A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: rdut

Thailand

So it's taken me a little longer than I thought it would to update this, but know that I am still alive and really enjoying traveling through Thailand. I am currently on Ko Phi Phi, an island off the West coast of Thailand near Phuket, but more on here later.

I started my latest exploits by taking a 9 hour speed boat down the Mekong River between Laos and Myanmar (Burma for you older folks) from Jinghong, China, to Chiang Saen, Thailand.
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The next morning, I took a bus to Chiang Mai, a very touristy (but still great) town in Northern Thailand. I spent a few days there exploring the mountains, temples, as well as taking an overnight hiking trip in which we rafted and rode elephants.
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It was a great time and so far, still my favorite place in Thailand. After a few days in Chiang Mai, I took a bus a few hours South to Sukhothai, the old capital of Thailand that has lots of old ruins from its former glory days.
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I spent a day touring the ruins, and that night took a night train to Bangkok.

Bangkok is a big, crazy city, but coming from China I'm used to big and crazy. I spent a couple of days exploring the city, including the Royal Palace (one of the most impressive buildings I've ever seen), a few more temples, etc.
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After exploring Bangkok for a couple of days, I woke early the next morning and left on a bus South to Chumpon, and then took a speedboat Southeast for a couple of hours to Ko Tao, east of the mainland, in the Gulf of Thailand.
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I then spent the next three days getting certified to be a scuba diver (just an "open water" diver for now - up to 18 meters deep).

Ko Tao is THE PLACE to get certified in Thailand, and in my class were two German siblings and an Austrian guy. Our instructor was also German, so while the classes were in English every once in a while one would break in German and they would start talking. I've realized that although I could still catch some stuff, now my Chinese is WAY better than my German as I've forgotten a lot of what I had known... I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.
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After getting certified, I spent another day relaxing on Ko Tao and then that night took a night boat (probably the roughest boat ride I've ever taken. A drink cooler (the standup kind with a glass door) that was on the second level of the boat almost fell over board, but instead slammed into a girl sitting between it and the railing. Needless to say. they had to rope the cooler down and that was the end of the beverage service for the trip!
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After arriving in Surat Thani early the next morning, I took a bus two hours to Krabi, then a 40 minute tuk tuk ride to the beach, then a 10 minute long tail boat ride to my next destination - Railay Beach. This is a series of four beaches that are only accessible by boat, and it was beautiful, and, since it's supposed to be the rainy season, things were cheap(er) and lots of places were actually closed for the season... Luckily, since I've gotten to the "rainy" side of Thailand, I haven't had any rain; knock on wood.
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I spent a day and a half exploring Railay, and then took a boat about 1 1/2 hours to here, Ko Phi Phi, which is about halfway between Railay and Phuket. Ko Phi Phi is really beautiful, but VERY developed. (Sorry - no pictures of here yet). Even though this place was totally wiped out by the Tsunami, it's been built back up quickly, and still shows no signs of stopping. Evidently, it became really popular after the movie "The Beach" came out as it was filmed here. Tomorrow morning I'm headed out for two "fun dives" to test out my newly-earned certification. Supposedly the sea life is even better here than in Ko Tao and hopefully I'll see some sharks (they've been around the past few days - so hopefully they still are tomorrow). Then, in the afternoon I catch the boat to Phuket for my last two days in Thailand before heading to Indonesia.

So far, traveling in Thailand is so easy compared to China. EVERYONE speaks English (of course, this is a little bit of an exaggeration, but coming from China, where no one speaks English, it's still crazy to me that clerks in minimarts, or a taxi driver, or a train station attendant, or random people on the street, know how to speak English). Also, all menus are in English, there's tons of Western food around, and no one is spitting or peeing in the streets. It's kind of like already being back in the US!

Posted by rdut 04:07 Comments (0)

Dutlis in China, part 3

The pictures are uploaded, but I don't have time to put many into the body of this posting, so look for them in the gallery... Katie sent me LOTS of Great Wall pictures, so enjoy! I'm about to head to the train station to catch the night train from Sukhothai to Bangkok. Will try to update soon!

