Monday, March 19, 2018

Shanghai back to Canada- day 10

Our day started at 4:20am. After checking out, Celia escorted nineteen of us to the airport. The rest of the group were flying back to Montreal in the afternoon. (We had said our goodbyes to each other the night before).

The Radisson Hotel had packed breakfasts to take with us. Included was a hard boiled egg, bun, yoghurt, water and a very stale muffin.

We said goodbye to Celia at the airport. Check in was uneventful and we boarded a flight to Beijing for the first leg of our trip home. 

After arriving in Beijing, we collected our luggage and walked inside to the international termInal where we rechecked our bags and waited.

When we started to board, Cole was in the washroom and had left his bag and iPad unattended. Barry picked up Cole’s stuff, boarded the plane and got in his seat. He was approached by the flight attendant who said that Cole wanted to board the plane but couldn’t because Barry had his boarding pass. Barry handed over the pass and Cole arrived shortly after.

After boarding, the flight was delayed for quite awhile. They were checking some passports (Carol and Steve’s included) and checked some kid that was sick.

Finally the flight took off and I slept most of the way, waking only when meals arrived and then going directly back to sleep. It was a wonderful vacation.

Here are some suggestions if going to China on a UTO tour:

  • bring Canadian money because you can pay the tour guide in dollars for any extra excursions
  • Be aware that some of the included excursions are sales opportunities for the company.
  • Always carry toilet paper with you because many washrooms do not supply it.
  • Bring hand sanitizer and/or wet wipes because most washrooms do not supply soap either.

We all enjoyed the UTO China trip and felt it gave good value for the money. The flights, hotels and guides far exceeded our expectations. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Exciting Shanghai- Day 9

The day was sunny. We were on the bus at 8am for our full day in Shanghai. The day before, as a group we had agreed on the day’s itinerary.

Our first stop was the Buddhist temple of the jade Buddha. Celia spent the bus ride time explaining the geography of China and Buddhism and whatever topics we had questions about.

The temple was beautiful with many golden buddha. The most impressive was the jade Buddha. Barry was asking Celia about monk parties. She replied that she thinks Barry has a very complicated mind. So true.

Our next stop was Chinatown....yes they actually do have a Chinatown in at least one of China’s largest cities. It was gorgeous (but touristy). Lots of food stands and shops and the beautiful Yuyuan Gardens. 
I finally got up the courage to eat squid on a stick. I picked my raw squid and watched as the man quickly fried it, then grilled it, then added sauce and seasoning. Delicious. We also tried the candied strawberries and crab apples on a stick. I preferred the strawberries. Yum.

Returning to the bus we next went to Jinmao  Pagoda Tower on the Pudong Side of the river. Many of the group including John went up to the 88th floor. I don’t do heights well so Emily and I took pictures of the skyscrapers from down below and walked around.

From an overpass we saw a couple of guys with a service dog. They saw Em and I looking at them and they waved. We waved back. One of them blew a kiss. We blew one back. And that was that.

Next we took the Maglev High speed train to the airport. We got up to 431km per hour. Then we took the train back. It was 7 minutes each way.

Shopping at the fake Market was our next destination. I am so glad that Celia had us take a photo of the shop number beside the door we came in. That place was a huge labyrinth of shops and easy to get lost in. John, never cheerful when shopping, was not a happy camper. I was in seventh heaven. 

The bargaining was aggressive. I think I never quite got the lowest price but was still thrilled with my purchases.

Some people were late getting back to the bus and Celia was getting nervous about arriving to the acrobat show on time. But we did. 

The show was called Era and it was truly spectacular. It was reminiscent of Cirque de Soliel. By the end of the show my neck was stiff and sore because I spent the whole performance on the edge of my seat with my shoulders clenched. Simply fabulous.

I can’t believe that Celia managed to fit in what everybody wanted to do in Shanghai.  What a wonderful day.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Hangzhou to Shanghai- Day 8

At least it wasn’t raining today. We had another eclectic huge buffet breakfast. There was everything from omelets to stir fried veggies to crispy little fish. I think I may have even tried roasted insects. I was the only one that tried those.

