Monday, July 9, 2012

Suzhou

Welcome to my final blog on China!!  This blog is going to be about Suzhou.  During our last day of our trip in China we ventured into Suzhou.  I have to warn you that I don't have as many details on Suzhou as I've had on the other cities...  but with that said... let me tell you what I do know.  Suzhou is known as the town of gardens and it is about a two hour bus ride from Shanghai.  It is the oldest city on the planet, and it is over 2,500 years old.  In the past there were 10 Providences in China.  Suzhou was the capital city of the providence named Wu.  Wu was a place that many rich people wanted to go to, so in order to keep up this demand a grand canal was built that linked all of the canals for 1,100 miles in China.  About 6 million people live in the Suzhou area, but only 2 million in the city.  In the past many emperors would comes to Suzhou looking for future concubines, because it was thought that women in this area were prettier.  However, Suzhou is famous for three things... it's canals, silk, and gardens.  I am going to tell you about each of those items in turn.


But first... Here is the 2,000 year old city gate.  Named Xu Gate.


 
Next to the gate is a statue of Xu.  He was a great war general and he built the bridge.  Once it was built they named it after him.


 
Here is our group getting onto our river boat cruise.


The Grand Canal was hand made section by section over the years in different time periods.  It was later connected to form what grand canal system that is now there.  The canal is about 5 to 6 feet deep in the regular season, but it can get up to 9 feet deep in the rain season.

 

 
Suzhou is often referred to as the Venice of the East.  And as we were going through the canal system I could see why they might name it this.  It is remarkable, because as we floated down the canal I was reminded on Venice.  If you're interested you can check out my pictures of this canal, and then look at my blog on Venice for a comparsion.


This area imparticular really reminded me of Venice, because Venice had a very similar look/feel to it.
Even though there are some similarities between the two places they are both very unique.  This place is called Old Ghost or Old Guy.  It used to be the place where the wealthy people in the city lived, however now it is not.


One thing that I found funny is that masks are very common and popular in Venice.  They sell a lot of different types of masks in the streets.  While I don't think that the Venice masks resemble Chinese people, I found it interesting that there were masks hanging up in Suzhou too.

 

 
The banks of the canal never used to be popular. People used to use that area to wash their dirty clothes and empty their chamber pots. However, now the area is a lot cleaner and roads lead to it so it is becoming more popular.



Here I am with our tour guide Charlie.


And here I am with Joan!  We all enjoyed our river cruise, it was very nice.  I think everyone in our group was buying all kinds of things from the people on the boat.  They were selling post cards, playing cards, hats... and all kinds of stuff.  They just kept bringing out box after box of tourist items once the item was done selling.



Here is dad in goofy hat #1 that he bought!  But this is dad in prime negotiating mode.  I think he got everyone a good deal on those chopsticks that the woman was holding up!! 





And then he had to buy goofy hat #2 from her!!  Before our cruise started I think it was Brock that was walking around wearing this hat, and dad instantly fell in love with it haha.  He just HAD to have one!



Now that I've finished up talking about canals it's time to start talking about the second thing Suzhou is famous for... it's silk!  Real silk products are supposed to be really clean and good for your skin.  It gets rid of moisture in the air and makes it feel cool in the summer.  A thicker silk quilt can keep you warm in the winter.  Real silk is cool to the touch, and if it burns it smells like hair burning.  However, I don't feel as if this is a good test to figure out if you have real silk.  Picture someone doing this... "Oh yes... let me burn it to see if it's real... yep... smells like hair... darn I just burned my silk."  So obviously I wouldn't recommend using this technique to figure out if you have real silk or not.  In order to produce a lot of silk the people in Suzhou take a lot of care into "farming/harvesting" silk worms.  First, they grow mulberry bushes like ones seen in this picture.



Here is a close up of the silk worms on the mulberry bushes.  The farmers have to take great care to make sure that the mulberry leaves do not become wet when the silk worms are eating them, because the water will kill the worms.  So they bring all of the leaves inside and make sure that they are dry... once they have been verified as water free the silk worms are allowed to eat them.




Silk worms have a life span between 25 and 28 days, and eventually they will become the size of a caterpillar.  Once they become full size they make a cocoon.  Each cocoon is worth about a mile long of silk.



In order to soften the cocoon, it is boiled in water and then people use their fingers to gently pull the cocoons apart.  This has to be done in water, because air will tear or break the silk.


