Bill and our guide, Susan, stand near one of the famous bridges of Zhouzhang, which is a still-thriving thriving "water town": i.e., a town built with many canals. It escaped destruction during WWII due to its relatively remote situation. People still live in the town, but much of it is given over to tourism. The canals are used to take tourists on boat rides, but also to wash in, and to transport goods, just as always. Susan explained that the young people prefer to live in the new part of town, with more conveniences. But the amazing residences remain, including the residence of a very famous and very wealthy merchant who started as a fisherman and ended up bailing out the emperor financially -- who then became afraid of the merchant's power and popularity and banished him to the hinterland.
Among other things, we found a thriving fish market, not aimed at tourists.
Lunch included the traditional pork dish of the area, eggs with tomatoes, and tofu with preserved egg. The latter was a cold dish, and the broth was jellied, delicious -- but I can probably die happy without having another preserved egg.
He liked to think of himself as humble, because in his retirement the produce of his garden provided food for his table. But believe me this retired Ming Dynasty administrator's vision of a paradise on earth for himself was sublimely grandiose. An artist friend designed and constructed it for him, and now the government owns it and visitors are welcomed (citizens who are seniors visit for free). It's a splendid vision, and a wonderful visit.
The pagoda in the distance (visible dimly through the haze) was already an antique when this garden was built. The artist incorporated a view of it within the garden.
I enjoyed the many pavement designs. This one is the character for longevity, together with five bats. "Bat" in Chinese is a homonym for "long life." Many Chinese symbols are based on such homonyms.
The next thing we did was visit and climb up the Northern Pagoda, a Buddhist shrine originally built in his mother's honor by a dutiful son. Dutiful children, take note! It's possible to erect a memorial to your wonderful mother to which tourists will flock for hundreds of generations to come.
Bill and our guide steamed on ahead up the stairs, and I took my leisurely way, covering only 7 levels, whereas they made it to the top -- 9 floors in all. Inside, there were niches galore in which statues could be housed, but only the niches on the bottom level contained images.
This is the central statue. It appears to be carved from a kind of granite. Granite of various colors was used extensively for paving and carving and construction. I rather like this serene Buddha with the "halo."
View from within the 7th floor of the pagoda of the city of Suzhou. Our guide told us that silk production (25% of all of China's output), pharmaceuticals and "electric" industry are the largest industries in Suzhou, a city of 10 million so near to Shanghai that they don't need their own airport. The city has one subway line.
"Master of the Nets" Garden in old Suzhou is reputed to be so named in thanks for a fisherman who saved the owner's daughter when she fell into the water. It was built by another humble man, a high official, and is also stunningly beautiful. This is the outer reception hall. The bronze object in the foreground is a drum. You can see many of the important design elements of such a garden on display: marble inlay (on the chair backs and framed free-standing), silk painting, calligraphy, ornamental stone of interesting shape (on a carved wooden pedestal uniquely designed to show it off), and a small porcelain article. Oh, yes -- and flowers.
One of the many "Tings" or stopping points (pavilions) in the garden uses a frame within a frame to display the carefully designed scenery. The pavilions are very inviting, each unique in shape, size and purpose, and very harmonious with the natural elements (rock, trees, shrubs, flowers, water).
I must have become tired of trying (and failing) to capture the beauty of the gardens by camera, and decided to at least capture Bill's and Susan's presence on this day. Peter and Fiona stayed in Shanghai for the days we spent in Suzhou and in the water village).
I don't have photos of the silk factory, but was utterly fascinated by the process in which the filaments from 8 separate cocoons are spun into one strand of silk. A unique art form is silk embroidery used as art, rather than as decoration for fabric that is used for another purpose. Such embroidery is done on tightly woven undyed silk fabric, which is translucent and was used in the past instead of glass in a window or a lantern. The embroidery uses single filaments of silk -- a strand separated into its 8 filaments -- to create astonishing art works. Naturally, some of these were for sale, but we didn't indulge. We did buy a new comforter cover for the quilt Bill bought at the same factory in 2007 when he was there with the Le Moyne contingent. The squadron of sales people (we were the only customers at the time) were disappointed that we were not buying a quilt as well. We did our tiny bit for China's econo
Our last touring day in Shanghai was spent with Peter and Fiona in the old city area, of which the highlight was definitely Yu Yuan Garden, a Ming Dynasty construction not far from the Huangpu (Yellow River). The word "garden" is really not adequate, because although plants, water features, rocks and pathways are the essential elements, buildings and bridges are equally important. The buildings range from gazebo-sized to conference-center sized. And as I hope you can see in this picture, walls between features sometimes take center stage. This is one of many dragons that grace walls and surprise and delight the visitor around every corner.
