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Sunday, 29 December 2013

Cruising China - Scenic Shanghai / Suzhou

After hearing stories from family and friends on their China expeditions - climbing the Great Walls of China, marvelling in the exotic beauty of Terracotta Warriors, enjoying the lovely Guilin falls, warming up to Harbin's ice sculptures etc, I was almost persuaded that I should plan a trip there.

Almost, but not quite yet - maybe after I've gone through the Top Three Countries in my list first?

Anyway, I did get to go to a part of China eventually - its largest city, Shanghai, a modern-esque beautiful city - as part of my Korean tour package. So, the good news is, I could write about my China experiene. The bad news is, there are no photos as the camera was lost during the same trip. It was just a 3 Days 2 Nights Shanghai trip anyway.

What was I expecting - dilapidated buildings, inn-like restaurants and lots of temples? Well, not for Shanghai - a city bustling with commercial activites and businesses by day, and bursting with night life and blazing lights by night. There were many shopping malls, bars, cafes and skycrapers, surprisingly. The Shanghai-ese (people of Shanghai) dressed very stylishly and were literate and rather poised.

15th October 2008 (Wednesday) - we reached Shanghai's Pudong Airport from Seoul. Here, another tour guide by the name of "Xiao Xiong" (small bear???) greeted us. Then we were coached to People's Square (Renmin Guang Chang) to tour the bustling, posh malls and commercial district. Heard it was converted from a very old village. We had Haagen Dazs ice creams there - surprisingly, the weather there was relatively warm compared to Korea's chilly climate.

We had dinner at some Chinese restaurant- I noted down in my manual diary that while all dishes were tasty, the most remarkable was the Pig's Trotter. You'd be surprised I still recall how the posh restaurant looked like - a stage at the front, red tableclothes, posh maroon carpeting and slim waitresses clad in traditional Chinese dresses (cheongsam). We were divided into two tables - big round tables- and seated somewhere in the middle of the restaurant.

After dinner, it was shopping again, this time at some shopping strip at the large City God Temple (Cheng Huang Miao). It was bestirred with many people walking about the magnificent temple - some offering prayers, others crowded along the shops and eateries. Yes, there were plenty of shops around the vicinity peddling souveinrs, keepsakes and interesting foodstuffs thats some of my tour mates dared to try - delicacies like duck's necks, tongues of some other animals etc. 

                                               Sorry I just had to borrow a photo from www.trekearth.com to emphasize 
                                              on the grandiose of this temple and its vicinity. Yes, this photo was exactly it - 
                                              how it looked that night in question, taking us by awe.

I managed to purchase some souvenirs from some of the shops before we proceed to check into our hotel. I did not record the name down -  but it was a rather dingy-looking serviced apartments kind of concept. They split us up into different floors as each level could only accommodate 2-4 rooms I think. 

16th October 2008 (Thursday) - After a decidedly-awful buffet breakfast, we journeyed into Suzhou City's Couple's Retreat Gardens ("Ouyuan") -  a famous Chinese classical garden filled with series of pavilions, halls, towers, mountains and water scenery.

There is a famous saying that goes, "Suzhou chu mei nu" in Chinese that basically translates into "The beauties originate from Suzhou", so we were curious and keen to see some great beauties soon.

We visited a large house supposedly owned by a very wealthy Chinese gentleman, and took in the traditional Chinese architectural designs - colored glazed roofs, large courtyards, windows with exquisite applique designs and exquisite flower patterns on pillars. They explained to us how and where the houseguests were entertained, and we saw some pretty impressive furinture and antiques around the mansion. 

Next, we were being entertained with a song and dance performance by the Suzhou ladies - using umbrellas and colorful sash. Frankly speaking, besides the tall, slender figures, we really did not spot any great beauties among the performers - we saw more eye-candies in Shanghai. It was a lively and lovely performance nonetheless, exposing to more cultural indulgence. We were transported out by boats.

The next stop was the Silk Factory, where they showed us how silk was obtained from cocoons, and how they were spun into silk fabrics. Silk was lovely, of course, considered a luxurious fabric - and silk bedsheets and comforters could retain temperatures so they helped enhance sleep. Plus, we were told they were good for skin if came into constant contact (eh?), so we were persuaded to make purchases. You would be surprised most of us bought something - myself included.

Lunch was served at another Chinese restaurant - this, I totally had no recollection of what we ate or how the restaurant looked like.

Our next stop was Tong Ren Tang - a producer and retailer of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and pharmaceuticals needs. We were seated and given lovely, hot foot massages to ease the foot fatique of long treks during the trip itself. The masseurs and physicians were going around telling our fortunes and talking to us, trying to sell us their services and products such as expensive herbs, remedies etc. Most of us managed to resist.

Dinner was consumed in another posh Chinese restaurant, this time with fascinating performance onstage. 

                                       Photo source: www.chinatourguide.com - river cruise on the Huangpu River 
                             overseeing electrifying views of the city and also the prominent Oriental Pearl Tower.

After our meal, we embarked on a river cruise on the Huangpu River, all of us either sitting silently in awe watching the enchanting night scenes unfolding before us, or jostling to the edges for photos and videos. I never thought Shanghai's night scenes were so glorious - every building was lit up opulently, some buildings even had images that changed within seconds. It was electrifying, almost spell-binding to watch.

We also saw the famous Oriental Pearl Tower (Dongfang Mingzhu Ta) lit up in its glory, stretching all 1,500 feet up towards the night skies. It is a TV and Radio station, but there's observation deck, karaoke and dance floors, and restaurants in it as well - it is Shanghai's most prominent building.

I don't think we got to scale that tower, or did we?

17th October 2009 (Friday) - We breakfasted and left for Jade Factory, where we watched the jewelers at work, and were once again persuaded to make purchases. As beautiful and glorious jades were - especially when they came in different blue-green hues, I did not think of wearing them. Not yet, anyway, but managed to get something here for the mom as well.

Then we headed to the Pudong Airport, had lunch, and flew back to Singapore.

It was an enjoyable trip in Shanghai overall, finally satisfying my curiosity about a city once made famous by the Hongkong period drama TV series "The Bund" (Shanghai-tan) in 1980 - often referred to as "The 'Godfather' of the East".

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