The final stop on our whirlwind tour was Beijing. We planned to have the most days in Beijing because of the amount of things to see, and the 4 ½ days we had barely allowed us to scratch the surface. Our flight from Xi'an wasn’t the most fun for Katie – who fell victim to something in the water, food, etc. So, she remained in the hotel for the rest of the night while Carl, Marlee and Ryan went to one of the many ‘fake markets’ in which you can find anything you want – including a tailor to custom make a sport coat in 3 days, one day for fitting. That’s exactly what they did to find a coat for Carl that looks ironically identical to one of his favorite, and worn out coats from home.

After getting fitted, they came back to the room where all of us proceeded to find a Chinese pharmacist to cure Katie. With the help of a Chinese-English medical dictionary, we were in luck. While Katie went back to the hotel, the rest had dinner at about 11:30 at a small family owned restaurant that shared the same alley as our hotel. Luckily the medicine worked and all 4 Dutlis were off for a day of sightseeing in Beijing. We started at the Forbidden City, where we found John, an English speaking tour guide who gave us a very quick 2 ½ hour tour of the Forbidden City – which is where the Chinese Emperors lived and held court in Ancient Beijing.
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Understandably, there was a ton of history in the Forbidden City; but many of it required a very strong sense of Chinese history and dynasty designations. It seems as if we didn’t do enough research about China before getting to Beijing – although it was impressive nonetheless. After we saw enough of the Forbidden City, we made it over to Tiananmen Square, which sits right across the street. Entering Tiananmen was interesting, the security incredibly tight for a public square, everyone required to go through metal detectors and undergo bag searches for possible political protest materials. We walked South through the square on to more hutongs (traditional neighborhoods) for lunch. We found a spot for lunch, ordered, but were surprised when one of our dishes was very pungent and turned out to be pig intestines. Only this one time did Ryan’s knowledge of a Chinese menu steer us wrong. We kindly asked them to take the dish away. We continued walking through the hutongs, saw more of the famous Chinese construction, and made out way to the metro towards the Olympic Village where we saw the Birds' Nest and Water Cube - which are just as impressive in person as they are on TV.
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We were looking for a particular restaurant where we were planning on having Peking Duck, but the restaurant wasn’t where the book said it was. We finally found our way thanks to a very helpful friendly taxi driver (who was listening to English tapes while we were in the car), and had the famous and incredibly tender and tasty Peking Duck – in which they carved the duck at our table and gave us a lesson on how to eat it. This was also the only meal where we had Western silverware (which tells you something about the places we ate most of the time…)

The next day we went on an adventure to buy tickets to an acrobat show and wandered through the Temple of Heaven, which is another temple that has significant meaning in Chinese history.
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After walking through the park around the Temple of Heaven, we started on an adventure to find the cloisonné factory, which mom was really looking forward to. After it started raining, we ducked into a restaurant to wait out the storm. We eventually stumbled upon the factory, only to give ourselves a tour (we sort of figured out the process), and watch the workers hand paint the designs that get fired onto the decorative objects they sell to tourists in the gift shop. We then made our way to get dad’s jacket fitted and spent a bit too much time shopping at the fake market. Because of the rain, we couldn’t get a cab and had to make sure our acrobat tickets would work for another night as we weren't going to be able to make the show that night. Luckily, they don’t sell specific seats or have different tickets for different days, so it didn’t matter what night we used them. We went searching for another restaurant recommended by our guide book, but it wasn’t there either. So, we found a hot-pot (Chinese fondue) restaurant and headed back to the hotel to arrange for a car to take us to the Great Wall the next day. We lucked out and found a car to meet us at the hotel very early and got ready to hike the next day.