The silk is then dried using a big spinning machine.  It is not completely dried here, because it still needs to be sent to be dyed.  But the glossiness, weight, and durability of the silk is checked here.  In 8 hours about 5 meters can be produced.  The spindles below are then placed into a machine where a computer has a design on it and it creates the silk item on its own.  The only people needed are the mechanics that fix the machines and change out the design patterns.



Making a quilt is a little bit of a different process.  Here you can see a woman spreading the cocoons out.  First she gets rid of the worms inside the shells.  Then she spreads the silk over a loom to get the arch in the picture.  It takes between 8 to 10 cocoons to make an arch. 



Then these arches are spread out to make a layer of the quilt.  Approximately 80 layers or 80 arches are needed to make one quilt.  That's about 800 silkworms to make one quilt!!  Here are the guys trying to spread a layer of the quilt...



Look at the great job that they did.  Do you see all of the silk on one side??  Haha!

 


So the girls stepped up to give it a try.



Of course ours was beautiful!  I guess they say that woman usually do this work, because they have more patience for it.  I also think we were trying to do better than the guys did.  It was really hard to get the cocoon to pull.  Silk is a lot stronger than cotton, and it didn't want to pull easily!!  We had to put a little bit of muscle into it.



Here are three different types of quilts. There is a light, medium, and thick quilt.  The quilts in Suzhou are cheaper than what you would pay for a silk quilt in the US, but they still had a pretty good price tag.




Here we are at the Garden of the Master of the Nets.  The garden got this name many years ago, because the second owner of the garden's son fell into a river and almost drowned, but a fisherman saved him. In appreciation of the man saving his son the owner named the garden after the fisherman.  This particular garden was the first garden in Suzhou and was built over 700 years ago.



Here is dad being silly!  I thought this picture was too funny.



The garden was part of a house that the old owners had lived in.  Here you can see the windows in the rooms.  They call them picture frame windows, because they frame the beauty from outside and look like works of art.



Here is our group listening to Charlie tell us facts about the garden.  I wish that we would have had more time to walk around and explore the garden.

 


But we were having a lot of fun taking different pictures in the area, and I think we ended up getting a lot of good ones.




Instead of the 10 minutes free time we had to wander around the garden, dad and I decided to take a look at the market place just outside of the garden.  Here is one of my favorite pictures of dad.  This picture with the hat on is just too funny!!!

 


Here is an example of the different things people in the market place were selling.  They just had little tables and tents set up, and they were selling various items.  Something that I found very interesting about China is that every city sells something unique to the city.  Something that you could find and buy in Suzhou wasn't something that you would be able to buy in any other city.



Which was why I really wanted to the leave the gardens early, because I had my eye set on one of these silk drawings.  People were selling them by the Xu Gate and I thought they were absolutely beautiful.  I didn't buy them at the gate, but I did I end up buying four of them outside of the garden.  My mom has already framed and hung hers up!!  It looks gorgeous in a frame.  I just haven't found a good frame that fits it yet, but it's still very pretty.  :)  Our trip to Suzhou was very nice.  We enjoyed our river boat cruise and then our trip the garden.  We got a lot of nice items and pictures in Suzhou.  It was very pretty and I'm glad that we took the extra excursion to go there.

Well I hope that you enjoyed my posts about China!  It was definitely a trip of a life time.  I'm so glad that dad and I got to go on the trip together, because we had a lot of fun.  I don't think there was anyone in our group that wasn't a good group member.  We all seemed to be happy people that got along with each other.  I really enjoyed Gate 1 and I thought that they were a tremendous value.  I will definitely book a trip through them again.  :)

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Shanghai

Welcome to my post of Shanghai!  This is the fourth out of five blogs I am going to write about China.  Shanghai is the financial capital of China, and it is the newest and most modern city in China.  Shanghai literally means "Go up to the Sea" or the "City on the Sea."  About 23 million people live in Shanghai and it is the second largest city in China.  However, more than 50% of the people living in Shanghai do not have a Shanghai ID card.  A lot are dispatched workers or people there for business from other countries.  It is very hard to get citizenship in Shanghai.  You have to work for 7 yrs and you can't be a criminal and you have to prove that you pay taxes during that time.  If we would have visited Shanghai 20 years ago all we would have seen was farmland.  In the past 10 to 20 years there has been tremendous growth in Shanghai... in fact more than 20,000 buildings have cropped up.  It went from being a fishing village to a port. There is no true "tourist attraction" in Shanghai, and tourists have only been going there recently.  The dialect in Shanghai is a little bit different than Beijing and Xian. Instead of saying "knee how" they say "no how". 



