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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
More to come!