Saturday, April 7, 2012

It's all about the buns.

Dave and I were back in our hotel room after a nonstop day that included leaving Shanghai for Suzhou, a city 90 minutes away, visiting the Master of the Nets Garden (a World Heritage Site!), a riverboat ride through Suzhou's old city, lunch in a filthy dirty restaurant with divine, regular-Chinese-people food, a tour of a silk factory, an acrobatics show and three hours in a car.

His reply? "The only thing we're going to remember in the end is those pork buns."

Those steamed pork buns were dang memorable. And so were the dumplings I inhaled a dozen of without regard for anyone else's interest in tasting them. This girl knows know to use chopsticks for both eating and defending her claim! Pork- and broth-filled dumplings are a Shanghai specialty. Who am I to refuse the city's best-loved dish?! We ate a lot in China.

The garden is among the best in China and it's an example of the combination of art, architecture and nature to create metaphysical masterpieces. There were a lot of rock formations in the garden and I'd never seen that before. Frankly, I didn't much care for it aesthetically. Maybe that's just how they did landscape architecture in 1140?

We enjoyed the boat ride through the canals of the old city. Here's a picture of my mother-in-law and her friend Joyce outside the city wall. I like seeing how people live (line stolen from Oprah) and this gave us some sneak peeks. Look at these mailboxes! Our guide told us that many older urban Shanghai residents, those of our parents and grandparents generations, share cooking and bathing facilities. So each family has their own apartment but without bathrooms or appliances. That's done communally.

Dave found a seriously rockin' private tour guide on Craigslist. Harris was with us the second and third days in Shanghai and without him, we would not have covered as much ground nor seen as much. In the end, though, we left our time together reminded that we are free and he is not. I'm glad we found out how he feels about North Korea at the end of our time together and not the beginning.

The silk factory tour was especially interesting given my textile fetish. The littlest Pinks did a unit on this in preschool and that's about as much as I remembered. Did you know that it takes the silk from eight silkworms to make one thread? We watched the process from worm to pupa to cocoon to dying to thread to fabric. And then we saw all the pretty things they make from silk and (surprise!) bought a duvet. I wish I'd done more shopping in China but I didn't see much I really had to have. I bought some  pearls and wish I'd bought more. Next time.

While I don't have any pictures of the acrobatics show to share, it was fascinating in a train-wreck sort of way. The performers are as young as eight. The contortionism is painful to watch. What effect will that have on those children's backs by the time they reach adulthood?

The most interesting part of the acrobatics show, and the scariest, was watching the motorcyclists in a caged sphere. Here's a YouTube video on one such act. One motorcycle enters it from a gate at the bottom. It drives around fast enough to do horizontal loops. Then vertical ones. Another motorcycle enters. They follow each other then do alternating loops in the cage. Then another motorcycle enters. And another. And another. Now there are five motorcycles (driven by five men lacking the fear gene) in this cage inches apart. And a whole audience of people holding their breath. I can't believe anyone would do this. I'm sure their mothers were no where in the audience.

Speaking of mothers, it's rare I get to spend so much time with my mother-in-law. I really enjoyed the time we had creating new memories together, and seeing her in her travel-the-world mode.

One last bit on our trip before I get back to reality: we were fortunate to meet up with a fraternity brother of Dave's and his wife on our first night. They'd just moved to Shanghai for her job and took us to a very cool restaurant on The Bund that served Yunnanese food. The enchanted decor was PF Chang's on steroids; it was dark and moody with up lights on Yunnanese stone face masks and high-backed, brightly painted chairs. The food was unlike any we'd eaten before: spicy chicken on chili and green onions, tropical vegetables, shrimp paste with string beans, fried pork (think pork rinds with more meat and flavor). It was our most memorable meal if you don't count the street food, which was better tasting but less atmospheric.

The Pinks apparently did great with my mom and I'm so grateful that she was able to help us out with them. It was a very special trip, albeit one packed with back-to-back adventures! It's a good thing that I had nearly 40 hours of in-air time to recharge.

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