We woke up early and got comfortable in the VW Jetta that was going to drive us 3 hours each way to a more secluded area of the wall where the car dropped us off and picked us up in another town 6 miles (and 7 hours) later. The hike started off with some locals hiking with us, telling us we were going too fast for them, as apparently they wanted to walk with us. Well, we soon discovered that they were walking with us so that they could sell us souvenirs and water. We apparently looked like suckers, because although there were only 4 of us walking, we apparently warranted 4 ‘helpers’. Because mom was so cautious of her ankle (apparently she didn’t want another broken ankle on vacation), she appreciated the help and bought a souvenir book atop the wall from one of them (which then Carl and Ryan had to carry the rest of the way). You could see the wall snaking for miles across the mountains, and there were times when you couldn’t even see another person in the distance. It was the one time in China when it was peaceful. While I could write for paragraphs about the wall, it’s much better through pictures.
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After we made it to our final destination of Simatai, we had a drink and snack at a hostel, with a beautiful view of the wall we had just conquered. We crammed back into our small car and made it back to Beijing in time for some more shopping at another fake market (the true China experience). We went to the famous night market in Beijing where they were selling all sorts of odd things that Westerners expect to find at a night market, including: cockroaches, snakes, stinky tofu, starfish, cat, dog, etc. We wandered in the market until it closed and found a small restaurant for dinner that met our two criteria: wine and no smoking. After a day of hiking the Great Wall of China, one has the right to be picky about the restaurant they eat their victory meal in. Luckily we finally found one – except the wine was terrible and we didn’t drink it.

On our last full day in China, we headed to the Summer palace – which is outside the city a bit and where the Royal family would spend the hot summer days in Beijing. It was another impressive collection of buildings, gardens and temples – all built for the sole pleasure of the royal family.
China_1338.jpgAfter wandering around the palace and climbing more stairs (the hike on the wall was catching up with us…), we made our way to a lunch place and then again to the fake market where we picked up dad’s completed jacket and bartered for all of the things we would be taking back with us as a reminder of Chinese commercialism. After wheeling our purchases away (an additional suitcase was one of the purchases), we made our way to the acrobat show where we saw first-hand the flexibility, strength and young age of the famous Chinese acrobats. We wandered back towards our hotel, stopping for our last dumpling meal in China, eventually making it to Tiananmen Square , which was closed to the public, guards posted at every corner, ensuring nothing out of the ordinary was happening.

We made our way back to our hotel to pack for the long day of traveling ahead, our unpacked bags representing the reality that our Chinese adventure had essentially come to an end. It was a whirlwind of a trip, in which we merely scratched the surface for one of the most fascinating and complex countries I have ever been to. China had never been on the top of my ‘must see’ destinations, but it now ranks as one of the most exotic places I have been. If you ever get the chance to take your own Chinese adventure, I say go for it.

Posted by rdut 02:33 Comments (0)

Summer break!

My last hurrah before heading home...

It’s been a while since I’ve written on this thing, but this time (I think), I have a good excuse. I finished teaching at the end of June and have been traveling since. I started this last trip by flying to Chengdu, in Sichuan province, the home of pandas, VERY spicy food, and the big earthquake last year. While I wasn’t really impressed with Chengdu the city (by now, pretty much all big Chinese cities seem interchangeable to me, and that there isn’t really anything separating them from one another). However, Chengdu is the home of the panda breeding and research center, and I had a chance to get very close to a large number of pandas, which was a lot more impressive and enjoyable than I thought it would be.
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I hadn’t realized how old panda bears are (it is estimated they have been around 2-3 million years!) and how much they have adapted throughout those years, including changing from being meat eaters to bamboo eaters, and growing a type of “thumb” that helps to strip the bamboo branches. They also are just fun to watch lay around and eat…
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After Chengdu, I spent the next five or so days traveling by bus and (very uncomfortable) van through western Sichuan and down into Yunnan province. Western Sichuan, while technically part of Sichuan, is part of the Tibetan autonomous region, and everything about the area (landscape, people, buildings, language, food) is Tebetan.
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I ate tons of yak meat dumplings, yak butter tea, yak yogurt, and other yak products, including something that I have sorely missed while in China – cheese!!! One town I spent a couple of days exploring with Litang, which is over 13,500 feet in elevation, which is actually higher than Lhasa.
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The only draw back traveling in this area is that the Chinese government, in its infinite wisdom, decided a few months ago to not allow foreigners to buy bus tickets between these towns, so are all forced to get rides in private vans that are very uncomfortable. Adding the trips together in this region, I have spent more than 24 hours traveling in cramped vans. The “highways” the vans traveled on in this part of China reminded me more of logging roads. Luckily, it was quite foggy a lot of the time below us, so we couldn’t see how far we would fall as we careened around blind corner after blind corner. Some of the trips have been great, though, as one of the 11 hours rides was with me and 8 other Tibetans. I learned that on every mountain pass (and there are a lot of them!) that they throw little paper prayer flags out the window, as well as start signing Tibetan folk songs. Most of the other time is spent signing Tibetan pop songs, which unfortunately, there are not many of, resulting in the same few song being repeated ad naseam. I could probably sing you a couple myself by now.
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It is also interesting to note that the Tibetans are more than happy talking about their current "situation" in China right now, whereas Chinese people will not or cannot talk about the Tibet issue (I don't know if it's that they DON'T want to talk about it or that they are ignorant about the issue and CAN'T talk about it - probably some of both).

