Our family's stay in Shanghai, China

Archive for June, 2012

Summer Palace

This is one of two halls near each other used as a lounge for important people, like dukes, princes, and cabinet ministers who came to the Summer Palace to celebrate Empress Cixi’s birthdays. They were called the Purple Heaven Hall and Hall of Cloudlike Brocade.

Aptly named, The Long Corridor. This would be a beautiful, relaxing walk on a cool summer evening or a fall day. On a hot, humid day, surrounded by hundreds of people trying to find a cool spot, it was not relaxing. But the paintings are beautiful.

Beijing is hot and humid in the summer months.  We knew visiting in June was not ideal, but that was the best timing for us.  Although Shanghai had been warm and somewhat muggy, we were not prepared for the 90+ temps and high humidity in Beijing.  Our day at the Summer Palace reached 100 degrees.  But, high temps do not slow the Chinese people nor does it keep them indoors.  Perhaps they are accustomed to the heat or because they don’t have A/C, being somewhere like the Summer Palace is more comfortable and enjoyable.  Whatever the case, they were expecting more than 40,000 to visit the day we went.  And since it felt crowded everywhere we went in this huge summer retreat, they probably were not under estimating.

Some things we find in China are more expensive than in the U.S. (milk, fresh beef and chicken, any western brands, etc.), but others are surprisingly cheap.  In the U.S. if you visited a tourist site like this, you would expect to pay at least $3-5 for bottled water or soda.  Here in China, whether you go to a tourist site, convenience store, grocery, etc. drinks are usually only about $.50.  We carried water and then wondered why because it was warm within 15 minutes of being outside and we could easily buy a nice cold bottle quite cheap.

A covered corridor leading up toward the Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha. Covered corridors with elaborate paint schemes are very common in palace architecture.

The Summer Palace is exactly what its name suggests, the emperor’s palace during the summer months to escape the heat of the city.  It was commissioned in 1750, and called Garden of Clear Ripples.  The Emperor built it to celebrate his mother’s birthday.  The Anglo-French Allied Forces burned it in 1860.  Funds intended for China’s navy were instead used for its renovation by Empress Dowager Cixi.  The term “palace” suggests a single large building and perhaps gardens.  But, during the Chinese dynasties, palaces and noblemen’s homes were more like estates with walls, gates and multiple buildings for various purposes.

Tower of the Fragrance of the Buddha – Center of the Summer Palace. It’s a 3-story octagonal tower.  The diagonal lines crossing the base are the staircases to the top.  Quite a difficult climb in 100 degree heat so only David made the trek.

The palace is a huge place, most of it covered by a man-made lake called Kumming Lake.  The dirt excavated for the lake was used to build Longevity Hill.  In addition to the lake, the palace has meandering paths through gardens, courtyards, pavilions, ceremonial and religious facilities, a boat house, islands, and several bridges.

The Seventeen Arch Bridge across Kumming Lake – Connects to the South Lake Island and has 17 arches.

Popularly known as the marble boat, the formal name is “Clear and Peaceful Boat.”

One of the “follies” of the Summer Palace is a marble boat ordered by Empress Cixi.  It’s not anything like its name says, it’s not marble (it is wood painted to look like marble) and it does not float.

One of the more interesting features is the Long Corridor which is exactly what its name says, a long covered walkway that runs near the edge of the lake for about half a mile.  Our brochure said that with the thousands of scenes painted on the Long Corridor it’s known as the longest painted gallery in the world.

BoathouseAfter visiting the Forbidden City, the Temple of Heaven, the Summer Palace, and other lavish places from the Chinese dynasties, you can begin to understand why there were repeated overthrows of emperors during the dynasties and why, finally, in 1911, the last dynasty was overthrown.  The people were taxed heavily and worked incredibly hard to provide the elaborate palaces, gardens, lavish lifestyles, and concubines.

Suzhou Street – A shopping area in the Summer Palace. The girls found slippers and we found a colorful kite. You had to be very careful because there was no railing to keep you from falling into the canal.

