|Like Shooting Fish in a....Pond?|
We left the office at about 5:30am on Thursday. After flying from Shenzhen to Hangzhou, we were immediately hurled into a bus with a tour guide. A really. obnoxious. tour guide. He had a microphone with like a hip-speaker thing, and was yelling into it the entire trip. In very obnoxious Chinese. So that was pretty awesome. Our first stop on the trip was a pretty decent restaurant in Hangzhou, as we arrived about lunchtime. It was immediately obvious that I was going to be something of a "guest of honor" during this trip--I always sat at the head table, immediately next to the sister of the 2 brothers that own this company (the brothers were not on the holiday, and their sister is what I would refer to as the "Company Mom", just a really nice 40ish year old Chinese woman who speaks about as much English as I do Arabic....so she's pitch-perfect). Anyway, so we had a decent lunch. After lunch we went to the pretty amazing West Lake of Hangzhou, and took a very crowded touristy boat around the West Lake. Still decent. We walked around that area for most of the afternoon, before going to a sort of shopping street, then this bizarre Song Dynasty-themed Chinese amusement park/folk village/mental institution/song and dance theater. Yeah, it was all of the above. Weird first day overall, but nothing compared to the devastation of Day 2.
|Temple somewhere near Hangzhou|
A brief aside--I asked Lisa why the hell we had wasted 1 of our 4 days doing an unbelievable amount of shopping/completely idiotic activities. She informed me that this is how the tour guide makes money--he gets commission from the shops if we buy things. Frankly, I would be just as happy giving the guy like $10 (or even less, we could realistically each give him like $5, and the $200 he makes would be about 2 weeks' wage in China), and just have that extra day to not be assaulted by merchants peddling their crap. But apparently this is not how China works. Also quite interesting, none of my Chinese coworkers seemed fazed or aggravated about this absurd series of shopping misadventures.
|The lads, Jacky (#3 guy in the company) and Michael (Old friend of the owner's, company chef)|
|Zhouzhuang, the Venice of the East|
So after our tours around Suzhou, we finally arrived in the center of the center, the economic heart of the People's Republic of China, one of my favorite cities in this world (as of now, currently #3 on my list behind Hong Kong and Seoul), Shanghai. Upon arrival, I left the tour group to go meet up with my old friend Douglon, who I had lived with for about a month in Hong Kong upon my return to Asia in October-November 2011. He's currently living in Shanghai and managing his Dad's building, the House of Roosevelt. I met up with him at the House, which was a surreal experience. Put bluntly, it is one of the nicest buildings on the nicest and most famous street in China's most cosmopolitan and expensive city. The building has a restaurant on the 8th floor, where we went for dinner.
At this point 2 things should be noted--
1) I had already eaten dinner at this point.
2) Douglon is a world renowned eater, and more importantly, a world renowned host. So I knew what I was getting into to some extent, but was sure to tell Douglon upon my arrival
"Now Douglon, I've already had dinner. So can we just do some appetizers or something else light?"
"Of course, no problem at all"
As it was Douglon, I should have known better. The next thing I knew, a waiter asked me how I would like my steak cooked. Sweet jesus. Before dinner, I ended up getting a text from Martin, the old friend that I'd met up with in Hong Kong a couple of weeks prior. He was in Shanghai, and came to meet us at the House of Roosevelt (he's also a good friend of Douglon's, so it was a nice reunion). We were also joined by another friend of Douglon's, a Peruvian girl who had grown up in Sweden. The four of us enjoyed a magnificent meal atop one of the nicest buildings in the city, with a beautiful view of Pudong/Lujiazui and The Bund. Or at least, the 3 of them enjoyed the meal, as well as the sight of me trying to force down more food after having already eaten dinner.
|Wuxinting Tea House, Shanghai|
So that was the trip to Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou. As I noted in the beginning of this blog post, I tend to prefer trips that are completely unplanned. After returning from this atrociously constricting trip, I decided it was time to book something stupid, so yesterday I booked 1-way airfare from Hong Kong to Dhaka for the day after my birthday, as we have 1 week's holiday for Chinese National Day that week (I was really, really, really hoping to do Tibet, but unfortunately the Chinese government has closed Tibet to foreigners for the foreseeable future....welcome to China!). For those who don't know where Dhaka is, you clearly haven't been reading my blog often enough, as I wrote a fairly decent piece on Bangladesh last year. Anyway, so will be heading there for some amount of time in late September. Interestingly, that's the tail end of the rainy season, so should involve some flooding and perhaps malaria. And I cannot freaking wait.
|Weird Song Dynasty Themed Theme Park|
|Love the Chinglish|
Yeah it was this crowded in the temple...