We (at this point traveling with 6 others – 3 Brits, 1 French, and 2 Israelis) finally got back to “China” by arriving in Shangri-La, which is supposedly the location of the mystical place in James Hilton's book “Lost Horizon” and where that term comes from. Of course, this town was just named that by the Chinese government to increase tourism, and evidently it worked!
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Next, I traveled to Lijiang (finally back on proper buses!), which is only one of two fully-preserved Chinese cities in the entire country. It is amazing how large the “old town” is (most large Chinese cities only have a block or two that was preserved, or worse, newly-built to look old) and it really is a very neat town, although it is OVERRUN by mostly Chinese tourists in their Chinese tour groups (if you ever come to visit China, you will learn to despise these groups with their flag-waving leader, the matching hats, and the steely voice coming out of the guide’s portable speaker).
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Lijiang is also the home to the Naxi (“Nah Shee”) minority in China. It is the last civilization to still use hieroglyphics as their writing system, and it’s still used today…

After spending a day and a half in Lijiang, I caught another bus south 4 hours to Dali, another town in the Yunnan mountains. Dali is also old, but is much more popular with Western tourists for some reason and includes the most foreign-run bars and restaurants I have ever seen in China. It seems to be the place in China for the old and young hippies to go to live, and is the first place on my trip south that I was offered weed by old ladies waiting near all of the hostels (I always get a kick out of grandmother-aged ladies offering people drugs!) After a day in Dali, I took a bus another 5 hours south to Kunming, the big city of Yunnan to spend the night prior to taking a 9 hour bus ride further south to Jinghong, my last stop in China before I hear into Thailand. Jinghong is part of the XiShuangBanna area, which is much more "Southeast Asian" feeling than the rest of China, and it is. All of the buildings look like they belong in Laos or Myanmar, and there is either Burmese or Lao writing on many of the signs).

For those of you who don’t know, I decided (long ago) that this year would be my only year teaching in China, and I have my flight booked back to Redmond for the 19th of August out of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. So, between now and then, I plan to travel down through Thailand and Malaysia, and if time permits, maybe a quick detour to Indonesia. I will try to update more regularly during this next 5 weeks, but I won’t promise anything right now!

I hope that everyone is having a great summer, and I look forward to catching up when I get back to the US. I will try to post the last episode of my family's visit later today...

Posted by rdut 22:24 Comments (1)

Dutlis in China, part 2

The second part of the Dutli Chinese adventure started with a plane from Shanghai to Guilin, where we took a cab to our hotel in Li Village – a small village outside of Yangshuo in South Central China where we were looking forward to the ‘vacation’ part of our 2 week trip. We made it to our hotel – Moon Resort while it was dark, but we could still see the outline of the Karst mountains rising from the ground during the whole drive from Guilin. We woke up the next morning to a beautiful view from our rooms of the Karst mountains coming out of the ground, a rice field separating them from us.
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We had breakfast at our hotel (fresh squeezed orange juice a staple at each breakfast) before being escorted into town by Wei Wei, the owner of our hotel. She rode with us into town, showed us the bus stop for our upcoming boat ride, took us to a bank to exchange money and then left us on our own to wander around town. The culture in Yangshuo is as close to ‘Western’ that we found, with lots of Westerners walking around the town, outside cafes and most importantly - wine by the glass.
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Once we wandered around town, we got on the bus that would take us to the Li River – where we had a boat waiting for us (arranged by Wei Wei) that would take us on the 2 hour boat ride to another village. The boat consisted of about 11 PVC pipes tied together with rope, with enough room for 2 bamboo loveseats and room for 6 people – the 4 of us and 2 drivers. Our drivers didn’t speak any English, but luckily it was easy for us to just sit and enjoy the scenery – very similar around every turn, but somehow we never got tired of it.
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Our trip ended at XingPing, a small village that consisted of lots of locals selling trinkets, a few restaurants and a hostel. We wandered around the town, had lunch and once we saw most everything, we hopped on a bus back to Yangshuo. Once back to our hotel, we cleaned up and had happy hour on our hotel’s outdoor porch and went back to town for a light show, which was apparently very impressive and famous with Chinese tourists. We showed up at the show and if nothing else, the view from the stage – the Li River surrounded by the Karst mountains lit with artificial light – was worth the ticket price. The show – which was entirely in Chinese – was an interesting and impressive experience. The director of the show is Zhang Yimou, the director of "Hero", "House of Flying Daggers", and who did the opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics. The cast was made up of locals of all ages from the Yangshuo area, dressed in traditional costumes from various time periods. We don’t really know what the story was about (Ryan was able to pick up some words here and there), but the way they used the river as a prop for the show was very impressive – my favorite ‘scene’ consisted of hundreds of boatmen on the water – performing a choreographed dance while pulling themselves on the water (still standing in the boat) with a fiery red ribbon that looked really dramatic in the dark, lit with spotlights.
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After the show, we left the show with the hundreds of other attendees and went to Yangshuo for dinner. We wandered a while and finally found a restaurant that served beer fish, the local specialty, where we were able to sit outside and enjoy the warm weather.