As with most of our visits, there is always a “China moment” to remind us where we are.  As David was attempting to purchase our tickets (he was standing at the window), a lady pushed her way by Jenna and I, thrust her arm and hand between him and Laura and pushed her money into the hopper to pay for her ticket.  David politely pushed her money back to her and continued with his purchase.  Timidity is not a common character trait in China.

Hall of Dispelling Clouds – Constructed in 1886 to replace another hall which was burned down by the French-Allied Forces in 1860. Built to celebrate Empress Cici’s birthdays.

Hall of Embracing the Universe on South Lake Island.

The Summer Palace is beautiful and on a spring or fall day, in the middle of the week, it’s probably a very nice, relaxing place to visit, find a comfortable spot and spend an afternoon with a good book.

I love the names the Chinese gave to their buildings. Quite descriptive and poetic. And I thought you might enjoy seeing the same words written in Mandarin and English.


Travel By Train

Mom, Jenna and Laura by the high speed train, a very comfortable way to travel.

David and Laura on the train. Unlike planes, you can use your electronics throughout the trip, with outlets at every seat.

Sorry I’ve been so neglectful of our blog!  We are still here and well, but life has been busy.  We spent 6 days in Beijing and I’ve been swamped with new projects that I’ve started from China, thanks to patient, understanding clients.

Our last major trip in China was to Beijing.  We had the option of flying or taking the train and we decided to take the train.  A Chinese guy we met on our trip asked why we did not fly.  I replied that in the U.S., travel by train is less common and often, less convenient than flying.  Since train travel is so convenient here, we decided to take the train.

Jenna enjoys her music while riding on the train.

All four of us enjoyed traveling by train.  It was about 5 hours by high-speed train and made only two stops.  It was very smooth, with comfortable seats, lots of leg room and even power outlets.   We had access to our suitcases the entire trip and there was a lot to see along the way.  Here are some photos I took going up and coming back.  It gives you an idea of what China is like outside the big cities.  The focus is not always crisp and clear.  We were, after all, traveling over 300 km/hour (about 190mph).

Our trip back to Shanghai started out a bit more eventful than I would have liked.  David had to go back to work on Monday, but the girls and I decided to stay an extra day to see a few more things.  The morning we were to leave, we checked out of the hotel and I requested a taxi card for the Beijing South Railway Station to take the train to Shanghai.

We saw lots of construction activity between Shanghai and Beijing. These appear to be apartment buildings and there were at least 15-20 identical buildings being constructed. Sometimes they were in and around cities;  others were in the middle of farmland.  The sheer number of apartments China needs is staggering.

This looks like a newer housing development with smaller apartment buildings. It was outside the city, in what appeared to be a farming community. Even here, you find apartments, not individual houses.

When we arrived at the train station, we were dropped at the curb, but could see the station across a busy street.  I can’t say it felt quite right, but since the taxi driver did not speak English, I could not ask questions.  As is often the case with busy streets, there was walkway to the station underground.  Unfortunately, they had an escalator going up, but not down, so we had to carry everything down the stairs.  Jenna’s suitcase was too heavy for her, so I took mine down and returned for hers.  About 1/3 of the way down a nice Chinese gentleman took her suitcase from me and carried it the rest of the way.

There were it seemed acres and acres and acres of farmland. Much of it looked like a patchwork quilt with green crops, harvested fields and in some cases, burned fields. For all this farmland, there were very few tractors.

Although most were not, there were what appeared to be intentionally flooded fields and some had people standing in them working.

We arrived in the station and found we had to go through turnstiles.  I took out our train tickets, thinking I needed those to scan.  But, no, I did not need our train tickets.  After multiple conversations in broken English, we learned that our taxi driver had not dropped us at the train station, but at the subway station.  I have no idea whether the hotel staff misunderstood and wrote the wrong thing on the taxi card or whether the taxi driver misread the card.  Either way, the girls and I were in the subway station, needed to get to the train station and had no clue how to navigate the subway.  I briefly considered going back up and finding a taxi, but was worried it would take too much time and we would miss our train.  I wasn’t sure how I would navigate the subway, but thought there would be a map, signs and maybe someone to ask.  It seemed like a better choice.

