When we arrived to Shanghai, I wasn't sure how the handoff would go due to logistics, but Alan (our 24
year old new guide) met us after baggage claim, and then walked with us to the high speed train (300 km/hr)
and joined us to Suzhou . When we arrived to Suzhou, we had a driver waiting, and we drove for a later dinner.
We had a really nice sweet fish (full fish, not cut up) as well as a sweeter sauce on beef and a couple of
We started our day with a wander through the Master of Nets garden, which Natalia liked for the
big hunks of rocks in the gardens as well as the fish and nice ponds. I would love to have big
hunks of rock like this to climb on in our backyard at some point.
The ponds were all covered in lotus plants and flowers. Quite serene and a nice place.
Visit to a silk factory
We next went to a silk factory to learn about silk production through growing mulberry trees
and the worm life cycle. It was quite interesting, although clearly geared towards tourists and helping
tourists spend money (including on the quilts that are very expensive). Natalia is showing the
silkworms on leaves.
Information about cooking cocoons - and no, you don't eat them.
For China, the silk weaving machine was pretty involved.
Natalia is pulling along the silk for use in a duvet. That's clearly what they try to sell people
here as it's one of the more expensive items. Natalia bought silk scarves for her sisters and friends
as well as a silk bathrobe for summer use.
Alan (our guide) and I chatted a fair amount as he's young enough to not have any memory of how brutal
the regime can be. Even Alan admitted that it won't be like this forever and he sees a day when another
party takes over. He said that the days haven't changed that much since the dynasties where they had
emperors before that were authoritarian. Now, they still have an emperor, but it's the party.
Here is Natalia before we take a cruise on the Grand Canal.
Some of the beautiful bridges along the Grand Canal. They call Suzhou the Venice of the East.
I very much appreciate the symmetry of the bridge designs.
We were the only people on this canal boat and we got to see a few of the older buildings in the area.
This is one of the side canals that you can see down.
I really liked these hanging trees all over the river bank.
Here is Randall with a really old Chinese poet of some kind.
Natalia, Randall, and the same poet. Alan and I spoke about inflation and specifically house prices.
He thinks that inflation, and specifically house price inflation is out of control where people's salaries
have not kept pace. He called out 6 million yuan (almost $800K CDN) for an apartment of 60-70 m^2 and he said
that this has gone up by a factor of 10 when salaries have only gone up by a factor of 2. He said that girls
will only marry you if you have an apartment, a car, and a good job. He says that's totally impossible for most guys.
He said that some guys will marry girls from outisde Shanghai, but he says that this is undesirable. Shanghainese want to
marry Shanghainese. Sounds like speculation in the housing market in Shanghai causing pain for marriageable men.
We hopped back in the car for our 2 hour ride to Hangzhou.
2 new games for Natalia's class:
1) Have everyone stand and have them dance. Call out a number that will then make the dancers group up into groups
of that number. The leftovers will be out of the game.
2) Place your hands together with the thumbs down. One member of the group calls out a number that is between 0 and
2x the number of participants. If they have the right number of thumbs up, then that person drops a hand. The last
person with hands left loses (me x2). The people have to bring their thumbs up at the same time as the person speaks.
Once we arrived to Hangzhou (Vanwarm hotel), it was about 5pm. We relaxed for a bit and I sent out my laundry to be done.
We went down for dinner with Alan in the hotel and it was decent. They had peanut butter frozen pancakes as a 'gift' dish.
The spicy green beans were my favourite and Natalia liked the sweet and sour pork.
After dinner, Natalia and I wandered around the next door Walmart (seriously). We saw a dog, kids without pants
and clothes, and all manner of ridiculous foods on the 1F like live fish, a big meat market, and some interesting
packaged foods. Honestly, check out this photo - a guy with no shirt, a kid with crotchless pants, and a dog. Really.
Nati bought chips, cookies, and Pocky, and eye makeup stuff. We looked at the other 2 floors and I was surprised to
see Dell and Toshiba laptops as well as name brand cell phones, although all off-brand TVs. That's Hong Kong Fish Ball
Pringles folks. Oh yeah.
I took this photo for Carl. He likes the coil.
