After the long day on Friday, we looked forward to a weekend of "cultural tours" in Shanghai and Suzhou. Before heading back to the hotel on Friday night, one of the teachers escorting us at school ("Jane") took us over to the Shanghai Bund and the Huangpu River. This area was formerly home to British and Russian consultates, and Western trading houses and banks. The architecutre is very European, and when it is lighted at night, a quite spectacular sight.
The wide lanes for traffic and the pedestrian walkway along the embankment (built by the Chinese after destruction by typhoons) make it a lovely and popular evening stroll alongside the river.
Across the river another kind of "specatacular" cannot be missed. This area is called Pudong, and it is a testament to China's rapid economic development. The Oriental Pearl Tower and the Shanghai World Financial Center are the tallest buildings in what is now Shanghai's commercial and financial hub.
On Saturday morning, we were greeted by two guides for the day, Jane and Jessica. We met both women the day before at the school; they are teachers in the Ameson American High School program. They are both in their 20s and from China, but they have studied and/or lived abroad. Their English was very good, and their personalities simply delightful. We could not have asked for better guides!
Our schedule today was to head over to ChengHuangMiao, or Shangahi City Temple, for some sight-seeing and shopping. This is an expansive area and big tourist attraction with souvenir shops lining the endless corridors accompanied by tea gardens, Starbucks (and KFC), and the famous NanXiang Steamed Buns. Steamed buns are dumpling pockets filled with pork, vegetables, or beef. The line for the steamed buns was like that of a Disney World theme park ride. In spite of its appeal we were not willing to spend the day in line to sample them.
Everyone wanted to do a little shopping (we do not have shopping time or much free time in the itinerary presented to us), so we split up and spent the next couple of hours on our own. I wandered the corridors for awhile, but I do not love that kind of shopping and was thrilled when I stumbled upon a Japanese garden. It was admission-only, so I paid 40 RMB (about $8 in the Chinese currency, the Yuan) and entered. This garden, the Yuyuan Garden, was built in the 1500s as a private garden by a son to honor his father (a high ranking official in the Ming Dynasty). It is considered one of the finest in China and has all the traditional elements including rock formations, pagodas, tea houses, a variety of plantings, and a koi pond.
In spite of this being a tourist attraction, it was refreshing to see people sitting in the pagodas or tea rooms just relaxing and enjoying one another's company. For a city that seems so incredibly busy, this was a bit of a surprise.
The best part of the day was spending time with Jane and Jessica. They joined us for lunch at a local restaurant where they selected an incredible array of dishes for us to share, and later we walked together around the Bund for a "daylight" view. It was fascinating to listen to them talk about the "one child production" policy (they are both only children as has been mandated by the government); discuss working life (one of the girls is studying for her CFA in hopes of being a financial anaylst--which means an 80 hour work week should she get that job!); and hear of Jessica's upcoming marriage and the customs(and hard work!) associated with planning, finances, and the event itself.
By late afternoon we were exhausted, and we returned to the hotel for the evening. Dinner in the hotel could not begin to compare with our great lunch, and my poor choice of drinking supposedly "filtered" water was not such a good choice. Lesson learned quickly!