The Inner Mongolian China Brog

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Spring Festivus for the Rest of Us, Part V

New Year's Day (January 28) found me and Emma in Shanghai, enjoying the company of John and Lynn Patton, our newest friends, who offered us a place to stay when they heard we'd be in their neck of the woods. Their PuDong apartment has an unbeatable view of 2 of Shanghai's most recognizable landmarks: the Jinmao tower (which is the tallest building in Shanghai and in China [?] and houses a Hyatt on the upper floors) and the Oriental Pearl Tower, a space-needley structure whose nighttime pulsating rainbow lights had us transfixed more than a couple times.

It was definitely a singular experience to be in one of China's most cosmopolitan and unique cities on New Year's Day. We took the opportunity to ferry ourselves across the river and into Old Town, where we browsed the streets full of old fashioned little buildings and temples (with no shortage of ramshackle, impoverished-looking areas, might I add). We once again found ourselves among thousands of people, shoulder to shoulder, but being in no particular hurry and having expected as much on a national holiday, we let the human current sweep us along, happy to observe China and the Chinese on one of their most important holidays. In the 2 full days we spent in Shanghai exploring the Old Town, French Concession (including the site of the first meeting of the Chinese Communist Party) and the Bund, we were witness to a small variety of New Year's traditions, the hardest of which to miss being the fireworks, of course. They went off every night for hours (and sometimes during the day as well...actually pretty much constantly). In gratitude to our extremely generous hosts, we decided to purchase a large New Year's fruit basket for John and Lynn, though in the process of doing so on a sidewalk of no particular note, I managed to get my foot run over by an ATV. I really should learn to get out of the way...not like the road provides space enough to drive or anything.

We continued our visit to the mid-eastern coast of China with a couple days in Suzhou, which is known for its silk production and a city centre riddled with canals. We arrived there envisioning rather of a Chinese Amsterdam...but that wasn't quite the case. Turns out we'd been spoiled by the charm of little cities like Dali and Yangshuo, and Suzhou, though not without its attractions, was not everything we'd have had it be. Though it is one of the oldest cities in China, you can quickly tell that it's being overrun by the trappings of bigger cities, as the wide selection of fast food and Starbucks immediately makes obvious. That's not to say we didn't enjoy ourselves; in fact, we savored not one but two meals in the Pizza Hut, finding ourselves unable to face the battle of finding a Chinese restaurant that appealed to us. We had been sampling local cuisines right along, but by this point in our trip, there was little that we found extraordinary enough to warrant passing up a pizza we knew would be brand-controlledly tasty. We also paid visits to the Silk Museum, which was very interesting, and to a couple of Suzhou's gardens and pagodas, which are unlike anything I'd seen until then (not to mention the filming site of a couple scenes in Big Bird in China. Yeah you read that right.).

After a couple days in Suzhou, we trundled back to Shanghai to spend one last night with John and Lynn and to experience the view from the Shanghai Hyatt's Cloud 9 bar on the 88th floor of the Jinmao Tower. We should have known better by then than to try that, though, with our track record of crummy weather. It was too cloudy to see anything but our faces reflected in the window panes.

The buttcrack of dawn the next morning saw us pile into a cab headed for PuDong airport to board the first international flight of our odyssey. Though we'd had a ton of fun experiencing a truly wide expanse of what China has to offer, I felt satisfied that I'd experienced enough to content myself that I'd taken full advantage of my time here and seen a comprehensive selection of cities and towns. And I couldn't help but be excited at the thought of leaving the country for a destination that never fails to prove itself China's opposite, and refreshingly so, as one tends to tire quickly of the less charming aspects... Konnichiwa, Japan!


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