The next morning, we borrowed some bikes from our hotel and set off on a bike ride along the Yulong River, the other main river in the area. The scenery was beautiful, riding between rice patties, the river and the mountains side by side with farmers and water buffalo. We made it a few miles before dad’s bike pedal started coming off. Luckily, there are bike repair men everywhere in China – including on the fairly secluded road along the Yulong River. We backtracked a bit so dad could have his pedal repaired, in which what we think of as modern technology was thrown out the window in place of a can full of nuts and bolts that fit after enough pounding of the hammer. After it was fixed, we were on our way. We made it a bit further before we realized mom’s bike had a flat tire. We were too far from the repair man, so, armed with a pump, Ryan took the bum bike and we continued on – stopping occasionally to put air in the tire. Our final destination was called “The Dragon Bridge”, but due to flooding last Spring that wiped multiple bridges out, we couldn’t make it across to the path on the other side of the river. Taking this as the final sign that we weren’t meant to have a peaceful and uneventful bike ride, we turned around and started our way back home.
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We stopped at a lodge on the road for a beverage and made it back to our hotel just in time for a massive rain storm. We had lunch in the Li village (by far the worst service and quality of food during our entire trip) and rested in the hotel for a while, waiting out the storm before going back to town for shopping and dinner. We were able to get all of the souvenirs we needed (in addition to a glass of wine) in between storms, making it to our dinner location before yet another downpour. After finding a cab to take us home, we fell asleep to the sound of rain on and off through the night.

Because the rain did not stop the next morning, we left earlier than planned to go back to Guilin – hoping that going even a little further North would help us get to better weather. We lucked out and had a day in Guilin to wander in the sun before our next flight. While in Guilin, we walked around the many parks and lakes they have. One in particular had two pagodas – the sun and the moon pagoda – and was full of people.
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A young man came to us and started talking in English, explaining that he was an English teacher and wanted to take us to a tea house for some tea – so he could teach us about tea and speak English. Not sure if this was a scam or not, we went with him. We walked a ways to another part of the city to a tea house in which we sampled (in the traditional way) 3 teas that are grown locally. It was interesting, especially for dad, who walked out with some local osmanthus tea. We wandered a bit more, had a good noodle dinner and made out way to the airport via the bus station. We landed in Xi’an and made our way to the hostel – where we would be staying for 2 nights (and paying $26/night per room).

