Thursday, October 4, 2012

Golden Week Part I: Suzhou

Since Chris and I had eight days off for Mooncake Festival and Chinese National day, we decided to do what any self-respecting Chinamen would do on a holiday…travel. One of Chris’ Bosch Charleston friends, Christian, lives in Suzhou and invited us to his home for a couple days of exploration, barbeque, and football!  So we sent Ditka and Leia to Jia Liang kennels to play with their puppy friends and we got out of town.

Suzhou here we come!
Ditka and Leia loved running around in a big, grassy yard at Dr. Jenny's!

The first part of our adventure was the train ride itself.  A train trip in China was on my bucket list so Chris booked two first class tickets on the G-Train to Suzhou for Monday afternoon.  The G-Train is a bullet train that travels upwards of 200 miles per hour!  Fortunately, a 2-hour car trip was trimmed down to a 25-minute breeze! 

Chris outside the Shanghai railway station.

We weren't the only ones who had the idea to get out of town.

All Aboard!!! (They did not say that.  I just imagined they would.)
One of the perks of a first class train ticket is free OJ!  Gotta love it!

I <3 the train!

Upon arrival to Suzhou we were greeted by Christian, his wife Sabine, and our 13 month old tour guide, Henrick.  We spent the evening catching up over the Lions game.  It was wonderful to settle in with some Charleston friends!

The next morning Henrick suggested that we say good morning to the fish at Jinji Hu lake, so we fueled up on Starbucks and took a stroll.  Many people were out flying kites, riding bikes, fishing, and enjoying the beautiful autumn weather.
The fish are great!  Let me show you...

This is the view from our side of the lake!
The park had a fabo Don Quixote statue!

I need to get an Angry Birds kite!

After our stroll, Henrick was a little sleepy, so Christian took over tour guide duties and took us to Shangtang St. for lunch and a little shopping.

Sorry guys, I will catch you later!
Stepping on Shangtang St. was like stepping into China 1100 years ago.  The street is lined with traditional Chinese architecture, and people enjoy floating from one end of the street to the other in the canal adjacent to the buildings.  As we were walking, I felt like my high school history book was coming to life.

An arial shot of Shangtan St.
Shangtan Lu.

Cheers from lunch!

Chris strikes a pose in the middle of shopping.
If you travel a little too far, you may run into some hairy crab, a Suzhou delicacy.

Some nice ladies cook up some honey flavored taffy.
Chris takes a bite of the yummy honey candy.
Large, silk masks were hung around the streets.

After our stroll, we headed back to Henrick’s house for the best cheeseburger I have had since I arrived in Shanghai, a little football (soccer) in the backyard, and some American football!  (Short lesson…if you are an expat, the NFL network has a FABULOUS streaming package you can subscribe to overseas.  You can catch every game live, and the site allows you to play any game you like whenever you want to see it! )

The following day, Henrick was a little sleepy so Chris and I decided to take a trip to the Humble Administrator’s Garden solo.  A Ming Dynasty poet who was persecuted by the East Imperial Secret Service developed the garden in the 1600’s.   All the man wanted was to have a place where he could build his own house, plant trees, and grow vegetables, so he worked with a friend to create a beautiful haven in Suzhou.  Today, the garden is owned by the Chinese government and is protected by the UN as a World Heritage site.  Chris and I thought that this would be the perfect place to unleash our inner shutterbug.  Unfortunately, so did half of the population of Suzhou.

After we purchased scalped tickets and shoved through the crowds, we entered one of the most picturesque gardens I have ever seen.

Unfortunately the theme song from Gilligan's Island got stuck in my head when I saw this house.

After about 30 minutes, I noticed many lenses and iPhones pointing my way.  Apparently large, blonde (by bottle) women were something of a novelty in these parts.   Eventually, I just started to smile and wave at the cameras.  Mothers approached me wanting me to pose for a shot with their children. Strangers wanted a photo op. I don’t know if I felt like a zoo animal, or a D-list celebrity.  I do know that I take lots of pictures of random Chinese happenings to post on this blog, so perhaps this was payback.  I knew the pictures would be taken regardless of my approval, so I may as well smile and give them something good.

Me with random stranger #1.

Me on my way to become a D-List celebrity
After our garden photo shoot, it was time to grab lunch, do a little more toy shopping and take a 25-minute train trip back home. 

Overall, we had a great time.  We enjoyed spending time with friends and exploring new territory.  For the second half of our golden week, we will be tourists in our own city.  Stay tuned!  There is more to come!