We travelled through Hangzhu, past the Yangtze River and to the tea village of Longjing. I learnt a lot about tea but didn’t buy any because it was so expensive...hundreds of dollars.

 After lunch we drove to West Lake where we had a boat cruise. It was hard to believe that this lake was man made.

The scenery was beautiful. So tranquil. It was the China of your imagination; beautiful gardens, pink blossomed trees, interesting rocks, beautiful bridges and graceful buildings. There were many pagodas. 

Celia sang to us and told us local legends (all with tragic endings) as our boat plied the water.

After the boat tour we were given time on our own to explore the beautiful park. It would be even more gorgeous in April or May when more blossoms are out. Another top attraction of the park for our group was the Starbucks.

We boarded the bus for the three hour ride to Shanghai and stopped halfway for a rest break and some food.

We arrived to the Bund area of Shanghai at dusk for our boat cruise on the Huangpu River. We stayed close to Celia and she got us on the boat first so we had the best place on the top deck to view the night skyline of Shanghai. You can see old British Shanghai on one side of the river and modern skyscrapers on the other. 

It was magical. Buildings on both sides were lit up with many of them displaying special lighting effects. There were even light displays on the boats that went up and down the river.

It was very cold on the deck but there was not a chance that I was going to miss even a second of this city’s wonderful views.

Many Asian people asked to have their pictures taken with people in our group.
We had gotten used to it. Carol was photo bombing many of their pictures...they seemed to love it.

Our hotel was in the outskirts of Shanghai. It took us about an hour to drive there from the Bund. We stayed at the Radisson Exhibition Centre  Shanghai Hotel. It was comfortable, spacious and well equipped, just like all the other hotels we stayed at on this trip. I had a really good sleep.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Trauma in the Squat Stall- Wuxi to Hangzhou-Day 7

I woke up at 2:45am and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get back to sleep.
At 7am we went for another huge buffet breakfast before checking out of the Gloria Grand Hotel Wuxi.

The day was dull with pouring rain which suited the geese and pair of black swans that lived in the water area in front of our hotel.

Vince made an announcement on the bus that the rice had done the trick and miraculously “poopy phone” was back in working order. Who’d have thought?

Since Wuxi is famous for its fresh water pearls, our first visit was to the pearl factory. I couldn’t resist buying a few pieces of jewellery.

We next visited a tea pot factory. Of all people, Cole bought a tea pot set. Celia then referred to him as teapot guy. 

We headed back to the pearl factory restaurant for lunch. There was nothing outstanding about this meal but it did fill the belly. There is never a shortage of food with our included lunches.

It was time to get back on the bus for a three hour drive to Hangzhou. Our group of thirty-three had melded and  we used the time to socialize with friends old and new.

We stopped for a break, and ran through pouring rain and a flooded parking lot en mass to the shopping/comfort building. 

The washroom was more of a two star facility compared to the four or five star ones that I was used to. Some of the doors were off the stalls but that didn’t seem to deter the inhabitants inside. After searching through many rows of women’s stalls, I was unhappy to find that there were only squat toilets.
I settled on a stall with a door and prayed as I simultaneously attempted to squat and balance myself with one arm planted against the wall; a precarious pose at best. Positioned in this point of no return, I noticed a large gelatinous piece of phlegm just slightly in front of my left foot.... “please don’t let me slide, please don’t let me fall” I muttered softly to myself.

After completing the business at hand,  I hoisted myself off the wall and made my way to the shared trough like sink located between the men’s and women’s washrooms.  A man a few feet away from me let loose an extensive long winded hork before spitting into the sink. It was too much for me and I flew out of the washroom like a bat out of hell.

Returning through the mall area, I was not tempted by any of the snacks offered for sale. Barry however managed to buy a hat. 

Back on the bus, Celia suggested that  we postpone our afternoon boat tour in hopes of better weather in the morning. 

Our bus driver made good time and we arrived at our lovely five star Zheshang New Century Grand Hotel by 3:30pm. The night was free to do as we wished.

