Monday, April 30, 2007

Day 18 A final look at Tongli

Some of the streets were very narrow. Our guide called this first one the "narrowest street in the world", but I would call it a sidewalk.

Since this was a water town, there was a wide variety of seaweed for sale.

We couldn't determine if this old man was just enjoying the sunshine, or if he was a tourist attraction.

The old ladies in the house were definitely just there to enjoy a game of Mahjong.

Day 18 Tongli streets

There were a wide variety of shops and restaurants in the old town.

The first picture is of a wedding carriage and the others represent some of the shops and streets in the town. The barber shop wasn't busy today, but the seamstress probably always had something to do.

Day 18 Next stop: Tongli, a water town

In this case, "water town" means that the city was built on a series of islands, connected by bridges. This was an historical city, with many very old buildings. Apparently it once was very prosperous, but now relies on tourism as it's main industry.

Outside of the old part of town, we noticed that there was a new "resort" complex, with many condo apartments for the wealthy of Shanghai to get away from the city. It sounded familiar...

These pictures show some of the canals with bridges between the islands.

Day 18 A visit to the Silk Factory

Our next stop was the silk factory, where we were able to see up close what was involved in producing silk from silkworms. After boiling the unopened cocoons to kill the pupa and soften the "glue" that holds it together, they begin to unroll the the silk in one long strand of about 3000 feet. If the pupa has begun to eat through the cocoon, it is not good for filament silk, but is used for the filling of silk comforters, or mixed to make inferior quality silk fabric.

The third picture shows the process of stretching the defective cocoon to be used for comforters.

The final picture shows the weaving of silk brocade. These machines use punch cards with the pattern punched out to program the looms for weaving. You can see the stream of cards at the top of the picture.

Day 18 A ride on the Grand Canal

After breakfast, we went for a boat ride on the Grand Canal. This canal was almost as old as the Great Wall, and was very important to China for bringing goods to and from the outside world.

The first picture is our boat and driver. The last picture is one of many bas relief scenes under the bridges illustrating the history of China.

Day 17 The Master of the Nets garden

As we learned before, things in China aren't always what their name implies. Suzhou is famous for it's gardens, and this is one of many. However, it was actually a house, with a garden in the center, like a courtyard. The garden was beautiful, and as always, included a small pond in the center. There are always porches and patios in the courtyard for the occupants to enjoy the serene beauty.

Another surprise about this garden is the name. Master of the Nets seems to refer to fisherman, but actually this garden was used by some of the best scholars in China waiting to be called into the court of the Emperor. The Master of the Nets was the top scholar. When they were called by the Emperor, they left their home immediately to go serve him.

Day 17 On our way to Suzhou

To get from Hangzhou to Suzhou, we basically had to go around Shanghai, about a three hour ride. As you can see, it is still hazy, and the traffic continues to be a mix of all kinds of vehicles. After 17 days in China, McDonald's is beginning to look pretty good.

This city was likened to Silicon Valley in the US. Many computer parts and electronics are made here. Our guide said that 1/4 of all computer monitors and 1/3 of all mice in the world are made in Suzhou.

The grocery store had a variety of things, but I think this is a picture of the wine and liquor section. We also watched a man roasting hazelnuts.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Day 16 Last stop before dinner -- the Tea Plantation

The Tea Plantation turned out to be a big challenge. The traffic was so bad that it took about 1 1/2 hours to get there. I suspect it should have taken 1/2 hour in normal traffic. When we finally got there, they were still picking the tea on the hillsides, and we were able to pick some ourselves. The guide explained which leaves to pick and how to pick them.

We then watched a man drying the fresh picked tea in a special heated basin that was about 220 degrees. We could see him turning the heat on and off to maintain the temperature. This method was suppose to keep the leaves nice and flat as they dried.

We then went into a special tea room where we were served fresh hot tea. Our guide explained how the tea was made and the different qualities. Then of course, we were given an opportunity to buy tea.

The trip back from the plantation was just as bad for traffic and we realized that we didn't have time to go back to the hotel and then to the restaurant in time for dinner, so we skipped our rest time and went directly to the restaurant. After dinner, we considered going back to the market or the lake since they were nearby, but decided instead to just go back to the hotel.

Day 16 The yellow dragon cave

We have begun to realize that things in China aren't always what their name implies. The Yellow Dragon Cave is actually a park -- although there is a small cave behind the yellow dragon head.

The second picture is the Chinese character for "destiny". We decided that if you want to change your destiny, you need to change your character.

At the park, we watched a little of the "local opera" as well as some local musicians performing. As with other parks, people were enjoying all kinds of activities on a pleasant Saturday afternoon.

Day 16 A 700 year old pharmacy

At the market, we visited a 700 year old pharmacy, which sold both traditional and Chinese medicine. It was a very busy pharmacy.

Day 16 More market pictures

Day 16 continues with a trip to the Ancient Market

We walked back through the park to the bus and began the trip to the market. The roads were a challenge to get anywhere, but our driver was very skilled in doing whatever it took to get where we needed to go.

The market was an interesting mix of little shops, vendors, artisans demonstrating their crafts, museums with re-creators, food shops, tea shops -- and a Dairy Queen. They also had carnival games --throwing a ball to knock down the pins. My favorite was the guy demonstrating a vegetable slicer. I felt like I was at a home show, except it was all in Chinese.

The little boy seems to be feeding the pigeons -- an unusual sight in this country.

The last picture shows a lady pushing a grandmother in a wheelchair. The grandmother was using a newspaper as a sun visor held on by a headband, and the lady was looking through the trash can. In other cities, we saw people carrying a small mirror to look inside the protected containers to determine if there was anything of value.