Pictures don't do it, but here's a suggestion, anyway, of one of the many, many vistas created in this space. We took over two hours, and didn't see it all, and even all that we saw we couldn't entirely take in.
This is the prize photo of Peter and Fiona from this day. I'll post more when there's time. Right now, we're dashing to get the train to Suzhou, which is the REAL garden spot. More later!
The Jade Buddha Temple is a very lively shrine a good way west of where we are staying. It took Fiona and me about 40 minutes to get there from her apartment, on two different trains, and then a 15-minute walk through a fascinating neighborhood, parts of which were very old. You can see here some of the old buildings with their terra cotta roofing tiles, and modern Shanghai in the background.
It cost 10 Yuan a piece to get in to the temple, and then another 10 a piece to see the actual Jade Buddha in a upstairs sanctuary. The Temple grounds are actually a compound that includes many buildings and walkways and outdoor courtyards. In the first courtyard, there were braziers lit so that worshipers could light their incense sticks. Just off that courtyard was a shrine to the Four Devas, each of which was represented by a huge (twice life-size) statue in bronze or stone, and each of which had his own altar for offering incense, libations, flowers, coins, etc. There were many worshipers that day. One of the Temple personnel told us it was a special day, and gave us incense sticks to burn, which we were happy to do. The air was so filled with ash, that some of it landed in Fiona's hair. After paying our respects to the Devas, we followed instructions to head upstairs, where we found this small jade buddha on an altar with this exquisite embroidered picture of what I take to be a bodhisattva. Next to it was the huge mahagony laughing buddha (next picture).
The Buddha laughs at the idea that riches can make one happy, but everyone is invited to rub his tummy for "good luck" anyway. We avoided buying any of the thousands of items available for sale in that upstairs room. They ran from sublime (hundreds of thousands of dollars for exquisite jade and wood carvings and unbelievable embroidery) to paltry (and not worth the paltry price).
The actual Jade Buddha cannot be photographed. We got a free postcard of it, but will have to remember the experienced of visiting that sanctuary.
Monks in saffron robes strolled around the grounds, chatting.
We were, however, able to photograph the reclining Buddha. My friend Rob tells me that this posture represents the dying Buddha, who is preparing for death by poison (accidental or murderous -- there is some question) with perfect serenity. Worshipers gathered here to make their prayers, obeisances and offerings, as well as at many other places within the temple grounds. It strikes me as a good system: on a holy day, you get to the temple when you can, you make your prayers and offerings at your own pace, and don't have to attend a scheduled service.
We watched a master calligrapher at work. He explained that he does this as a volunteer, to raise money for the temple.
Worshipers took time to copy, by hand, one of the inscriptions from the huge bell on display in one of the courtyards. You can catch a glimpse of the reclining buddha behind it. To the rear of the photographer is the huge, stone statue of the many-armed goddess of mercy. I said
I really should say "Shopping and lunch," because what is shopping without lunch? I had one important commission to accomplish, and we decided to try the "Number 1 Department Store" at the intersection of Nanjing Road (the premiere downtown shopping area) and Xizong Road. The guidebook promised silk items at good prices, and so we headed in with high hopes. We were not disappointed! Among other bargains of the day, we found this wonderful sweater, which became an early birthday present for Fiona. It was much more fun than Macy's, much more interesting, but still a huge department store. The staff were numerous and attentive. Everyone spoke at least a word or two of English, and with Fiona's Chinese skills, we did just fine. (Plus, written numbers are the same in both languages, so we can check prices very easily. Right now, the exchange rate is about 6 Yuan to 1 dollar.) To make our purchases, we gave the item to the sales person, who wrote up a ticket. We took that ticket to the cashier (no wandering about looking for the counter -- it was right at hand), and the cashier took the credit card, and handed us the receipt, which we took back to the sales person. In the meantime, the sales person had nicely packaged our purchase, and we were ready to go.
