We arrived in Shanghai pretty late and our guide, Tina (English name), picked us up from the airport and took us to the hotel. The city was was lit up and modern like Hong Kong, but was a lot bigger (over 20 million) and more spread out. We were amazed by how many high-end stores there were – seriously, there seemed to be a Louis Vitton or Gucci on every block! In the morning our guide and driver took us to a garden in the middle of the city. “Gardens” in China are more like peaceful retreats that have more to do with the buildings, landscaping, and yin-yang harmony. We had a great time walking through the garden and learning about Chinese culture. Later that night we went to see an Acrobatic show. Tovah and I were somewhat reluctant to get our hopes up after our NZ shows. Luckily the show was amazing, and we were treated to 13 different acts, each unique and unbelievable. For about $40 we saw a show that would easily rival any Cirque de Soleil production! No doubt, this was the highlight of Shanghai – unfortunately, we were too busy trying to pick our jaws up off the floor to get any good pictures or videos for you. One other high point was when we broke down and had our very first meal from an American chain since leaving Atlanta; our last night in Shanghai we treated ourselves to a break from Chinese food and instead enjoyed California Pizza Kitchen! The only downer about Shanghai was our guide – she clearly wasn’t feeling well but continually cleared her throat and nose and generally lacked energy and enthusiasm in every way.
Next we took a train to Suzhou (pronounced sue-joe), which is known for its many gardens. Our guide was really great (reminded Raj of his mum); she told us many stories, taught us Chinese words, and talked openly about her own experiences with the cultural revolution. We explored many residences, a leaning Pagoda, and two large gardens, as well as took another river boat cruise through canals. These gardens were much larger than the one in the middle of Shanghai, and one of them took 16 years to build. Since Suzhou is known for its arts and crafts, we also went to an embroidery museum and a silk painting gallery, both of which absolutely blew us away! When we walked into the embroidery museum, the first thing they showed us was a picture of Princess Diana, and our initial (internal) reaction was “oh jeez, do we have to hear about how she visited 20 years ago?” However, when the guide asked us to look closer, we found that the “picture” was actually an embroidered image that was incredibly realistic! We really enjoyed perusing the gallery and seeing amazing landscape, animal, and human pictures that were so incredible that we desperately wanted to buy a large one. However, it turns out we had found the one thing that is actually quite expensive in China. Who would have though we could be so impressed by embroidery?
The next day we drove to a smaller town called Zhouzhuang that’s known for its rivers and is called the Venice of Asia. We saw a few residential buildings that dated back to the 12th century. Unfortunately the weather that day was not great and after lunch we did a bit of souvenir shopping and then drove back to Shanghai where we picked up some laundry and said goodbye to our Suzhou guide and driver.
As many of you may know, Tovah was a bit reluctant to come to China because of some the government’s policies and human/animal rights violations. While we have certainly noticed their tendency to shelter the citizens through blocking internet sites to editing TV shows, we do want to note a couple of positive things we’ve learned about China’s government. To begin with, the infrastructure of this country is much better than we expected and certainly eases transportation both locally and long distances. Also, since we expected to find many homeless and poor people as in India, we have learned that the government does an amazing job keeping people off the streets and providing assistance. There have also been many positive changes toward education and helping farmers subsidize housing and build irrigation systems. From what we gather, there have been many changes in the past decade that the people here are quite pleased with.