- Suzhou Waterway tour (古城河水上導覽)
- Fengqiao (楓橋)
- Xintiandi (新天地)
After lunch, we had to make a stop at a so-call "Silk Museum", but it was just a silk shop where the tour guide would make commissions from if we bought something. This is one of the reasons that I hate group tours. Thank God we only stayed there for 30 minutes.
The next stop was a boat ride through the water town. The boat ride was my favorite part of the trip. The scenery was so delicate and dreamy. Even the tour guide trying to sell some playing cards as souvenirs did not dampen my mood. I did not want to get off the boat.
The boat ride took us to the Fengqiao. The bridge was mentioned in one of the most famous poems written by a poet, Zhong Ji, from Tang Dynasty. We stayed there for another hour.
It was pretty much the last leg of our tour, and I found myself rather underwhelmed by what I had seen in Suzhou so far. The facades of the old architectures were there, but the spirit was completely stripped away. Unfortunately the government did not do a good job preserving these historical sites. The "Exit", "Toilet", and other signs were on display like eye sores everywhere. Unlike Shanghai that revamped the old architectures with the modern twist to inject an exciting yet nostalgic energy, there was really nothing much going on except a few vendors selling boring souvenirs.
After we took another scenic boat ride back to our bus, we were supposed to go to Tiger Hill as told by the lady who sold us the tour tickets. The tour guide pointed to the tilted Yunyan Pagoda on the highway and drove straight to the next tourist trap, a stone and jade shop. When I questioned the tour guide why we did not go to Tiger Hill, he said that looking at Yunyan Pagoda on the highway was considered a stop.
Okay. so maybe I was just constantly finding faults in China and this proved my point. Both H and I found ourselves unable to shake the feeling of suspicion when we interacted with the locals. We did not feel that they could be trusted. I felt guilty and judgmental for feeling that way, but our next stop did not help us to change the impression.
So, clearly we were annoyed that the tour guide thought we were idiots. Then again, we did have a train to catch and would not mind the tour to end earlier. The tour guide skipped Tiger Hill so that he could take us to this "NOT TO BE MISSED" Jade and rare stone shop. He was frank about getting a commission from this place. He explained to the group that the tour itself was not profitable enough and this was the main source of income. Although I was annoyed about the shop, I did appreciate his honesty.
Once we arrived at the shop, we were whisked away to a conference room to hear some sales pitch. Then the shady owner who acted like some gangster showed up talking some more crap. There were two Russians and one American tourists in the group. Through out the course of the tour, I became the designated translator so they would know what was going on. Ten minutes in, H and I had enough of the bullshit and left. The American guy followed our lead. We decided to share a cab for a short 5 minutes ride to the train station. Once we were at the train station, we bought train tickets back to Shanghai. The American was waiting in line trying to exchange his return tickets that was scheduled to depart 3 hours later in the evening. Since we still had some time before the train departed, I helped him to exchange the tickets so that he was able to get on the same train with us.
The experience made me realize that this trip definitely was made a lot easier for H since I read and speak Mandarin. A tour might be necessary for foreigners venturing out of Shanghai.
I was relieved to return to Shanghai earlier than we expected. We went back to our hotel to change before going out again. At the hotel, we were checking our emails and tried to log in to Facebook and realized that the Facebook access was blocked. We were reminded not to be fooled by the modern development and evidence of capitalism everywhere. China is a communist country with highly controlled news censorship and online surveillance.
H seemed to take that more to heart than I did. He pointed out the propaganda in the English newspapers provided by the hotel; was quick to criticize the hypocrisy in the inequality and abuse of power in a country which was suppose to embrace communist principles; and passionately argued that if the Chinese government was as strict about counterfeit products as any protests for freedom and democracy; there would not be anyone approaching us on the streets and asking if we were interested in buying those fake watches and handbags.
Okay, we are getting off track here. Let's get back to the rest of the evening.
Xintiandi was another restored shikumen architecture that housed many trendy bars, cafes, restaurants and boutiques. Unlike Tianzifan that had a bohemian and relaxed flair, Xintiandi was much more swanky and posh.
We were lured by its ambiance and decided to dine at 俏江南 (South Beauty) even though it was a chain restaurant serving Sichuan cuisine. We had bitter melon salad, fish, half duck, hot oil beef that the server prepared by your table, and red bean pastry for dessert. Each individual dish was all very delicious, but the combination of all the dishes felt too greasy and too rich.
It was a beautiful spring evening, and we took a stroll through Xintiandi after dinner. There were many westerners and people dressed to impress. We randomly walked into a bar, had some drinks, and chatted with other guests. Despite a not-so-successful day trip to Suzhou, we had a really fun night in Xintiandi.