We saw many of these 3-sided shelter-type structures, covered with plastic, but never could see what was in them. But they dotted the landscape.

I bought our subway tickets and the girls and I started down the stairs.  And yes, yet again, there was an escalator up and stairs down.  As we started to go down, a young Chinese guy walked up and asked if we needed help.  I started to ignore him.  In China, particularly in tourist areas, it’s not unusual to have people offer to help you, give you a personal tour, or sell you something.  We generally ignore unsolicited offers of help.  But, for whatever reason, I actually stopped and looked at him directly.  I said, well, we need to get to the train station and did not realize the taxi had dropped us at the subway station.  He replied, I can help you get there.  Frankly, I was quite skeptical and a little nervous.  Quite often, the Chinese person who offers help is not doing so just to be helpful.  They will want something in return.  Yet, I did not know how I would get to the train station without help from someone.  So, I told him I was not familiar with the subway in Beijing and yes, I could use help getting to the train station.  He said, very confidently “I will help you.”  My response:  “Can I trust you to help me?”  He replied, “Oh yes.  I am a college student at the university in Beijing.  You can trust me.  I will help you.”  I can’t say I was entirely convinced, but he was nice, clean-cut, and spoke fluent English.  Frankly, I did not have a lot of options.  He took Jenna’s suitcase for her and down the stairs we went.

If you look closely near the center of the photo (l-r) in the lower third, you will see a group of people and it looks like one is spraying water. On this trip, we did not see large irrigation systems. Just people with what looked like large water hoses.

He made a phone call, looked at the map and showed me on the map exactly what we needed to do.  If the subway had been a direct line to the station, the girls and I would probably have been okay.  But you had to get off at one station and get on another subway line to reach the train station.

We often saw fields like this with just one or two people working. Nearby would be a dirt road with a bike or moped alongside. I can’t imagine the overwhelming feeling of having fields this size to work by hand.

As we were waiting, he asked to see my train ticket and my “radar” went crazy.  I thought, Okay, here goes, he wants to see the tickets and could run off with my ticket.  So, I carefully pulled out only 1 of the 3 tickets and held it tightly in my hand.  No need to worry though.  He just wanted to see the time to make sure we were not rushed.

Andrew (his American name) led us from the subway station, switched lines and then onto the next line directly to the train station.  He helped Jenna with her suitcase and was as friendly and helpful as he could possibly have been.  What started out as one of our most difficult experiences in China, turned into one our best, all because one guy stopped to help.  My faith is not always as strong as it should be and like many, I have doubts at times.  But, I know that God sent Andrew to us that day.  The girls and I were surrounded by people who spoke little or no English, yet here was a guy who was fluent.  He was observant enough to notice we needed help.  He had the time and was willing to lead us right to the train station.

Abandoned, empty apartment buildings, some looked liked they had been partially demolished. Scenes like this are not uncommon. Also not uncommon, are partially constructed buildings with no signs of life, as if they started constructed, but abandoned the project before completion.

We aren’t sure if this is an aqueduct or what, but it was so interesting and stood out against the backdrop of farm fields, I had to take a picture.

I hope you enjoy the train travel photos.  We will have more blogs on our Beijing trip, including our rickshaw rides, both planned and unplanned!

This photo was taken on the outskirts of Shanghai. Sad, forlorn looking buildings are like this are not unusual anywhere we have been. Grey, unpainted concrete is common. Sometimes they are partially demolished with people still living in the undemolished portion. Often rubble, trash heaps, etc. are nearby. As we have said before China is a country of incredible extremes from great wealth to great poverty.

