Mall we found this highway garden.
For a fun night, we went to a theater to see the Chinese acrobats. It was an interesting show albeit a little kitschy. Sorry but I have no pictures to prove it. Then there was our day trip to Suzhou, a city on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. with an urban population of over 4 million. It is considered one of the richest major cities in China. We took the fast train which got us there in about an hour. We had read " Originally founded in 514 BC, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of rich history, and relics of the past are abundant to this day. The city's canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. Suzhou is often dubbed the "Venice of the East" or "Venice of China". We walked all over the damn city and couldn't find any of this. We did find a silk museum which was really cool, though. At one time, Suzhou was the silk capital of China. During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, it was the silk producing center; in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties most of the high-grade silk produced for the royal families was made by silk weavers here.
Here is one of the exhibits...
We thought we were looking at a fixed exhibit when all of a sudden we noticed the silk worms were moving!
We searched for a place to have an enjoyable lunch but it didn't happen. Instead duck skin, chicken legs, and someone's belly so that night we went to the Westin. Thanks to Denise's largesse, we ate well and had some nice wine. According to the sommelier, the best white in China is from the Grace vineyards but I stayed with French. While beer is inexpensive, wine is not.
On the day Denise left, it was raining cats and dogs. I think she was ready to leave the crowds. I mean Shanghai makes the Italian passaggiata look like a Poorly attended funeral. And don't even mention Suzhou to her!
A day latter I left for Tokyo to rejoin Steve. That's in the next entry I won't miss China although I enjoyed what I saw. I think Shanghai is the pretty sister to Beijing but I thought the latter had a better personality. I'm sure the national holiday didn't help because with all the crowds, Shanghai was less welcoming. I will not miss the PRC control of the internet and TV. You can't download the NYT or access Facebook or YouTube. If you try to do a google search on anything Chinese you will often get an error message that says something about a lost thread. And even with my blog, there was intervention. I mean, really! This is hardly leading-edge journalism. Even on TV, CNN, when available was often frozen. A little less Mao and more ciao is in order.