Here you can see part of Shanghai.  Like Beijing there were a lot of skyscrapers in Shanghai.  The average cost of a condo with 1,000 to 1,200 sq ft is 3 million yuan which is approximately $500,000!!  You would think with that high of a price the buildings would be able to have heat in the winter... however, this is not the case.  When the government was building up Shanghai they decided not to put any heat ducts in the buildings because they didn't think they were necessary.  Soon afterwards it was realized the winter in Shanghai is cold enough for people to need heat, and the people often complain that they are cold in the winter.  So instead of having a heater they use their air conditioning to help heat their homes. The largest building in Shanghai is 110 stories high and it is the finance center.  There are numerous banks in Shanghai.  The city is also very densely populated.  Shanghai has 32,000 people per sq kilometer... whereas other cities like Tokyo has 8,000 per sq kilometer.  Or like Hong Kong that has a population density between 8,000 to 10,000.  However, do to the fact that Shanghai is smaller it only takes people about 15 minutes to get to work, whereas in Beijing it takes people about an hour.  Any building in Shanghai over 7 floors has to have an elevator.  When you buy an apartment you have to pay extra for the elevator, and usually you have to pay a 3 to 4 yuan a month maintenance fee.  Currently there isn't any property tax in China, but the government is experimenting with it in Shanghai.  Any property over 1,000 sq ft is going to be required to have to pay a property tax.  How much this tax will be is still being determined.


Our room in Shanghai was very nice!!  But our beds were EXTREMELY hard!!  I had to stack up a couple quilts and lay on top of them, because my back just hurt too bad laying on the hard beds.  But other than that our room was really quite nice....  all I can say is that least we weren't Shanghai'ed!  If you've never heard this expression before... I will tell you the story behind it.  Back in the day, owners of large ships were very cruel to their workers and didn't pay them much... so no one wanted to work on the ships.  So the ship owners would wait for men walking drunk out of bars, hit them over the head, and put them on their boat. In the morning when they woke up they'd be on their way to Shanghai.  So alas... the term Shanghai'ed was coined.


We had our own little sitting area, and we enjoyed this a lot.  It was funny the couches were softer than the beds!


There are approximately 1 million private cars in Shanghai.  The government is trying to limit the amount of cars on the road so they are very strict about putting out new license plates.  They only release 6,000 to 9,000 a year.  Those usually go to an auction and people pay about $10,000 USD for one!!  I'll never complain about my license fees again!  However, I guess once a person gets a license plate it is good for life and they can transfer it on to new cars that they purchase in the future.  You can see the gas station in this picture... gas is about $5 a gallon in China which is 30 yuan a gallon in their currency!!  Also most condos do not have parking spaces.  Cars are allowed to park on the road between 8 pm and 7:30 am.  I would HATE not being able to park my car until 8 pm at night...  Our guide told us that if you are wise you do not drive.  You either take the public transportation or you rent a taxi.   They said that renting a taxi everyday would be cheaper than buying your own car in China.


Here is IKEA!  I guess this is the senior citizen hang out area.  Old people go there to "pick up" dates.  I thought this tidbit was too funny not to add it to my blog!


There is really no real "attraction" in Shanghai.  There is no Great Wall, Forbidden City, or Terracotta Warriors to bring tourists into the city.  So in order to draw people into coming to Shanghai the government decided to light up the downtown area between 7 pm to 11 pm.  They hoped that by lighting up the area it would encourage people to visit and invest there.  The big objection to this idea was who will pay the electricity bill??  Because every night the electric bill is over 600,000 yuan.  The government decided that they didn't want to discourage investors from the area so they footed the bill.   The government expected this to bring an additional 800,000 people to the area at night.  They said that if these people spent a little bit of money while they were there it would pay the bill.


My camera does not take extremely good night time pictures.  This was the best picture that I could take.  We went on a boat and went down the river along the downtown area.  I was pretty excited about it, but my overall feeling was a little bit underwhelmed.  The boat ride was a little bit boring, and the lights downtown weren't very spectacular.  Vegas is a lot more exciting at night than Shanghai was... but overall it was cool to get to say that we did it and saw it.  The prettiest building was the tv tower.  It had a ball in the middle of it that changes colors.  It has a restaurant and observation desk.  It was the first new building to start the development in the area.  It is the landmark building of the new Shanghai.