Museums and Pearls

Last week the girls and I made a daylong trip around Shanghai.  We visited three different museums and then spent the afternoon at an indoor market that included an entire floor of jewelry and pearls.

Laura and Jenna in the museum at the 1st meeting of the Congress of the Communist Party

Our first stop was at the site of the 1stNational Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.  The Chinese Communist Party was formally established here in July, 1921.  The museum is located in a typical grey Shikumen apartment building.  Inside, it is a very nice, modern facility with displays on the history of the meeting, the 13 attendees, and the ideals/goals of the group.  Admission is, interestingly, free.

A group of Chinese who seemed to be taking a pledge or oath.  They are facing the flag that Jenna and Laura are standing beside.

As the girls and I stood in the lobby, a large group of Chinese gathered facing a huge Chinese flag mounted on the wall.  A lady stood in front of the group, also facing the flag and holding a paper with Chinese characters on it.  While the girls and I watched, a gentleman handed me his camera and motioned for me to take photos of the group.  As I stepped back to take the photos, they began reciting something and each person had their right hand raised to shoulder level, making a fist with their right hand.  We have no idea exactly what they were reciting, but assume it was some type of pledge or oath.

Our tour of the museum was pretty much what I expected to see.  The displays, text, historic documents and items promoted the struggles of the Chinese and ideals of the Chinese communist party.  They were described as “heroic struggles to overthrow the rule of imperialism and feudalism for the State independence and freedom of the people.”  I thought “freedom of the people” was an interesting phrase considering how few freedoms the Chinese have today.

Alley/courtyard leading to the site of the 1st National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. You were not allowed to take pictures inside the museum.

In one display, a worn pair of quilted pants had a note, which said they were worn alternately by a Chinese couple, who worked different shifts in a cotton mill before liberation.  The texts talk about the “anti-imperial and anti-feudal democratic revolution”.  Again, “democratic revolution” is an interesting phrase because we have not seen any evidence of a democracy.  The museum included a wall with photos and biographies of all thirteen attendees.  At least four were expelled from or voluntarily left the party.  A diorama of the meeting depicts Mao Zedong (later known as Chairman Mao) “center stage.”  The room where the group met is restored to its appearance during the meeting.  It was actually a room in someone’s home at the time and was kept very secret because they thought French police were looking for the group, whose members were considered traitors.  The meeting spanned several days and actually ended on a Chinese pleasure boat to evade the French police.  The museum is a hallowed place for devout followers of the Chinese Communist Party.

We visited the Chinese Postal Museum, a small, free museum devoted to the history of the Chinese postal service, known today as China Post.  In the U.S., the dominant color for the UPSP is blue; here it is green.  Their trucks, mailbags, post office boxes, signage, etc. are all green.  If you mail a package, they bring you a light green box to put it in, even if you have a box all packed and labeled!  The museum was interesting, particularly the photo of 100 bicycles the postal service purchased in 1911 to deliver mail.  They cost 6500 silver dollars.  One hundred years later, bicycles are still used for deliveries, along with other forms of transportation.

Laura and Jenna inside the restored Shikumen. The woodwork and windows were very beautiful and reminded me of the Arts and Crafts architectural style.

A bedroom in the Shikumen on a “middle floor” off a landing between the 1st and 2nd floors. This room was often rented out.

The last museum we saw that morning was a restored Shikumen.  We’ve talked about Shikumen that are still occupied in a previous blog.  The rooms here were restored to probably the 1920s/1930s timeframe.  They featured dark woodwork, sliding doors, wood floors, and beautiful furniture.  It was not a particularly large residence and, to me, it felt like a middle or upper class home, not an average Chinese household.  Many Chinese homes often have an arrangement of two chairs with a small table in between, sometimes more than one set like this in a room.  Two people might share a pot of tea while conversing.