On the way back to the hotel, Fiona and I stopped at a "Gourmet Noodle" restaurant we had spotted in a huge food court in the truly huge shopping area near the hotel. As I went off in search of the loo (a squatter down a dim passageway -- typical, and perfectly do-able if one is prepared with ones own tissues and hand soap -- which I was thanks to Fiona's excellent advice), Fiona studied the menu. I finally went for something smallish: black beans in yogurt, cold unsweetened soy milk, and "muffins." The black beans were very slightly sweet, and yogurt was just the right kind of tart. It was delicious. And the muffins (pictured below with truly wonderful spring rolls) were little cylindrical rice flour cakes with sweetened red beans on the bottom, and red bean past in the center. Wonderful!
The muffins were stamped with a red insignia -- probably of the restaurant. As usual, there were many servers. We have found that sometimes they will just appear to take one's order, and sometimes they wait for you to flag them down. Once again, Fiona's Chinese, elementary as it is, helped immensely. She could answer the waiter's question of whether we wanted cold or hot soy milk, for example. Fiona had a lovely, big bowl of noodles -- way too much, actually. We both think that people who eat a bowl that big (and everyone in the restaurant seemed to have one) probably don't eat another full meal in the same day.
Fiona was my guide to the Shanghai Museum. Free admission! But a tiny lunch cost an arm and a leg by Shanghai standards.
We looked at ceramics and bronzes and carved jade items that made me ask Fiona: "What were our ancestors doing 4,000 years ago?" The scope of this civilization is astounding.
A set of 8 stone lions guards the facade of the Shanghai Museum. Each has his own personality, and represents a different sort of protection. They are reproductions from eras that range from a few hundred years BCE to about 900 CE.
We had sandwiches labeled "hamburgers" (round bun + ham = hamburger, right?) and hot chocolate for about 84 RMB ($13) - insane to pay such a price, but museum food the world over is high-priced. And the surroundings were beautiful. In typical Shanghai fashion, just as we reached the front of the line, a man barged into line and insisted on being served immediately. The young uniformed man who managed the line could only look apologetically at us. Fortified with food and drink, we headed out to enjoy the galleries
The final meal of the conference was at Hai Di Lao Huo Guo, and it was an experience and a half. Into each table was placed this two-part pot. On the left, you see a mild, almost sweet broth, on the right a hot pepper broth. Both include scallions, mushrooms and other tidbits. When the broth was simmering, they started bringing over plate after bowl after dish of lovely things to cook in the broth as you chose: fish, beef tripe, spinach, beef, taro root, lotus root, vegetables I could not identify, mushrooms of various kinds (enoki, shiitaki and tree ears). Many of the items we never did identify. Towards the end, though, there were noodles. The white flour noodles were presented by a waiter who did an elaborate dance during which the noodles were stretched into a long band held in gloved hands by either end, and swirled acrobatically in the air to make all kinds of ribbon-like shapes. At last, the noodle strand was folded over and over until it was just 12 inches long, separated into multiple strands, and placed in the broth. It was seriously challenging to get them out of the broth, though. I needed both a slotted spoon and chopsticks. The last noodles of all were cellophane: but broad and flat and short (6 inches) instead of a nest of "bean threads" such as I normally buy at home. For drinks, we had glasses of slightly sweetened chrysanthemum tea. The flowers were loose in the tea, together with some bright red berry I couldn't identify.
