As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.
As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.
This is one of my favorite excerpts. I actually love the idea of people dressing identically, particularly in pajamas while out in public. In fact, I sort of plan to have C and I dress in pajamas, perhaps identical ones, and have a public outing at least once in Shanghai. I remember well the chair/clothes incident. I cannot say my Chinese has much improved. I hope the cruise has as it is again on my “must-do” list. I also remember Suzhou fondly and look forward to taking my mom there as I think she will love the gardens and C will love the carp. I should plan on finding the Garden for Lingering In first.
Here in China it is just adventure, adventure, adventure. Though I may have been a bit premature in saying how much I loved it. Yesterday some things started to get on my nerves, or at least I noticed things that would get on my nerves eventually. Or maybe I would love/hate them? They are part of what makes this China. There are a few silly things, like the amazing number of people who like to walk around together dressed identically! It is not just children, but couples, friends, old, young. This also goes for the propensity for women to wear panty hose that only goes to their ankles or below the knee when their skirts are above the knee. What really bothers me are the spitting, the smoking, the street arguments, the maniac taxi drivers, and the complete disrespect for the environment. Honestly crossing the streets is like taking your life into your hands each time. It doesn’t matter if you are at a crosswalk and the little walking man is green, taxis and scooters will run you over! I have had many close calls already. When I am in the offending taxi I just want to sink into the back seat so no one thinks I am some foreigner bent on taking out Chinese in the streets! And the arguments, ugh, you see a good one just about every day. Yesterday I saw some women with children screaming at each other at the top of their lungs while the kids cried. I couldn’t understand what it was about, but it seemed serious. Then again last night I was involved in my own little argument…..
I decided to take a night cruise on the Huangpu River. This is interesting for about the first 10 minutes, and then it just isn’t. The guide book says that the night tour is best unless one has a fascination for loading cranes. Well, in the evening you get to see the loading cranes in silhouette against the night, beautifully backlit, simply breathtaking! So I bought my ticket and boarded the boat 20 minutes before its departure, and it was packed. Not a spare chair to be found. Well, that’s not true. I saw some spare chairs around some specially set aside tables, and they had Sprite and watermelon!! I really wanted some watermelon, but I knew it wasn’t mine, but I did take a chair. No one was sitting in it, and I had a ticket just like everyone else. Of course as soon as I started to drag the chair away some guy comes after me, “Xiaojie, Xiaojie” (Miss, Miss) but I ignore him. Then he comes up to me and tells me to give the chair back (in Chinese). I try first for the dumb foreigner tack, I ask him why? In English. I have a ticket, why don’t I have a chair? He just points to the chair and grabs the back of it. I won’t give it up. The people next to me are on my side telling the guy to leave me alone and let me have the chair. Ha, success! The guy next to me asks me how long I have lived in China because my Chinese is good. I tell him “Bu gang dang” (No it’s not, don’t flatter me) the right thing to say. Of course I know my Chinese needs lots of work. But he tells me I argue very well. 🙂 Well, I don’t know about that. Maybe they didn’t notice because when I wanted to say “I bought a ticket too, so why don’t I have a chair (yizi)?” I ACTUALLY said “I bought a ticket too, so why don’t I have any clothes (yifu)?” Ha, ha, ha. Good thing I mumbled that last syllable because I wasn’t sure I was remembering the right word. I was just so flustered and speaking quickly. However, the chair guy came back when some more people showed up looking for those chairs. I saw him coming and held onto my chair tightly. He asked me to give it to him, and I just said “Bu, Bu, Bu!” (no, no, no!). My new best friends sided with me again right away, especially as the guy had tried to steal some of their chairs too. So I got to have a chair with a great view of the shadowy dock cranes.
Today, I took a trip out to Suzhou, about an hour from Shanghai by train. Suzhou used to be the premier spot in China for silk. Suzhou became very famous during the Ming dynasty. And there was some saying about heaven in the sky, but on earth there is Hangzhou and Suzhou. So it was considered a pretty nice place to live back then, and many rich people built beautiful gardens there. The gardens are the THING to see in Suzhou, along with a few pagodas. So I rented a bicycle (also a relic of the Ming dynasty) and headed off to see these amazing spaces of tranquility. Now the thing in China is that nice places like this, or well even plain old rocks that people want to put a sign on, have to have super spectacular names. So today I was to visit the Humble Administrator’s Garden, the Lion’s Grove Garden, the Master of the Nets Garden, and finally the Garden for Lingering In.
I headed first to the Humble Admit guy’s garden. And judging from the size and care put into it, I doubt he was really humble. It was a really nice garden and I wondered what it would be like to have it as one’s very own private garden. I spent nearly an hour there and was surprised by how quickly the time flew by.
I headed then to the Lion’s garden and found it smaller, more intimate. There was a little sun breaking through the clouds (or was it pollution?) and it was warmer there.
Then there was a harrowing ride around the town to get to the next garden, the Master of the Nets. There I was distracted by the sounds of a nearby school and school children repeating a silly dialogue about one’s mother and a missing bag in English. I had an insane idea to find the school and break into the class and give the kids a real English lesson, but after going around to the front of the school I lost my courage and just biked to the next sightseeing spot, a pagoda and one of the city’s original city gates, all in kind of a complex. This was a pretty cool spot. The pagoda was really magnificent. But the best part was a huge pond with many carp in it. I saw some people near the pond and fish thrashing around. All sizes and shapes and colors (okay, not blue or purple- but all kinds of golds and oranges and reds) jumping on top of each other to get the food, so much that some were on top of the water and then began to thrash about trying to get back into the water.
By this time it was almost 5 pm and I was getting tired and wasn’t sure I wanted to see a garden that would cause me to linger in it. Then again as I bought a ticket that included this garden, I set off to find it. For being the largest garden in the whole town it sure is hard to find and no one seems to know where it is. After searching for 20 minutes or so, after another life endangering 20 minute bike ride across town, I gave up and decided the only place I wanted to linger in was the train back to Shanghai.
I also wanted to share a few more humorous things from today, such as the names of various places inside the gardens. For example, The Listening to the Sound of the Rain Pavilion, the Hall of Drifting Fragrance, the Pavilion in the Lotus Breeze, the Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio, the Chamber for Reclining on the Cloud, and the Pavilion for Asking the Plum (ask it what??). Then there were those that were translated but I still couldn’t figure out what they were: The Cymbidium Goeingii Hall, the Prunus Mume Pavilion, and (my favorite) the Malus Spectabilis Court. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?
There was also a list of Points of Attention posted at each garden:
1. Travelers must buy tickets before they enter the garden. They should be civilized and polite and conscientiously observe the social morality and public order.
2. No firearms, bullets, explosives or other dangerous articles are allowed to be brought into the garden.
3. Protect the world cultural heritage. Cutting, climbing, or damaging the construction and facilities is strictly forbidden. Flowers and trees should not be injured and no trespassing on the lawns is permitted. No entrance into the fence, climbing on banisters or picture shooting is allowed.
4. Defend public hygiene conscientiously. No spitting, urinating or dispersing of peels or rinds or skins of fruit and scraps of paper. Smoking is not allowed in the garden except in places where it is otherwise stipulated. (I then watched a group of six men enter and light up immediately!!)
5. Travelers are forbidden to sell articles and to conduct any business or charging activities in the garden. (But I suppose locals could?)
These are great! Ah, China.