All three museums are located within an area of Shanghai known today as Xintiandi (pronounced shin tahn dee).  In 1996, this was a working-class neighborhood, a poor area of Shanghai with shikumen apartment buildings in deteriorated condition.  An estimated 8,000 people lived in the area.  In comparing that to a similar size area in downtown Noblesville, there would be around 500 or 600 people in single-family homes.  Most households did not even have running water.  The area was re-developed sometimes saving the shikumen facades, sometimes not, and turned into an upscale shopping and dining area.  It was, in my opinion, a tale of opposites.  What was a working-class Chinese neighborhood now houses upscale shopping:  a wealthy, capitalistic atmosphere of high-priced business lunches surrounding the site of the first meeting of the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party.

Family room on the first floor in the restored Shikumen.

Our afternoon was spent in a large three-story shopping bonanza.  We went to specifically visit Hongqiao (prounounced Hong chow) Pearl City.  Located on the west side of Shanghai, about 45 minutes from our apartment, it is known for its pearls and frequented by visitors and expats for Chinese goods and pearls.  The afternoon was fun and I practiced my price-haggling skills.  The second floor consists of many booths and small shops of varying sizes all selling pearls and jewelry.  We purchased several sets of pearls and other jewelry, including a black onyx and jade necklace for me, woven bracelets, a pearl necklace for Laura and cross necklaces for the girls.  We found some very beautiful pieces and discovered that by purchasing most everything from one place, we negotiated bigger discounts than if we had bounced from booth to booth.

Lee, where we bought our jewelry. Chinese love to make the “peace” or “victory” sign in pictures. We aren’t sure why nor do we know what it means to them.

When you purchase your pearls, you select the color first.  They have trays of pearls on strings for display.  Most shops had white, light grey, dark grey, golden color, and pink.  Then, you let them know exactly what you want, such as necklace, earrings, or bracelet, and how long you want your strand of pearls.  What you purchase and how long it is determines the cost.  We purchased a medium strand of pearls with bracelet and earrings and it took 2 lengths of pearls to make those.  They string the pearls while you watch.  It’s quite interesting to see how quickly they work.

After our jewelry purchases, we browsed around the mall.  In one place, Jenna found a very large fan with horses on it that she wanted for her room.  The clerk said the fan was 85RMB (about $14).  I told Jenna I would think about it.  Later that afternoon when we returned, a different clerk was working.  She said the fan cost 185RMB.  I replied “earlier, the clerk said 85.”  She replied, “he did not know the size of the fan.  It is a very large fan.”  I replied, “yes, he did.  I showed him which one.”  She said, “150 RMB.”  I said “no, 85.”  She said “he not know how large the fan was.”  I said “yes, he did because he got the fan from behind those scarves.  He knew exactly which fan I wanted.”  She replied “120.”  I said “no, 85.”  She said “100.”  I said “no, 85” and began to put my wallet away, afraid to even look at Jenna.  “Okay, okay, 85.”  Jenna is very excited about her fan!

Jenna and her new horse fan

We had a similar experience with a purse for Laura.  It started out at 850 RMB, but I paid 200RMB.  Sometimes it takes quite a bit of haggling back and forth AND, most importantly, a willingness to walk away.  I’ve learned not to “fall in love” with anything until we agree on a price.  David said I was going to do the negotiating for our future cars.

We really enjoyed the day, especially the shopping in the afternoon and hope to go back before we leave Shanghai.  If you are interested in pearls, let us know!  We would be happy to shop for you.

Suzhou, China

Officially, the Yunyan Pagoda, but also called “China’s Leaning Tower of Pisa.”

Last weekend, we took an overnight trip to Suzhouz, a city north of Shanghai.  The city is known for silk and its gardens.  The gardens of Suzhou are a Unesco World Heritage Site.  After seeing them, we understand why.  Suzhou was about a 30-minute train ride from Shanghai, and once we arrived, we dropped off our bags at the hotel, and set off to see the sights.  Our first stop was the Tiger Hill where the leaning pagoda was.  Known as Yunyan Pagoda, it’s basically China’s version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa.   Tiger Hill has a large garden around the pagoda with rock formations, elaborate gardens, bonsai, gazebos and pavillions.  You aren’t allowed to go up in the pagoda since they don’t think it’s safe enough.