This is a picture of a building with a Lotus flower on top of it.  The lotus is the flower of purity.  Buddha sits on top of a Lotus Flower, and to honor Buddha the man that owns this building put a Lotus flower on top of it.


There are two things that you can see in this picture.  First you can see the cameras that are on every street in Shanghai.  They are constantly flashing pictures and recording the license plates and people around in the area.  The second thing you should see in this picture is the American section of the city.  The brown building was the first American consulate... now it is a hotel.  In fact there are numerous groups that have their own areas in Shanghai.  There is a British, French, Jewish, and American sections of the city.  Another fun fact is that streets in Shanghai are named after famous places in China.  Roads that run from North to South are named after providences and roads running from east to west are named after major cities.


In 1907 there was a ferrie bridge in the city.  It was free for westerns to travel on the bridge, but all easterners had to pay.  This stirred up a lot of complaints from locals and eventually it became free for all.  Also the first parks didn't allow Chinese people or dogs to come into the park.  It was only to be used by Westerns.  This really upset a lot of Chinese people.  I had heard of this before I came to China, and I was told that Chinese people still don't like British people because of this.  I think it was more primarily British people than Americans that treated them in that way.


Here we are in the downtown area during the day.  I thought that the day time view of the city was even prettier than the night time view.  This was our last day on our trip and we were trying to get a picture with all of our friends.  We didn't get a picture with everyone right in the down town area, but we tried to throughout the rest of the day.


Here we are with Amanda, Ron, and Jackie.


Now here we are with Amanda and Fred.


Here we are with Jack and Brock.


Here I am with the Chu Family!  They were my friends on the Great Wall of China. 


Here we are with Joyce and Shirley.  They were literally life savers in Beijing!  They let dad borrow their converter so that he could run his breathing machine at night.  We had a lot of fun talking and chatting with them throughout our trip.


Here is a picture of our whole group.


Here is just a picture of downtown Shanghai! 



Later on in our day we went to a silk factory.  Making silk rugs is a VERY labor intensive job, and less and less women are wanting to do it so it is getting more expensive.



A highly detailed rug can cost $6,000, and they are supposed to last for 150 years.  Personally I'm not sure if I would be able to even walk on a $6,000 rug!!  I can't help but think of all of the other things that I would like to buy with my money instead.



I thought that this rug was really cool though.  It is of a phoenix and a dragon or an emperoress and an emperor. 



A way to tell if you have a real hand made silk rug is to see if it changes color when you flip it to the other side.  Also they have some called "knots" on them.  Knots are all of the detailed stitching marks.  Look at these rugs above, and then look at the ones below.



These are the same rugs just flipped in a different direction.  The picture might not seem too impressive, but when we were standing next to them and the attendant flipped them for us to see our whole group was amazed! The first rug takes 14 months to make and has 1700 knots on it and costs about $3,300.  That is the type of rug that is just for decoration and you're not supposed to walk on it.  The second rug takes 2 and 1/2 months, has 750 knots, and costs $740.  The last rug is clearly the one with the least amount of knots it takes 25 days to make, has 100 knots, and costs $320.  I think it's kind of funny because that is the one that I liked the most!  All of these rugs are supposed to last for 75 years.



The silk shop also had an art gallery.  All of the pictures in the area were hand made out of silk.  This picture was dad and my favorite by far.  The picture of it just does not do it justice, because it was absolutely gorgeous.  If I had a ton of extra money to spend... this is what I would have bought.  This picture took 3 and 1/2 years to make, and I want to say that it was over $10,000 to buy!



Here is our group at a Mongolian BBQ.  This is a type of place where you grab a plate of food and choose what you want to eat.  There is traditionally a separate meat, vegetable, and sauce section.



Once you have your selections you take it up to the chefs and they cook it on a big hot stone.  Cody and I used to go to a Mongolian BBQ place in Toledo, and we absolutely loved it there.  This place was a nice change of pace from all of the family style meals we had been used to eating.  We were lucky, because we got there right before a large crowd came in so we were able to get our food cooked quick without having to wait in line a lot.



Here we are in China town in China!  There were all kinds of little shops and vendors set up in the area.  I think we all did a lot of shopping here.  Dad proved himself the master bargainer.  He was really enjoying bartering with the different shop keepers, and he was getting everyone good deals on stuff!  I was very happy to finally find mom a shot glass set here!!  It amazed me that there wasn't anywhere in China that sold them!  But luckily I was able to get her some for her collection.