We woke up the next morning and had breakfast in the hostel and then bussed out to the Terra Cotta Warriors. This was one location we wanted to have a guide take us through, so we were approached by a German couple who we ended up ‘sharing’ the guide with. Our guide did not speak English very well, but the Warriors are impressive with or without the background.
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What was most surprising to me was the number of warriors in each of the three buildings, and the amount that are still not uncovered or still laying in pieces, waiting to be put together into one full ‘warrior’. After wandering around the warrior digs for about 3 hours, we bussed our way back to Xi’an, where we wandered around the Muslim quarter and had a very late lunch. We made our way back to the hostel and then went to the Big Goose Pagoda – which is square – and totally different than the typical round pagodas in other cities.
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We were waiting to go to dinner at this famous dumpling restaurant – where they supposedly make their dumplings in shapes – frogs, ducks, etc. We must have arrived too late, because by the time we got there, only 2 types of dumplings were left. So, we had normal steamed dumplings in what is apparently a very famous dumpling shop. We wandered through the Muslim quarter and market again at night and then went back to the hotel and had a drink before bed. The next morning, we were headed for Beijing…

Posted by rdut 20:53 Comments (1)

The Dutlis come to China!

Shanghai and Suzhou

My parents and sister came to China last month to visit. We spent two weeks traveling with me showing them what it's like to live in China and having to constantly assure them that, "no, that bus barreling towards us will not hit us..."

Knowing that this trip would require documentation on this website, I decided that the most logical thing to do would be to enlist my sister's help in doing the actual work. Why not, she does this sort of thing for a living... So without further ado by me, below is the first of three installments of the Dutlis' trip to China:

It’s been nearly two weeks since we returned from what ended up being a whirlwind trip of China – where we saw more historic sights than ever imaginable; walked miles and miles across 5 different cities; ate amazing (& fairly normal) Chinese cuisine using only chopsticks (!), all while narrowly avoiding death or serious injury by Chinese drivers. Even though I have a full time job and this is Ryan’s blog, I have been roped into writing about the Dutli Chinese adventure – which I will do in 3 different postings.

Our first introduction to Asia was in Tokyo, where we were greeted on the plane by people in full haz-mat suits, collecting the questionnaires we filled out related to symptoms of the swine flu. After verifying that every passenger was healthy and didn’t have a temperature, we were set free. A few hours later, we touched down in Shanghai, where Ryan greeted us before riding the Maglev - the worlds’ fastest train - into the city. The day ended once settled into our Shanghai hotel, home for only 2 nights.
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Because Ryan had to teach in Suzhou the next day, we were left with a map and a list of places to go and things to see. Our day started with the Planning & Urban Development Museum – where an impressive model of Shanghai was helpful in understanding the layout and history of the city. We made our way to Nanjing Road, which is a massive pedestrian street lined with shops and full of people, en route to the Bund, where we were unsuccessful in seeing anything because of the massive amount of construction. Ryan always talked about the extensive construction projects being completed at all times – and it didn’t take long for us to see what exactly he was talking about. The day of walking continued with a wander through the French Concession where we were first exposed to the ‘quiet’ side of Shanghai, tree lined streets and construction being completed with scaffolding made of bamboo. After multiple failed attempts at exchanging money or finding food, we finally found a restaurant with a picture menu. Our first official meal in China without Ryan was a success – noodles for Marlee, rice for Katie and beer for Carl. We then made our way back to the hotel by walking through our fist ‘antique’ market, where stall after stall ironically carried the exact same antiques. We met up with Ryan and proceeded to Pudong, the new and modern area of Shanghai across the river – complete with skyscrapers and not only the (soon to be) tallest building in the world, but also the tallest hotel in the world – which is where we had a drink while enjoying the skyline of Shanghai from the 83rd floor. Once back on solid ground, we wandered for a while, attempting to find a world famous dumpling restaurant before the jet lag set in and we headed back to the hotel. Back at the hotel, we soon discovered that the camera was missing…and Katie quickly became not only the family journalist, but also photographer.