Beautiful brickwork and ornate details 1,000 years later!

Mom:  The pagoda was built about 1,000 years ago on ground that was a mix of rock and sand.  Within a few years, the pagoda began to lean.  In the 1950s, the Chinese pumped concrete under the base to stabilize the pagoda, but are leaving the lean.  It’s actually a very beautiful pagoda with ornate brick and stone designs.  For me, it was interesting to see the deterioration of a building 1,000 years old rather than 100 or 200, which is what I’m used to working with in the U.S.

The canal encircles the garden with old apartment buildings in poor condition.

A canal encircles the garden at Tiger Hill and we took about a 30 min boat ride in a wooden boat made to look like historic pleasure boats in China.  It was a nice way to relax for a few minutes, and see more of Tiger Hill.  Just before we left, we had one of the more intrusive, aggressive people wanting pictures (plural!) with Jenna.  She practically grabbed Jenna and pulled her over to pose for picture after picture.  I asked Jenna before she got started if it was okay and Jenna, as always, said yes.  The lady was quite friendly, outgoing, but borderline rude since she didn’t really give Jenna a chance to refuse!

Twin Pagodas in the background with the building ruins in the foreground.

Jenna was particularly fond of this stone statue, a horse, complete with mounting blocks.

Next, we took a taxi to the Twin Pagodas.  The taxi driver dropped us off and directed us straight and then left.  Unfortunately, her directions were off.  It was straight, but on the other side of the canal and a right turn!  After a bit of walking and finally asking someone, we were able to find it.  It wasn’t as big or significant as we had thought it might be.  It was just two simple pagodas that were built and painted the same way.  The gardens were fairly simple.  What had been an elaborate building in the courtyard adjacent to the pagodas was now in ruins with pieces just lying around.  We don’t know exactly what caused the building’s destruction.  However, we often hear about restoration and reconstruction of China’s cultural relics after they were damaged or destroyed during the “Cultural Revolution.”

The Master of the Nets Garden

David and Jenna pose on a rock formation at the Master of the Nets Garden

Mom:  Our last stop of the day was at the Master of the Nets Garden.  This garden is one of the smallest in Suzhou, but its size does not diminish the beauty there.  Just the names of the different buildings were colorful:  “The Sedan Chair Hall” (yes, there is a sedan chair on display there); “The Beauty Within Reach Tower”;  “The Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio”;  The Moon Comes with Breeze Pavilion” (probably a nice spot for an evening breeze) and, my personal favorite, “The Washing my Ribbon Pavilion over the Water”.  Although we did not find that pavilion, I can imagine that someone once washed ribbons there.  The names are quite descriptive. 

The “Watching Pines and Appreciating Paintings Studio”. There are paintings in the studio and pines outside. Some paintings in the studio are of pines.

Meandering through The Masters of the Nets Garden

Most gardens in China, we have found to be quite peaceful, beautiful places, reasonably well maintained and with elaborate landscaping, rock formations and always water.  Tiger Hill was really too crowded to fully enjoy, but Master of the Nets was better.  In any of the gardens we have visited, you are free to take a seat almost anywhere and relax for a few minutes or a few hours.  Gardens here are a peaceful oasis in the chaos of the big cities of China. 

It had been a busy morning, so we decided to head back to the hotel, and relax for a couple hours before dinner.  The rooms were pretty nice.  Jenna and I had a king size bed, so there was no issues about kicking each other!

We had dinner at a restaurant in the hotel.  We thought we’d be doing the Mexican buffet, since an advertisement in the elevator and a menu outside the restaurant door talked about the Mexican Fiesta through May 31st and we were there on May 27th.  But, this is China and advertisements often don’t mean what they say.  What day did it end?  Several days before.  Honestly, that’s rather typical here.  So we had the regular dinner, and though it wasn’t the greatest, it wasn’t too bad.

