The search for something big

Trip Start Aug 23, 2007
Trip End Jul 31, 2008

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Thursday, November 22, 2007

The most recent holiday ushered us to Shanghai both by neccesity and choice.  It provided a good chance to catch up with friends as well as the shopping variety to address some pressing needs...barely.  Accompanied by Anna (who was reluctantly seeking the skill of the Best Buy Geek Squad for her crashed hard drive) we hopped a butt-achingly bumpy ride from Anji to Huzhou (about 1 hr. north) to Shanghai.  This permitted us to leave on our schedule rather than catching the twice-a-day direct to Shanghai from Anji.  With bags on back were scampered to the Metro and dove into the sprawl of Shanghai to find the ticketing office to pick up our tickets from Guangzhou to Kathmandu for January(!!) as well as to book a cheap one-way for our next excursion to Hong Kong.

After getting acclimated the shopping began.  Kevin was desperately seeking basketball shoes of an appropriate size after losing one pair to the concrete wear and tear and thoroughly thrashing his feet during a game played in borrowed and far-too-small shoes.  For a while it felt like an exercise in futility constantly being laughed from one modern department store to the next.  After a while a pair of Nikes and Adidas were availabe but at over American prices...the school was willing to go halfsies, but we continued our mission for something more suitable.  Finally a pair of Li-Ning shoes, a famed Chinese brand named after the Gold Medal hurdler, fit the bill for less than half the cost.  Interspersed in this shopping quest was a wander through the fish/flower/pet market which included some cramped animal quarters.  This was especially true for the goldfish and crickets.  Crickets in China are used for both sport (cricket fighting) and nutrients.  The market offered a museum like display of boxed crickets ranging in size from mite-like to monstrous...only they were all living.
We were impressed by the contortionist aspect of the scene, with legs and body seemingly extending in the wrong directions.  After the market we headed to the worthwhile Urban Planning Museum.  The museum has the lofty task not only of keeping track of the warp speed development but outlining it for the viewer.  The most impressive display is a scale model of the whole of Shanghai...big enough in itself to house quite a few residents.  We also enjoyed some Xinjiang (Muslim-minority autonomous region in NW China) food in a lavish setting with mutton rightfully dominating the menu.  We were happily surprised to find dinner accompanied by some ethnic dance and song (including one Italian song being belted out). 

With the shopping and big-city behind us, it was time to relax a little.  After a couple hour journey southwest we unloaded our bags at a beautiful canal side hotel in the old town of Xitang.  The scenic area of Xitang consists of several criss-crossed canals spanned by gorgeous stone bridges and lined by wonderfully picturesque houses.  While it's main income is certainly tourism (and is where some of MI:III was filmed), it was refreshing to see local life ongoing .  This included a rush of elementary school aged kids unleashed on the stone walkways just before supper time.  We contented ourselves to wander several times around the canals, catching different views and lighting each time.  There were college art students at almost ever corner, working on fantastic sketchings and watercolors.   It was obviously genuine, as these were the first college 'art' students we had seen that hadn't been trying to convince us to come see their 'exhibit' and try to pressure us into buying sub-par art at outlandish prices, a common scan throughout China.  These students were content to involve themselves in their work and let the tourists peruse the shops, which we happily did. As the night fell, red lanterns lit our path, delineating clearly where canal met walkway.  We happily enclosed ourselves in the magnificent wooden framed canopy bed and gorged ourselves on the Penalty Kick countdowns being shown on the local sports channel.  The next morning we worked our way back home to enjoy the last day and a half before classes resumed.

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