Sunday, October 10, 2010

China - a View from the back of the bus - Day Six

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 Six
We checked out of our Hangzhou hotel and enjoyed the usual American hotel breakfast which consists of Western fare, such as eggs to order, pancakes and/or waffles, pastries, fried potatoes, bacon, dry cereals, etc. Add to that some Chinese staples of eggs hard-boiled in tea and the usual Lazy Susan dishes for lunch and dinner, etc. A strange assortment, to say the least, but a hardy meal to get us started for our travel-packed days.

Neither Hangzhou nor Suzhou has subways, like Shanghai or Beijing. Capt. Jack proudly told us his city of Suzhou would have a system built within five years, though. Bikes were much more visible. Of course, no bike helmets or knee pads or safety lights as in America. It was nothing to see a rider carrying an umbrella in one hand while steering the bike with the other or transporting a baby in a sling or a truck-sized pile of Styrofoam packing materials or broken wood pallets.

The drive from the city of Hangzhou into the villages reminded me of the dichotomy of architecture which is China. Everywhere, centuries old historic buildings share the landscape with the modern.

Our first stop was the Dragon Well Green Tea Farm in Meijiawu village (, as Jack joked, where we would see all the tea in China.

I made the only purchase of the trip here: premium tea from the very tender first spring shoots of the tea bushes grown on tiered hillsides and dried by hand. Our lecturer was the lovely lady, Plum Ling; first name “Ling” and surname “Plum” whose family had owned and worked the farm for many generations. The tea was fantastic and with the promise of quality green tea encouraging weight loss, how could I resist?

The gentleman drying the tea leaves by hand in the giant heated caldron had been trained, as was the custom, from the early age of 12 developing his hands into hard, smooth alabaster with no sweat glands. Our guides talked a lot about lost arts. No wonder. Tough gig.

Next stop, Lingyin Temple (, a 1600-year old Buddhist temple where monks still lived and worshipers burned incense and bowed heads in prayer. Tall rock pagodas and rock wall carvings of the many faces of Buddha lined the path to the temple proper. One hall enclosed five hundred different statues of the many interpretations of Buddha. Not sure why this wasn’t on the World Heritage list, although I think the buildings may have been rebuilt many times since the monastery's founding.

The boat cruise on West Lake after Lingyin Temple was a welcome relief with a bit of breeze blowing off the water. No one attempted to give us tour info, though. While we saw various boats and structures in the water and on the shore and islands, we still have no idea what we were experiencing. Took lots of pictures, though. The lake was smooth as glass. Really no need for the pre-cautionary Dramamine I took. It did afford us a great photo opp of the skyline of the city of Hangzhou.

The drive to Shanghai took about 2 hours or so. We stayed semi-awake, especially to enjoy the “rest stop” along the highway. Hoping to enjoy some American fast food, we were instead faced with extremely blackened, mystery to-go foods similar to the market in Suzhou. Back to snacks we brought from home.

Capt. Jack also told us about Chinese porta-potties, used before the advent of such rest areas and still today by some. Pull over, open four umbrellas, and lay on ground to form a square; then squat. Innovative, those Chinese.

The long drive back to Shanghai brought us more urban traffic experiences. I enjoyed taking pictures of traffic and the multi-levels of roads. All in appreciation of the little traffic we actually have in Hampton Roads despite daily complaints. After fighting through traffic, dinner. Every restaurant served my favorite drink for lunch and dinner, beer. For medicinal purposes, of course.

For a short time after dinner, we toured The Bund (, an elevated walkway facing the Huang Pu River waterfront. Behind us were historic buildings and across the river, the Pudong District, the “Wall Street of the East” as it is known. Bert and I were intrigued and decided we would finally break free of the tour the next day and venture to Pudong on our own.

We stayed at probably the most beautiful of the hotels on our trip, the Renaissance Shanghai Putuo ( So much is squeezed into the day that we just had no energy to venture out after dinner to explore the cities on our own. When I mentioned this to our guide, he said it was really not a good idea anyway after to go out after dark, which stopped me in my tracks. We attempted to do the metropolitan thing and have cocktails in the lounge. After being denied entrance to the penthouse bar (I’m sure we looked dreadful), we opted for the lobby bar where we watched the nightly news and ordered drinks … while dozing off. Crashed after a long day again.

Slideshow on Flickr

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