Friday, July 8, 2011

Meanwhile Back in Suzhou

Ok, where was I...? Oh, yes, Xian to Suzhou, which happened before we went to Nanjing, but I was so eager to tell you what happened late one night in Nanjing that I...oh, never mind.

So, we drove back to the Xian airport past those noir-ish, sparsely-lit sidewalks where the ladies had been walking and talking to people in cars but now it was daylight, so that wasn't happening. We did not have any incidents at the airport unless you count the rather frenzied search for wine after we determined that, yes, you can bring your own liquor on an internal flight in China. Whoop!  That out of the way, we flew to Shanghai.  Then, Janet, our new guide, met us at the airport and we boarded a van and took off into the Shanghai night, drove for hours, and ended up in Suzhou. We almost lost our dean ("Nira, we hardly knew ye!") under a pile of shifting luggage on this ride because the van was just a titch too small for us and our luggage was way too close and unfettered.  Luggage becomes a theme in the trip at this point.

And, you may be thinking, but they are flying home from Shanghai, so why are they going to Shanghai and they still have six days on their trip? Why are they leaving Shanghai? I thought that's where they wanted to be? What are they doing in Suzhou? Well, the following day was to be the Dragon Boat Festival, a national holiday, so...oh, don't ask. It's complicated.  The important thing about the following day is that it rained 猫 and 狗 all day. Too bad for the Dragon Boat Festival and too darn bad for us too, because Suzhou seemed like a lovely city, smaller than the others we visited, and it is renowned for its gardens, of which we managed to see precisely one. It is also renowned as the "Venice of China," because it's a city of canals and we took a ride through some of the charming canals. That was fun but damp. We got to look through the doors of people's houses if they faced the canal.  Very interesting. Quite a few people have cats, I observed. We also got to see the backs of people's houses if the front faced the street; it wasn't good to consider what probably comes out of the back of those houses and into the canals.  Many of the houses, we were told, do not have indoor plumbing.  Despite the drizzle and rain, though, we did have some pretty stimulating experiences.

We visited the Humble Administrator Garden.  There were a LOT of people and their umbrellas there but it's a lovely garden filled with soothing sounds and with meandering paths, bridges, moving water, fish, beautiful flowering plants and trees (enhanced by rain), and some small, lovely buildings. It's a shame that the day was just not conducive to outdoor activities.

Our next activity, in fact, was indoors and it was fascinating.  I understand that the point of the activity was to get us to buy stuff at the end of the tour (I cooperated), but still it was very, very interesting and certainly something you won't see anywhere in the US.  We went to the Suzhou Number 1 Silk Factory. We saw everything, and I mean it, everything, in our tour. We watched silkworms munching their mulberry leaves, we saw silkworm poop a-plenty, and I made a friend for life.  Joe Ryan pleased me by taking a picture of the worm who seemed so fascinated by me. This worm never took his eyes off me the whole time I was standing by the tray. He was standing up looking at me, yes.  I like to think that the products I purchased later were little gifts from him to me. I wish I could post the picture (Google? Are you listening?). We saw cocoons in all different stages and we saw, up close, every part of the process of teasing out and pulling the individual thread of which each cocoon is constructed (except if there are twins!), and of moving those threads through the process by which they eventually become scarves and lots of other products, such as comforters and pillow covers.  Don't take silk for granted.  Think of this as a process that requires real people to work with yucky stuff and have their hands in boiling water all day.  Yes, individuals do this and we looked over their shoulders.  It is very specialized work and I hope that Bag Balm is handed out to everyone at the end of the day. So the whole thing was enjoyable and instructive and, finally, quite costly. But I accept responsibility for that. Oops!

In the afternoon, we took another bullet train, this one from Suzhou to Nanjing.  I could tell you about the problem with our luggage, which just could not have been anticipated, but all's well that ends well.  Our luggage, which we could never have gotten onto the train, went ahead of us to Nanjing and that was a perfect, though a fraught and, for Pace, costly, solution.

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