The next day began with a Chinese breakfast at our hotel – consisting of a tea boiled egg, white & gray dumplings (in a sweet, slimy sauce), red bean steamed bun, steamed roll, sticky rice in banana leaf and rice soup. Needless to say, we stuck to Western breakfasts for the rest of the trip. With Ryan in his official role as tour guide, we made our way to an older part of Shanghai where hutongs (traditional family homes) have been fixed up with shops and restaurants instead of destroyed and replaced with concrete apartment blocks. While in the area, we walked through a typical food market where we were first exposed to the unique Chinese cuisine consisting of: chicken feet, turtles, eels, pigs’ noses and almost every other part of an animals’ body that us westerners would throw out. As if this wasn’t enough exposure to Chinese animals, we walked through the pet market, where we could hear cicadas, crickets, saw turtles, bugs, dogs, cats, fish and even birds that said “Nihao”. As if all of this ‘real’ China wasn’t enough, we went to what we will call “Disneyland China” complete with an ornate gate, lions, red lanterns and upturned roof lines. This was our first introduction to the crooked bridges of China, angled to keep the ghosts from crossing the bridge (according to the Chinese, ghosts can't turn corners). At lunchtime, we ate next door to a world famous dumpling restaurant (the famous one was full) and had Shanghai style dumplings (steamed meat dumplings with soup in the middle). At one point in the meal, a dumpling was accidentally dropped to the unclean and unwashed table. Mom insisted that no one eat it and it was set in one of the empty bamboo steamers and placed at the edge of the table. Once finished with our meal, sitting and discussing what to do next, a young boy (about 8 years old) walked intently towards our table. At this point, we were used to having people ask for our empty bottles of water (for money), so no one was really alarmed until the kid took the fallen dumpling out of the steamer, popped it into his mouth, smiled at us (with a full mouth at this point) and happily skipped away – knowing he completely shocked the foreign family. Once the shock wore off, we couldn’t stop laughing – and mom mentioned that we should have saved one of the clean ones for him. We eventually made our way to the train station where the only tickets left for the train to Suzhou were standing room only. We made it to Suzhou and checked into our hotel, which was a former family residence in the old part of the city, near the touristy part of the city, surrounded by canals.
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Dinner that night consisted of Suzhou delicacies – Mandarin Squirrel Fish, shredded eel and river shrimp. While Ryan and dad finished the eel by themselves, mom and I couldn’t seem to get over the fact that it looked like cut up worms – who cares what it tasted like – it looked like worms.
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The next morning Ryan had to teach again, so we were sent off to the Humble Administrators Garden, where our tour guide – Happy – was going to meet us. The garden was beautiful and the tour was great to help us understand the meaning behind everything….and everything does have a meaning. Suzhou is famous for their silk, so we met Ryan later that morning and went to the Embroidery Research Institute, where we watched women embroider silk paintings, which are so intricate that they can take over 5 years to complete one picture, and are understandably worth thousands of dollars. We then shopped for silk goods (in a much cheaper part of town), ate lunch at a small dumpling restaurant and took a cab to Ryan’s school. After seeing his room in the teachers’ dorm, it was time for class. Mom, dad and I stood at the front of the classroom and answered questions asked by his class of 4th grade students – all while seeing Ryan in action as a teacher.
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The kids were a lot of fun and treated us as if we were celebrities – asking for our e-mail addresses, autographs and taking pictures with each of us before we could leave.
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We then walked around Ryan’s neighborhood, seeing where he gets his bubble tea, his hair cut, the restaurants he frequents and the frequently drunk bicycle repair man. The silk shopping continued before we met up with a few of the teachers from Ryan’s school, where we ate at a restaurant that we thought was recommended by Ryan’s Lonely Planet book – but turns out the real one was next door (they both had "Lonely Planet" written on the door; even restaurants are counterfeit in China!) . The next day started with a trip to the silk museum – where we saw silk worms in action, followed by a visit to a silk factory – where we not only saw all of the steps involved with making silk products, but took part in the action – pulling apart cocoons to form a bedspread. Needless to say, it is much harder than it looks. After we had learned enough about the silk trade in Suzhou, we climbed all 8 stories of the City's pagoda (the tallest in China south of the Yangtze River) – which is also a working Buddhist temple – where we were able to see panoramic (though hazy) views of the city below.
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For lunch on the way back to our hotel, we had our first experience with noodles from the Northwest of China – the noodles are made fresh, created by stretching the dough thin enough to create one continuous noodle. For those curious about the price of food, this particular meal cost $4 for all 4 of us – excluding beverages. We could have been in Suzhou for a few more days and would have had plenty to see, but there was so much to see in China in a short amount of time. Luckily, we were able to accomplish everything on Ryan’s list for Suzhou– which was fairly impressive given the limited time we had. Our time in Suzhou ended with a train ride back to Shanghai (we got to sit this time…) and we were off to the airport for the next leg of our trip.
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More to come!

Posted by rdut 03:09 Comments (1)

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