I noticed that a fashion show and convention was taking place on the third floor. I also checked with the concierge and found out that there was a karaoke bar on the fourth floor. Or at least that’s what I thought she said. “Karaoke on the fourth floor after supper” I suggested to all thirty three of our tour group.

Celia offered to meet with any of us that wanted to go for hot pot at a restaurant area about a fifteen minute cab ride from the hotel. Celia and Marie, Gary, Nicholas, Leah and Candace left for the restaurant and Richard, Helene and our group of eight met in the lobby at 6pm.

The concierge ordered us three cabs, explained to the driver where to take us and handed each of us a card with our hotel address. A good trick which I used when travelling with my kids when they were little...except I safety pinned a card to their tops which might not have been such a bad idea in our case.

The night time city was a feast for the eyes. Moving light shows brought the many sky scrapers to life; a group of giant butterflies flew across the surface of two side by side buildings. The trees down one long street had their trunks lit with warm golden lights.

We found Celia and the group she went with in the hot pot restaurant. Not being too hungry, Carol, Steve, Emily and I decided to find another restaurant where we could order something light.

We wandered in the drizzle until we found something that looked like a seafood restaurant. There were no English translations so I tried to use my translation app on the staff and the people sitting at the next table. After much picture taking with the helpful people, we ordered what they were having.

We should have looked at their meal a bit more carefully because when our order arrived, it was a huge shared stew of chicken feet, small sharp shelled crabs with a scant amount of meat on them and a few vegetables. We also ordered a few small plates of cheesy potatoes.

Steve was still hungry so we went across the street to McDonalds where he could understand the menu.

We returned to the Hot Pot restaurant and told the waiter that we were looking for our friends. Without asking who our friends were, he immediately took us upstairs to our group.

They weren’t finished eating so the four of us grabbed a cab and headed back to the hotel. Our cab driver horked numerous times followed by spitting out his window during the 10 minute trip. Aaaaah! ..and that’s the last time I will mention horking for this trip. The cab ride was only 20 Yuen ($4) one way.

Upon returning to the hotel we decided to check out the fashion show and convention. They were just cleaning up after the day so Emily, Carol and I struck some fashion poses in front of the displays while Steve snapped our pics. This culminated with Carol and I contorting our bodies to bend over and look out from between our legs for the final shots.  A smiling coordinator of the fashion show came over and gave us each a swag bag from the event. Of course much picture taking together followed.

We moved on to check out the Karaoke bar on the fourth floor. We only found a room filled with forty or fifty uniformed staff. I used my cell phone translator to ask one of the staff members where the Karaoke Bar was.  She took my cell phone and showed me how to get on the internet. We never did find the Karaoke bar.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Suzhou to Wuxi- Day 6

The sun was shining when we woke up. 

We were delighted to discover that the hotel offered a huge and varied buffet breakfast; everything from stir fried dishes, to sushi to cocoa cereal. There was also honey dripping from the comb, many types of dim sum including one designed to look like a dog’s head, fresh fruit, dried fruit, yogurt, pancakes with whipped cream, waffles, pastries, salmon and more, more, more; all washed down with a choice of juices, lattes, cappuccino, espresso, and teas. Our table had a view of the lovely garden. Too soon it was time to check out and we were on the bus at 8am, heading to the “Garden of the Master of Nets”.

Celia gave us a lot of interesting information and told us more about current Chinese culture including the one and then changed to two child limit as well as  courtship practices. She told us that she married later in life to a guy younger than her. People said she was an old cow feasting on tender grass. Celia is an awesome guide, I enjoyed her openness and humour.

She was very knowledgeable about the Garden of Master of Nets. She explained that a Chinese garden has four elements; water, stone, architecture and plants/wood.There were many rooms and many small courtyards. Very picturesque. 

During our visit, Christine from our tour told Carol that she was concerned that some unknown North American guy was following our group through the garden. Her daughter Alexis said she didn’t think think so but Christine insisted. Then Alexis said maybe someone new joined the tour. Carol asked Christine to point him out to her... it was John.