Here I am outside of Dairy Queen... which was our groups meet up spot.  We had a lot of fun in the market area, and we really didn't want to leave when we did!


As we went on during the trip we realized that these three guys all had the same birthday!!  Fred, dad, and Lenny are Christmas in July babies!  I thought this was too funny... what are the odds of going on a trip and having three of those people share a birthday.


Here we are with Cat and Jim.




Here is dad with a new pose in Yu Garden.



Our guide Charlie was very enthusiastic on telling us every little detail about the gardens that we visited.  I'm not sure if you can see this picture too well, but behind us is a statue of a dragon.  As I'm sure that you are aware by now... dragons are a symbol of the emperor and people weren't supposed to be able to decorate with it.  The man who owned this property, Pan, was very bold and used it anyway.  When the guards came by to inspect the place he cut off two of the dragons claws, and said that his statue wasn't a dragon because it only had 3 claws, and traditional dragons had 5.  This allowed him to escape punishment and to keep his statue.  The Chinese believe that fire is evil... so in there stories dragons do not breath fire... they breath water.  I'm not sure if you can see him in the picture but under the dragon's head is a little frog.  The frog likes the dragon because the frog needs to be around water, and the dragon likes the frog because he wants a little friend.  Therefore, it is very common to find frogs and dragons next to each other.




That night we went to see a show with our group.  It was a very exciting show!!  There were a ton of great acts.  There was a magician who had extremely quick hands, there were men jumping through hoops, a contortionist, a guy that was juggling 7 balls at a time, and more.  One of my favorite acts was these guys with the hats.  They were juggling their hats around and they were switching them around and putting them on each others heads while they were juggling!!  It was really neat to watch.



The finale was 8 motorcycles riding around in a cage.  When it first started there were two guys... then another guy came out... then another... and another...  they just kept coming and coming!  It was amazing once they had all 8 of them in the cage.  We weren't expecting more than four of them... so it was pretty impressive.



THIS amazed me!!!!!   There was an accident on the highway and everyone got out of their cars and started walking around!  I couldn't believe it.  We had only been stopped for a couple of seconds when everyone started jumping out of the cars... most people started to smoke, or pee in the street, or even jump on the guard rail to see what was going on.  Talk about your rubber neckers!!!  I thought it was hilarious, but our guides didn't seem to think it was anything out of the ordinary.  But I couldn't get over it.


Remember how I told you we had such a fun time in China Town??  Well... later on that night we made our way back with Shirley and Joyce.  It was hard to find a taxi at first.  We kept asking taxi drivers how much it would cost us to get to this part of town, and the prices were pretty steep.  We ended up finding the main taxi pick up area, and we got a taxi driver to take us to the area based off of the price on his meter... which was a WHOLE lot cheaper!!  If you ever have to catch a taxi in a foreign country make sure to get a set price before you step into the taxi, because if you don't you'll get ripped off!  We were worried about getting a good taxi to take us home, but it turned out not to be a problem at all.  The first taxi we found offered to take us home based off of the meter.



The area was very pretty at night!  The lights on the ground kept changing all kind of different colors, and it was really pleasant being out there.  Not to mention I was able to find a shop that sold a beautiful necklace that I had my eye on all day.  I was REALLY happy that I found it when we came back down there, because I really really like it.  I wish I would have gotten the purple colored one too.


But here I am in the market.  You can tell that it was hopping at night, because there are a ton of people in the background.



Here we are on our way to the airport to make our looong journey home!  This is the Maglev Train and it is the fastest train in the world.  It runs off of magnets and can run over 300 mph.  Right now it only goes to the airport and back.  They haven't expanded the rail yet, because it hasn't made money yet.


Here we are on the first stretch of our LONG journey home.  The flight home from China actually went by pretty quickly and it wasn't too painful.  We were sad to say goodbye to all of our friends that we had met on the trip.  Getting home from LA was a long process, but we ended up making it.  When I finally got home, I was so tired that I just started falling asleep sitting up.  Cody was so sweet to me when I got home.  He took care of making dinner and then he let me pass out and sleep for many hours without disturbing me!!   But gosh the trip was SO worth it.  I think that this was an experience of a life time for dad and me.  We had a lot of fun traveling together, and I'm really glad that he decided to come on the trip with me.  It is a lot more fun traveling when you have someone to share your experience with.