Land gate and guard house at Pan Men Scenic Area

Jenna and a cannon at the Pan Men gate

We got up leisurely the next morning, packed our stuff, and had breakfast at the hotel.  It was a buffet, and everyone was able to find something tasty.  The day was sunny, and nice, so it was a good day for sightseeing.  The first stop was Pan Men Scenic Area, which used to be an entrance to the city.   Like most Chinese cities, Suzhou was surrounded by a massive wall at one time.  Most of the wall is gone, but a small section remains here.  There was both a land gate and a river gate in the same area.  A river or canal went under it, and you could see an old gate that would drop down if people needed to be kept out.  After we finished up there, we took a taxi to the Humble Administrator’s Garden.

Humble Administrator’s Garden

Jenna’s reaction to seeing the incredibly large koi in the pond below.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden is anything but humble.  It is the largest in Suzhou, was built hundreds of years ago, and about half is water, ponds, streams, etc.   Originally this was someone’s home.  There were old buildings, bridges, gazebos and lots of garden scenery.  The place was huge, especially considering the fact that it used to be someone’s home.   There were many rock features that you could climb on, and lots of stone pathways.  The ponds had koi fish, turtles, ducks and lily pads.

The garden is so large it could be hard to find your way back out because you can wander and meander all different ways, up, down, through buildings and around the ponds.  It took us a little while to find the exit, there were so many small paths you could go down, and not all of them were on the map.  But we finally made it out, and back to the pedestrian road.

Bonsai at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. It was interesting to see the wide variety of trees used for bonsai.

Silk Worms at the Suzhou Silk Museum

We tried to walk to the Silk Museum, but couldn’t find it and took a taxi, only to realize we had been going the wrong direction.  The museum was pretty neat, with silk and other artifacts dating back hundreds of years ago.  They even had live silk worms, and if you leaned in close enough, you could hear them crunching on the leaves.   The museum seemed like it was built to be something pretty significant that a lot of people would go to, but because the location isn’t very good, it didn’t look like it had been doing as well as people had hoped.  There was hardly anyone else there.

North Temple Pagoda

We made an unplanned stop at the North Temple Pagoda.  It wasn’t far, and we still had plenty of time left, so we decided to go up in it.  It was a bit of climb to the top, but well worth the view.  You could see all across Suzhouz, and we could even see the Leaning Pagoda sitting on top of Tiger Hill.  At a distance, the lean was pretty obvious.  We took lots of pictures, and then climbed back down.

The last stop of the day was the Arts and Crafts Museum.  It took a few minutes to find, but we finally saw it tucked back on a small street.  We’re finding as we tour in China, that signage is not really that important, unless it’s reminding you to stay off the grass.  Only the biggest, most significant sights have directional signs for you to find places.  The museum had several rooms filled with old paintings, pottery, and sculptures.   We were able to watch a lady carving a sandalwood fan.  She used a thin wire and carved the designs by moving it up and down in the wood.

Laura climbs the pagoda at Pan Men Scenic Area

Laura and Jenna at the Arts and Crafts Museum

After wandering through the museum, we decided to call it a day.  At an unplanned stop in a fan store, Jenna got one of her favorite keepsakes, a flower fan with wavy ribs.  Then, we grabbed a taxi, picked up our luggage from the hotel, and headed to the train station.  It hadn’t been a long trip, but it had been enough to see a bit of what Suzhouz had to offer.  Everyone was tired, and after buying tickets, we hopped on the train, and headed back to Shanghai.  This was mine, Jenna’s and Mom’s first experience with trains in China and overall, it was a pretty good one.  It’s not always easy to find the ticket desk to buy the tickets, but the trains were quite nice.  They had big comfy seats, foot rests and were pretty smooth rides.  We would definitely travel by train again!

Climbing down the pagoda at Pan Men Scenic Area

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