At breakfast at our hotel in Hangzhou, I found rainbow candy needles - or 'sprinkles' as we goofy Westerners
like to call them.
We picked up another guide (Ellen), who is from Hangzhou, which was a good idea as Alan didn't really know
the city that well. Ellen recommended the Lingyin temple in the morning so that the tourist hordes at the
West Lake will have died down. Here's the Walmart in Hangzhou that we went to the night before.
The Buddhist carvings in the grottos here are quite impressive. It was insightful to see the amount
of damage done by the cultural revolution (Red Guards) to the Buddhas. Good story about how the locals
covered the Happy Buddha with chairman Mao's face to keep it from getting destroyed.
A little kid hanging out at the Lingyin Temple.
A gold-covered statue of Shakyamuni inside the Grand Hall of the Great Sage.
Ellen and Allen, both carrying purses/satchels...
West Lake, Hangzhou
Our next stop was at the West Lake, a famous freshwater lake in historic Hangzhou. It was made a
UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2011, and was described as having "influenced garden design in the rest
of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries".
We went for a cruise around the lake on a shallow boat. This mom and her naked kid made me laugh.
It was very hot on this day and Natalia determined that a jean skirt wasn't the best option on this day.
Continuing along the theme of the Chinese money tour, here is the 1 RMB scene of the 3 pagodas. The lake
is surrounded on three sides with mountains and the average water depth is 3m.
The lake is surrounded with temples, gardens, and pagodas.
Another of the shallow boats that cruises around the lake.
Natalia and I at the West Lake in Hangzhou, China.
We had lunch at a local hotel and learned about how the tour companies operate from Alan. In short,
they make contracts with restaurants to bring in a certain number of diners. In exchange, the restaurant
gives the tour company a discount on the meals, which it then pockets as profit. The same arrangement
exists with all of the tour sites, which is also why we haven't seen a lot of cash transactions from our
guides. The difference between the actual price and the cost the tour site charges the tour company is the tour
company's profit. Again, the same thing happens for the hotels, which is why none of the hotels we've stayed at
have been western companies. So, another way to look at this (rather than thinking that the tour companies
are profiting heavily from tourists) is that they are, in essence, saving us money due to their bulk discounts.
That looks to be the case to some extent with the hotels. If nothing else, it means I don't have to spend my time
trying to find a decent Chinese hotel and instead wind up overspending on a Western hotel just for the name
recognition. Also, in defence of them, other than Guilin, the hotels have been good. As a rough ballpark,
it looks like they budget roughly 150 RMB for 2 of us per lunch and something similar for dinner. Again,
that's cheap to us, but with their discounts, it's hard for us to find too much comparable to this at
other restaurants and also making sure they are clean. It does make me wonder about the kickbacks from the airlines though.
A great sign at the Dragon Well tea plantation in Hangzhou. It reads 'Entitled to the right of returning your
commodities unconditionally in case of something being out of place, you are spared the extra trouble."
Randall enjoyed the tour of the tea plantation. One last comment on this is that every stop we've had has
had some manner of shopping item, which may or not have been on the itinerary. Alan shared with us that his tour
company gets a kickback for every dollar we spend at places like this (like the terra cotta warrior factory, pearl
'museum', etc). This would be illegal in Canada for sure. Alan says that he's not allowed to tell us not to
buy anything at these places and that he finds it uncomfortable. Natalia got hard sold on the Emperor's tea and
she was tired and hot and got suckered.
Next, we went to the Six Harmony Pagoda and wandered up to the top of the pagoda for a look around
the area. I was excited by the frozen fruit ice treat.
The tidal basin here is quite large and it makes sense why it has such large tides.
Video of Six Harmonies Pagoda
The rains started hard and we had to wait out some strong rain. Then, Ellen said her goodbyes after
bringing us to the Haagen-Dazs. Natalia wasn't too upset.
Alan walked us around the West Lake afterwards and we saw some nice lotus plants and a water fountain show.
It's clear that tour companies will actively try to take us only to places where they can make some manner
of margin off tickets or something, which is why a walking tour is almost never done. It's too bad since a lot
of the prettiest places in China don't need a ticket. This is a nice fountain in front of part of Hangzhou
off the West Lake.