One of the best parts was the incredible service. You can't count the servers, and I'm not sure I could enumerate all the things they did, but I'll try: greeters (4 or 5 people greeted us at various stages in our progression from the door to the table); provided hot towels (continuous throughout the meal - I think I received 4 or 5 changes of hot wash-cloths, with which I wiped my face and hands and sometimes the table in front of me -- and even the handles of the spoons when they fell into the broth); eye-glass cloth providers (everyone wearing glasses at the table was presented with a complimentary cloth for cleaning one's glasses); of course, the people bringing the various ingredients to the table, and taking away used dishes; people guiding you through the line of condiments on the sides of the dining room (there must have been 3 dozen various flavorful sauces, herbs, spices, vegetables, nibblies etc.). Plus, people came around and over the coats we had slung over the chairs, they pulled red cloth bags, top-down over the backs of the chairs, so that the coats did not get splashed or tripped over. Likewise, anybody with a backpack got their pack placed neatly in a red bag an placed under the chair. And we were each clothed in a red apron to prevent splashes from getting on our clothes.
Peter told us that this restaurant has a reputation of treating its staff so well that they do not want to leave. The whole experience was very high-energy. At the end, when most of the people in our group had gone off to catch their planes, Bill, Peter, Andre (new friend) and another student in Peter's program and I were able to simply sit and chat for some time while our host (Professor Bai Tongdong) was finally able himself to eat something. Good host that he was, he had been too busy making sure everyone else was taken care of to be able to eat until the end. So we had a quiet, low-key conversation for another forty-five minutes.
This is a scene from walking down the street to the hotel from the Fudan campus. Sycamores line the street, and two young women walk arm in arm. In the US, you don't see that very often. It's very companionable, as I can attest, having walked in that fashion with Fiona today on the way back from the Shanghai Museum. In our case, it was mainly so that we didn't lose one another in the crowds getting on and off the subway. But it sill had that companionable, intimate feeling. You don't see male friends walking that way with each other in Shanghai. Or in the US, need I add.
Here, a young woman rides her bike and eats her breakfast at the same time. You can see that lots of students ride their bikes. She's in front of the cafeteria, where we all ate lunch together on Friday. Peter showed me how to ask for rice, and point at the toppings I wanted. I ended up with two toppings: one with tofu, celery, and a tiny bit of fish, and the other with gelatinous duck blood and quail eggs and some other green. I honestly didn't know what those little squares were. They looked like a dark-colored tofu. But Peter's Chinese tutor let me know they were duck blood, and made a face -- indicating she would never eat it herself. But really, they tasted great. Let's hear it for culinary adventures.
Peter shows me a scale model of Fudan University. We are standing inside the two towers, about to join the conference. The buildings closest to where Peter is standing are roughly where his dorm room (pre-Fiona's-arrival) was.
The scholar in his element.
After lunch with Bill and Peter's former roommate Nathan (and their Chinese tutor) in the Fudan cafeteria, Peter and I took the huge, hulking suitcase of goodies to his apartment. Fiona met us there, and the next fun thing was opening all the treasures.
They appreciate everything! Thanks to Fiona's parents, too. I have never before seen two people utterly enraptured by the mere scent of Mint Milanos.
Peter and I then joined Bill again at the conference and heard some excellent scholars speak about their work. And since we couldn't join the conferees at dinner, I took Peter out to dinner. (Fiona had to work.) I told him he could choose Western style, since he so rarely gets to do that, and so we ended up at Pancake Day. Here he is about to dive into what has been his favorite restaurant meal as long as I've known him: strawberry pancakes.
Our first breakfast together in Shanghai. A friend from Bill's conference (The 18th Annual Meeting of the Comparative & Continental Philosophy Circle) took this for us.
This is what I chose. Notice the green tea is in a glass. That's some corn porridge at top left, a steamed bun with meat and veggies in it, a tea-cooked egg, noodles with some greens, slices of melon and a "folded" bun (white flour never tasted or looked so good before).
And when well-fed, it's time to explore a little. This is in the courtyard garden of the hotel. The blossom looks for all the world like a rose, but the foliage is confusing me. There was a good rain overnight, and lightning flashes (but didn't hear any thunder). Everything is damp, but as the morning wears on the sun is coming out. All this is a delightful distraction from the incredible pain of trying to call Peter. Apparently our phone automatically generates a long-distance code that we now don't need, and I have to figure out how to disable it.