Bus #3, Passenger #68
By Missy Schmidt (Chinese name: “Sweet Lioness” Mandarin naming 蜜狮 Pronounced mee-shee)
Traveling to China is a lot like “Amazing Race” with a little “Survivor” thrown in for good measure. The following is a recount of our adventures, a once in a lifetime experience with the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce.
Day Four (Saturday in China)
Today brought us a very early morning flight to the nearly 20 million in population Shanghai (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shanghai), another lengthy bus ride, and another tour guide, a young man from Suzhou. We never could understand his real Chinese name, although his nickname was something like Fo-Fung. His chosen American name was Jack, so he asked us to call him Captain Jack after his favorite actor in his favorite movie, Johnny Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow of Pirates of the Caribbean. And, thus, the name of our bus for the remainder of the trip was christened, the Black Pearl, Cap. Jack’s ship.
From the Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport, we detoured to a Howard Johnson Hotel (no resemblance to American HO-JOs) and another, you guessed it, Lazy Susan lunch. After lunch, our bus driver would bring us to the 2010 World Expo (http://en.expo2010.cn/), open from May 1 to Oct 31st.
The World Expo (or World’s Fair) started in London in 1851, moving around the world sometimes every year, sometimes a span of up to five years between events. According to Captain Jack, upwards of 400,000 people attend the Shanghai expo every DAY.
The funniest thing happened as we waited outside the Expo entrance for Capt. Jack to return with our tickets. The men of bus #3 rushed over to the giant map. Men and directions.
Why anyone thought a Saturday would be the best day to visit the Expo is beyond my comprehension. With school children available to attend, Chinese nationals and tourists from all over the globe, were queuing up (i.e, getting in long, long lines under water-spritzing tents!) to enter the various pavilions. After finding the only location in China to buy Bert’s favorite drink, Mountain Dew, then attempting to get into the U.S. Chamber-sponsored American Pavilion in 100-degree/100% humidity not-a-cloud-in-the-sky weather, we relented and found the first Americanized food possible, Papa John’s. Oh, Papa, pizza never tasted so goooood! And it was exactly like U.S. restaurants. Bert was grateful he had foregone ordering the wings. After we saw them… Chinese definitely do chicken differently.
We were warned away from KFC China, too, as they do NOT use the Colonel’s secret flavor recipe of 11 herbs and spices that creates the famous "finger lickin' good" chicken.
We were allotted only four hours in the World Expo, but it meant freedom from group-think/speak/walk for a while! After the most delicious pizza ever, we wandered along the elevated walkway into the European section. The huge shiny green globe, Greenopolis, is Romania's pavilion.
Still unable to enter any pavilion without standing in a too-long line, we stumbled upon the Porterhouse Brewery, offering a quaint Irish pub experience (http://www.porterhouseireland.cn/index/521). The Expo should have taken line-moving lessons from Disney. We enjoyed the pub… the barkeeps spoke Irish brogue-laden English, the entertainment consisted of an American guitar player/singer, the Western toilet was just a few steps away inside the pub, and we could order chips, i.e. French fries. Ah, bliss!
Eighteen heat-weary tour companions dragged themselves back past uniformed military guards onto Bus #3, or the Black Pearl, for the 1-1/2 hour drive to Suzhou.
Bert stayed awake for the drive and was amazed construction cranes were a constant part of the landscape during the entire journey from Shanghai to Suzhou. Note to my fellow Americans: China doesn’t stop building 24/7.
Much to our surprise, our first stop in Suzhou was a German Biergarten (http://paulaner-suzhou.com/) next door to the city’s architectural version of Beijing’s Bird’s Nest, the Suzhou Science and Cultural Arts Center (http://eng.sscac.com.cn/) on Lake Jin Ji. The Biergarten served a German-styled dinner with, of course, chicken and offered a beautiful view of the buildings constructed within the last ten years where rice paddies were once farmed, a view that could rival the Vegas strip. Entertainment consisted of a karaoke-like band of Chinese singing 80s easy listening tunes. Truly surreal.
We stayed at the Grand Metro Park Hotel (http://metroparkhotels.com/suzhou) in the Suzhou Industrial Park (which, as we were told, means the new section of the city) built with the help of Singapore. This hotel room was by far the best of the bunch with a spacious suite-style room. Only issue, the bed was hard as a rock… Chinese-style, we were told by Jack. This princess (me!) had to pile pillows on top of the silk-stuffed comforter on her side of the bed to get any sleep. The hotel had a very cool Tetris-styled action-lighting theme on the side of the building, too.
I was surprised to find Suzhou as a bustling metropolis of nearly seven million people; I’d always heard it described as the “country” which meant “rural” to me.
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