The longest leg of our trip, a 12-day stop in Shanghai, began with our late Wednesday-night arrival at the Marriott Executive Apartments near People's Square in the heart of the city. Our suite had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen and, to our surprise and great delight, a washing machine/dryer!
|We immediately lit some incense and said a prayer of thanks.|
Although we were completely unable to decipher the settings and dials, I secured a manual in English (regrettably, no Chinglish) and proceeded to plow through two or three small loads a day for the next week.
|Our hotel in the background. Vaughn had to ditch the souvenir Mao cadet hat because placing it atop |
his juan tou fa (curly hair) proved too irresistible to the citizenry of Shanghai.
On Thursday, July 10 - a workday for Betsy - the kids and I started off in the heat and humidity for a walk through People's Park located adjacent to our hotel. The beautiful park was developed beginning in 1952 and currently features a waterfall, a lotus pond, fitness areas and a small amusement park.
|One of the "fitness areas." We wondered if their wives know about their daily gambling exercise.|
Our plans to meet up with our friends from Guilin came to fruition as we miraculously rendezvoused with Danne, Layla and Ahmad Johnson on Nanjing Road, a nearby pedestrian shopping plaza. After bathing in the air-conditioned comfort of a three-story M&M shopping emporium we made our way back to People's Park. All five kids screamed and hollered their way through a thrilling swing ride before we wandered toward the exit through the beautiful park grounds.
|NOT a busker; only in the parks do people seem to play for pleasure instead of pocket change.|
Danne had a lunch place in mind in the French Concession, an area once designated for, go figure, the French that still retains a unique charm with its tree-lined avenues, small cafés and many fine old houses. The Johnsons had experience riding the subway and were happy to guide us on our initial plunge. Having navigated the much older subways in London, Paris and Brussels two summers ago, I can say that the 11-year old Shanghai subway is far cleaner, a bit cheaper (kids ride free!) and has an easier payment system.
I'll never forget spontaneously belting out the Laverne and Shirley theme song with Danne and sharing obscure childhood memories as we walked past the Shanghai Museum on our way to the subway station. We also got a laugh out of being the ONLY non-Chinese riders on the train (which pretty much always seemed to be the case) and we wondered what the locals must have made of this crazy Brady Bunch of smiling American faces. Danne's choice of eateries did not disappoint as we all devoured the fried rice, sautéed sword (green) beans with minced shrimp, braised pork (amazingly fresh and deliciously fatty) and mixed pan-fried mushrooms. We said goodbye to our friends as we separated before boarding different subway lines with plans to meet up later at the Bund.
Tragically, that meeting was not to be as our good luck ran out and we failed to find each other that night. We have little doubt that the Hughes and Johnson families will ride again and can't wait for our next adventure together.
On that foggy night, we did make it to The Bund (more on that area later) to pose for some photos - some with just us in them! - before we strolled back to our hotel along the brightly-lit Nanjing shopping plaza.
|Everyone say "qie zi!" |
The word for eggplant is the Chinese equivalent of "cheeeese!"
Day 13 was a quiet one as the kids and I beat the heat by exploring the businesses adjoining our hotel; we flipped through the menus of ultra-fancy restaurants, peeked into the Ferrari and Maserati dealerships and found the best places to pick up snacks and drinks. After an afternoon swim and a dinner cooked in our very own kitchen that satisfied our cravings for good old pasta with tomato sauce and steamed broccoli, we settled in for a movie and a good night's rest.
|One of our favorite photos so far. Hooray for Pano.|
We were then transported to the "Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory Co. Ltd." The factory, built in 1926, now combines fascinating elements of the ancient practice of silk production with the obnoxious heavy-handed salesmanship of a Chinese tourist trap. Still, it was worth it to see the complete process of sericulture (silk farming) including mulberry cultivation, the silkworm life cycle, silk reeling, silk weaving and silk quilt making. Our first sight was a mat of wriggling worms munching on mulberry leaves.
After one month, the larvae stop eating and spin the cocoons that are sorted and harvested. A quick steam bath loosens the silk and kills the pupae inside. Workers then brush each cocoon to find one end of the single, mile-long filament and thread eight ends at once into this reeling machine that winds them together.
|The reel deal.|
|Several child labor laws were broken at No. 1 Silk Factory Co. Ltd. that day.|
The end of the tour is a typical Chinese sales assault where purchase is highly encouraged. (Anywhere there are shops, the proprietors will holler at and motion to foreign passers-by in broken English to spark interest in their wares. A bargaining process usually ensues unless the prices are clearly marked. Buyers should rarely pay more than ⅓ to ½ of the original asking price.) At this silk factory, the prices were clearly marked and we purchased one of the king-sized, medium-thickness quilts for a reasonable US$130.
The next stop was a really tasty lunch that featured yu xiang you si, a new favorite. Yu xiang literally translates to the unappetizing "fish aroma" but it is a flavorful sauce that is incorporated into many meat and vegetable dishes. This one had thinly sliced pork and vegetables and was so good we didn't even stop eating to get a photo. Sorry, foodies!
The final tour stop was a visit to the “Venice of the East.” Zhouzhaung, the most popular ancient water village in China, has preserved a direct link to the past for more than 900 years. Classic courtyards, carved-brick archways and Chinese-style gondola rides offer a unique perspective of life in this fascinating town surrounded and divided by lakes, rivers and canals.
Over 800 households still call Zhouzhaung home so one gets a glimpse of the ancient way of life while still having the opportunity to explore the many shops, food stalls, temples, famous houses and historic bridges. The Twin Bridges, comprised of Shide Bridge and Yongan Bridge, are the most famous and considered the symbol of Zhouzhaung. Together the two bridges resemble an old-style Chinese key and brought notoriety to the region when painter Chen Yifei's depiction, Memory of Hometown, gained international attention upon being displayed in New York in the mid-1980's.
We visited a beautiful open-air opera house where we saw a brief musical performance before we boarded a gondola for a pleasant and scenic 20-minute canal cruise through the town.
|An even briefer performance.|
|Our request for 'O Solo Mio' went unfulfilled.|
|It takes a steady hand!|