Suzhou City delights

Trip Start Dec 01, 2004
Trip End Dec 10, 2004

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Thursday, December 9, 2004

Today was confirmation why we usually travel independently. We decided to take the group tour to Suzhou. We thought it would make it more convenient. It started off with the entire bus waiting an hour Mr. Rios from New York. Come to find out, from the others waiting on the bus, this guy and his girlfriend had been late for every single thing. They were told the last time that the bus would leave without them if they were not on the bus at 8 am. The jerk sent his girlfriend to the bus while he ate his leisurely breakfast and while 30 people waited for an hour. They didn't get to breakfast until 5 minutes to eight. The guide, Norman, had reached a boiling point and was furious. He told him that he owed the entire bus an apology... Indignantly the jerk refused. This wasn't the last time that this guy would cause problems. 

There were two older gentlemen on the bus that were fabulous. One was a Sehk that had been a sociology professor for the last 30 years in the States. The other was a interesting gentleman that reminded me of my Pap-Paw. He wore interesting hats the entire trip. Both of them were having a terrific time on this trip. 

Our guide was Annie. On our way to Suzhou she talked about the differences in China, the one child policy, and the growing ownership of cars in Shanghai. She explained how the one child policy works. It really is a great idea especially due to the growth of our worldwide population. The way it works is that the first child you have is covered by the Government, schooling, medical all of the social programs. The second child is not recognized by the government, the parents pay a fine and then have to cover all the expenses of that child. When the world doubles population, in spite of plague, war or famine every 30 years the U.S. still gives tax breaks to people having children. It only feeds the problem. It is a shame that our government doesn't reward those that adopt in a way that encourages that over procreating.

The number of bikes on the road was fascinating. There were entire lanes of bicycles. We also saw entire staffs of restaurants and stores out on the sidewalk doing calisthenics. This is a nation of very healthy people. I don't think it is totally our dietary difference. They have a totally different view of exercises. We made a bathroom break on the way to Suzhou and I just had to laugh at the people on our tour. Annie made sure we stopped at a bathroom that had an "American Toilet" All of these people got in line for the one toilet. I walked around them and used one of the many squat toilets. When I came out of the stall all the wide eyed tourist asked "Is that an American toilet to?" I just answered no and went on my way. I am so surprised that anyone brave enough to travel abroad is scared of a squat toilet. 

Our first stop in Suzhou was The Humble Administrator garden. It was beautiful. Annie had a lot of things to tell us about Suzhou. We enjoyed seeing the gardens, the ponds, and the architecture. It wasn't the same experience as going alone. When on a tour you are moved along at a faster pace so you can see a little of everything and not a lot of anything. In gardens like these in China it is nice to take time to contemplate the peace and beauty but on a tour you are not given that opportunity.  Even in the gardens we saw people exercising. So smart! Suzhou .

For me, connections with the locals is what makes it special. We seemed to be moving about the same pace as a Chinese family with a little baby. It was such a beautiful baby. The baby had gotten a little cranky and had started to cry. The family was all working to quiet the crying. We always bring stickers and pez dispensers with us when we travel so I pulled out a Mickey mouse sticker. I shyly walked up and offered the sticker to the mother. It seemed odd but the mother took the sticker and put it on the baby's face and the whole family started taking pictures of the baby with the sticker on its face. The baby distracted by the weird American and the excited family finally stopped crying.

The Gardens

When it came time to go guess who was missing. Yep the jerk, Mr. Rios, that caused our late start. Ron volunteered to go look for him. Ron found them and told them that we were all waiting for them. He arrogantly said that they were taking pictures. He did not rush back and we all loaded on the bus. Annie went to look for them again. This time it was about a 45 minute wait. He came back to the bus smiling. The people on the bus turned on him. He tried to defend himself saying he paid for this tour and he wanted to spend as much time as he wanted. As we got off the bus to eat I couldn't stay silent any longer. I told him that if he had wanted to do what ever he wanted he should not have joined a tour group. One of the consolations you make when you join a group of people is that you adhere to the schedule given to you. As for paying for this tour, we all paid for this tour and because of him we had all just spent 45 minutes of it waiting on him. Being told that he was rude didn't seem to have any effect on him but I proceeded to tell him that he didn't have any class. This seemed to finally make some impact. It was the last time that he caused the group to be late.

Another drawback of a tour is that I think that they feed you what they think that Americans think is Chinese food. We were taken to a buffet. It wasn't bad food but certainly not the best nor the most interesting food that we had on this trip.

Would you believe I ended up sitting next to the jerk and his girlfriend. He was less confrontational and I think he knew he was wrong. He tried to feed us some line of crap about how they had never been on a tour before and didn't know that they needed to adhere to the schedule. (Strange since they had been told every single optional tour on this trip before today. I am just glad that we hadn't dealt with them until today)

As with most organized tours one of the stops was a factory where surprise, surprise, you can by the goods. It was still very interesting. It was a silk factory. We got to see how they harvest the silk cocoons, unravel them and weave the silk. We were even encouraged to participate in pulling the silk stuffing for the comforters.

Our last thing of the day was the tour of Suzhou by waterway. They call this the Venice of the east. I guess that is because the waterways come right up to the door steps. We took this ferry through the canals. There were beautiful vistas and interesting people. We enjoyed the trip very much. One of the staff on the boat brought out his wares. He was selling Tiger Balm and card decks. We made a good deal on Tiger Balm. I guess that after our experiences in China on our own that the group tour was a little disappointing but it was okay.

After the bus ride back to Shanghai we finished out the night with Da Niang dumplings. What a fabulous experience. We were hungry and decided that we were just going to stop at the first place that we saw. We saw this dumpling place in the basement of one of the shopping centers. It is like the McDonald's of Asia. Fast food Chinese style. As we walked in it was evident that we were the minority. The menu was in Mandarin. We were watching everyone else in the restaurant to figure out how to order. It was like McDonald's. You order at the counter and carry your food back to your table. We were just trying to figure out how we would point and shoot at a menu on the wall.

As we engineered our plan, a girl came scurrying out of the back. She was so cute. She must have been studying her English. She was so excited and told us "We don't get many like you here." She pulled out an English menu and started to go over everything in it. She then told the woman behind the register.

We were down to picking drinks. We pointed to a brown bottle and we held up 4 fingers for 4 bottles to drink with our meal. Her eyes got wide and she said "NOT beer" We asked if it was tea. "Not tea, Chinese drink, You try just one." She was very adamant about us not wanting 4. So we got one bottle of that and 3 beers. Thank god. I don't know what was in that bottle but it tasted like soy sauce and rubbing alcohol. Just to be able to choke it down we had to mix it with one of the beers. There were several locals laughing and staring at us. I don't know if it was our odd behavior or our odd looks.

The food was wonderful and the entertainment of eating in a place that wasn't frequented by tourists was a blast. There is nothing in the world quite like stepping outside your box.
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