Day 6: Suzhou and Shanghai
Looking forward to enjoying another relaxing breakfast before a busy day, we follow a sign up the grand staircase to the Suzhou Overseas Chinese Hotel breakfast buffet. After paying, we open the door to feeding time at the zoo. We wriggle through mobs of people and plates of food. Finding a gold cloth covered table with two empty seats, we pull out a matching gold cloth covered chair affixed with a giant bow and join several other hotel guests at a large round table piled with dirty dishes.
After unsuccessfully finding a line among the swarm of people darting to and from the buffet, we squeeze through and place a hardboiled egg, steamed buns, and fried rice onto our plates. We split the remaining lukewarm coffee between the two of us. Spotting a couple members of our G Adventures group, we stop to say hello. Significantly increasing our morning rations, they hand us a giant plate of juicy, perfectly sliced watermelon.
Wanting to get out of the mad house as quickly as possible, we return to our table and devour our breakfast. Abandoning our empty dishes, we return to the quiet of our room to pack our bags. Spending less than twelve hours at the hotel, it’s time to check out. We meet in the lobby as Paul, our CEO, arranges taxis to drive us to the Suzhou Railway Station. After a two hour ride we will arrive by fast train in Shanghai, one of the most populated cities in the world.
Exiting the train station, I feel like I am in New York City. Giant billboards and flashing signs light up the city on the ten minute walk to the Shanghai Railway Mansion. We check in then meet the rest of our group in the lobby. Walking to the nearby metro station, we take line one to People’s Square and transfer to line two towards Nanjing East Road, one of the busiest shopping streets in the world. The road is over three miles long and home to the eight story Number One Department Store.
We stop for lunch at a Chinese restaurant inside one of the street’s shopping malls. Feeling adventurous, we order Sesame Tang Yuan, lo mien, and cold quinoa salad to share. Enjoying a cold Tsing Tao as we wait for our food to arrive, we learn from Paul Sesame Tang Yuan, typically eaten as dessert, is a thick, sweet soup of rice balls filled with black sesame. The perfectly shaped, cold mound of finely chopped greens and quinoa paired with lo mien is delicious. The syrupy soup and sugary rice balls are too sweet for my tastes.
After lunch we have an hour to explore Nanjing Road. A colorful train transports customers between more than six hundred businesses selling jade, silk, name brand clothing, and food. An estimated one million seven hundred shoppers visit the area each day. Paul teaches us, knock offs in China are rated on a scale from A to D according to how similar the product is to the original. A is the most expensive and at times tricks even the manufacturers.
Eating a light lunch to save room for local snacks, we begin browsing the endless shops. There are many stores with rows of bread, pastries, cakes, candy, and meat for sale. We choose a mysterious pastry. I bite into the orange, strangely textured seafood flavored center, and immediately hand it to Mitch.
Reassembling with our group after exploring, we follow Paul to the Bund. We walk by the Peace Hotel, Bank of China, and HSBC Bank Building. Stretching a mile along the Haungpu River fifty-two buildings of various architecture can be seen from the Bund, some dating back to the eighteen hundreds. The view of Shanghai across the river looks like a postcard. After a group photo, we begin the walk to our next stop.
Yu Yuan Old Street
We walk along the edge of the four hundred year old Yuyuan Garden on the way to Yu Yuan Old Street. The garden consists of six sections separated by walls: Sansui Hall, Wanhua Chamber, Dianchun Hall, Huijing Hall, Yuhua Hall, and the inner garden. We see perfectly manicured shrubs and bushes, rock formations, flowers, and statues along the stone path.
Reaching the center of Shanghai we see the entrance to Yu Yuan Old Street. Feeling like we stepped back into the Ming and Qing Dynstay, lanterns line the walkway among red ornate buildings with upturned roofs. The marketplace is bustling with shops and vendors selling souvenirs, food, jade, pearls, statues, chop sticks, clothing, paintings, and tea. Trying out our bartering skills, we wager and achieve a slightly lower price on a silk painting of the Great Wall. Farther down the street, we see a giant soup dumplings with a straw. Excitedly, we purchase one and I take a giant sip of steaming crab soup.
Continuing, we enter a cafeteria style food court. A long metal counter wraps around an enormous kitchen below colorful photos of food. Picking up an orange tray, we glide along the rolling metal surface in search of mice shaped rice pictured above the counter. We select sweet pumpkin rice balls and barbequed pork steamed buns. Filled with disappointment, the space next to the label for mice rice is empty. Finding an available table, we begin sampling our food. A thin layer of rice coats a doughy, stretchy pumpkin ball encasing a cube of pumpkin gelatin.
Cleaning up our table, we continue to explore the bazaar and enter a shop selling jade. We purchase a female jade lion well below the sticker price. We are much better at haggling when we are almost out of money. Disappointed our bargaining is over, we luckily find a tiny currency exchange booth nearby and trade our American cash for Yuan. Almost time to meet our group, Mitch orders deep fried crab balls while I wait for a crunchy cheese filled flat bread. Reconnecting, we walk to the metro station. We have a few minutes to unwind at the hotel before we take metro line one to Shanghai Circus World, our last event of the evening.
Following Paul, we stop at a small convenience store to purchase popcorn or snacks for the show. To Paul’s surprise, we emerge with six packs of beer and bags of marinara sauce flavored chips to enjoy during the show. Entering the theater, we find our seats and settle in for the ninety minute Shanghai Acrobat Show.
We are on the edge of our seats as a tower of four acrobats ride around the stage on a single bicycle, plates spin on the end of a stick high in the air, and a man balances on boards atop rolling glass tubes. Above us, ribbons hang from the ceiling as dancers perform a colorful show. Men dive and roll through hoops, a giant wheel Ferris wheel spins powered by men, a ceramic vase is tossed in the air and caught on a man’s forehead, and for the finale motorcycles fill a glowing metal ball, their path’s miraculously intercepting at just the right moments.
*For more information on our tour check out: G Adventures China Express.
Day 1: Fly into Beijing
Day 2: Beijing: Forbidden City and Tiananmen Square
Day 3: Great Wall Mutianyu and travel to Xi’an
Day 4: Xian: Terracotta Warriors Guided Tour and travel to Suzhou
Day 5: Suzhou: Master of the Nets Garden Tour and overnight train to Shanghai
Day 6: Shanghai: Orientation Walk of the Bund
Day 7: Shanghai: Carte Blanche
Day 8: Fly out of Shanghai