We next went to the embroidery factory. I was thoroughly impressed with the skill  and training needed for these intricate pieces of art. You would swear that some of these pieces were photographs.

We moved on to the silk factory where we had lunch. At an extra cost we could even sample a glass of snake liquor. I stuck with a beer.

After lunch we attended an interesting silk presentation. After being worked into a state of utter excitement (or at least I was), we were let loose into the factory store to shop. The first floor was bedding. Unfortunately I didn’t find any patterns of duvet cover and sheets that would go with our decor so we just bought a silk duvet. 

The second floor was scarves and clothing. I was excited about the silk underwear that dries in twenty minutes...perfect for travelling. Unfortunately Asian styles are made much smaller than North American styles. I was horrified when I discovered what my Asian size was so I didn’t buy any...too hard on my fragile ego.

I was forced to use a squat toilet before we left (or explode). I find the whole squatting thing a challenge. It did not go well. So far I had managed to always find seated toilets. It was only after I went that I discovered seated toilets on the lower level. I really need to build more muscles into my quads.

Leaving the factory, I noticed that Barry and Cole carried packages to the bus. I swear, those two are a factory store clerks dream.

After an hour and a half bus ride to Wuxi, we stopped at a famous Lake known for producing pearls and had free time to walk in the parkland around the water. It was cool and overcast but I could tell that this would be an ideal setting on a warm and sunny spring or fall day. Apparently summer is really hot.

I got a real kick out of the names given to some of the areas in the park. 

We next made our way to Ancient Nanchang Street. This attractive pedestrian street had cute (but pricy) boutiquey type shops, night clubs, lots of restaurants and street food stalls all in an area filled with glittering lights and a picturesque bridge.

For some reason, John wandered off with Barry, Cole, Em and Vince, probably because Carol and I were running into numerous shops. The ever patient Steve stayed with us, taking many pictures of the street scenes outside. 

I think our tour group were some of the only non-Asian people in the Area. Our Wuxi guide, Fey Fey said that not many westerners come to Wuxi so we should expect a lot of attention.

This street really came alive at night. While waiting for the group to assemble in front of Starbucks, many of us watched some Chinese comedy show that played on a large screen over one of the restaurants while loud dance music blared from another nearby restaurant. 

Cody started to dance on the street and was soon joined by Matina. Soon a large crowd of Chinese people clicking pictures gathered around them.

Once everyone was accounted for, we walked en-mass a few blocks to the bus, passing a large group of couples waltzing in a park.

I noticed in both Europe, Central America and Asia, people seem to do a lot more group social events in public places such as dancing, exercise classes, hacky-sack games, skipping ropes and even board games chalked onto the pavement. I find myself wondering why don’t we do more of that in North America? 

We stayed at another lovely (and large) hotel called The Gloria Grand. Celia efficiently checked us in and we all quickly disbursed to our rooms.

While searching for the bathroom light, I inadvertently hit the emergency button. Within thirty seconds, front desk was calling on the bathroom phone to see what kind of catastrophe had befallen me...oops.

Meanwhile Vince was wandering the halls and floors offering extra pieces from his box of pizza to our group. He passed Cole and Barry’s room. Through the open door he noticed Barry lying on the bed while the young concierge was attempting to get his internet going.

Richard was wandering the halls because he couldn’t remember his room number. A call was put in to Celia via the hotel staff who clarified that Richard was wandering around the wrong floor.

One can only imagine what the staff thought of our Canadian tour group.

John,Em, Vince and I decided to check out the hotel bar. The two bar staff had no problem getting the beers but there was much confusion over Em’s gin and tonic. She got a glass of straight gin but then she had to explain that gin and tonic actually had tonic in it. The bar was all out of tonic and soda. Finally she settled on Sprite.

Wuxi doesn’t get a lot of North America tourists so many of the hotel staff had just a smattering of English. 

Cole and many of the younger people of our tour group grabbed a cab and went back to the ancient street to party at one of the bars. A good time was had by all.