Wednesday, July 31, 2013

US trip - part II

So much of what we missed from the US was the food.  We all made a list of things we wanted to eat while we were back home.  Some we got to, some we didn't. Sorry Pastrami - catch ya' next time.
     Yes, the girls were able to have Taco Bell, french fries and fried chicken at the mall and chili-cheese dogs.  I was able to satisfy my steak craving at Houston's.  We all had a great breakfast at Russell's and enjoyed several plates of bacon.  ahhh...bacon-ny.
     My last few days, I went to all the quintessential Pasadena places:
Parkway Grill for dinner.  Vromanns for books.  Europane for pastry and coffee.

biscuits, gravy & sausage
spicy & cheesy curly fries
best. chicken. ever.
craving satisfied

US trip - part I

Emily, Katie and I were able to go back to the US for a few weeks in July.  Chris joined us a week later.  The trip was busy, hectic and stressful.  It was also really, really, really great to be back even for a short while.  We all realized how much we missed our friends and family. 

drank my dinner on the plane - no excuses
The first week, we stayed with our parents (thanks Jichan, Grandma and Charlie!), and spent time running lots of errands and shopping.  Like many families on home leave, we also packed all the doctors' & dentists' appointments into a few days.  I almost cried with joy going into Target.

girls in tissue paper gowns, waiting for possible shots
Emily had her ears pierced while we were in the US.  We went to the mall, and she had it done along with her best and oldest friend Ima.  So lucky that the Nooch family moved back from NJ just a few weeks before.  Another reason to miss Pasadena.

ears pierced - check it out!
best neighbors ever
The most asked question was "How is it living in China?".  I could spend so much time answering that question.  Living in China is an experience that changes constantly.  Life is so much easier in the US.  But China really is where the future is.  This country is growing so fast, and modernizing so fast.  It's really apparent that large chunks of the population are left behind.  But for those that can adapt, and modernize with the country, the sky really is the limit.  And of all the cities to live in, Shanghai is the most influential.
  But that being said, I never felt more at home than in our old neighborhood in Pasadena.  I am so lucky to have so many friends that made our family feel so welcome.  Grand Oaks Avenue is the perfect place to live & raise a family.  Hands down.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Seen in Suzhou - extras

Lingering Gardens and the Humble Administrators Garden have the best trash cans I've seen in China.

These signs were posted throughout the gardens.  Very subtle way to ask people to watch their behavior.  The subtitle language is probably an exact interpretation of the Chinese above.

 Rainbow Bridge in The Humble Administrators Garden.  Really beautiful from a distance, really crowded to walk through.  Maybe everyone who comes here feels they have to cross it.

Weekend in Suzhou - part II

We booked a half day tour today with an English speaking guide.  Her name was Yvonne, and she was very knowledgeable.
     The first stop was The Humble Administrators Garden, built in 1513.  Yvonne told us how it was originally created by a wealthy member of the feudal government.  He had become wealthy taking money & gifts, and was exposed by his peers.  He was banished back to Suzhou.  He spent the rest of his life in shame and reflection, but did create the garden.  The garden, like the Lingering Garden the day before, has a lake in the center, winding pathways, pagodas, bridges and impressive rocks.

old wisteria vine wrapped in bamboo
150 yr old rose tree w bamboo trellis
moon gate
Some of the seating areas have these reclined backs, this is called "Beauty's chair".  Called this because when wealthy women had their feet bound by silk bands, they would never be able to walk more than a few steps.  They could recline, and enjoy the pond here.  Crazy.

This is the most famous example of "borrowed scenery" - a concept of Chinese gardens.  The designers built-in this view of the North Temple Pagoda in Suzhou from the main house overlooking the pond.

The next stop on tour was a silk making factory.  Suzhou silk is very famous, and a point of pride for the people that live here.  We learned about silk worms and the cultivation of the cocoons.  Large bamboo trays had hundreds of silk worms and mulberry leaves.  Yvonne lifted up the netting under the leaves, and there was a lot of silkworm poo.  Yvonne said some people use the poo for inside their pillows.  Eeeww.
     In the factory, we saw how silkworm cocoons are boiled, and then the fine filaments are spun into thread on a huge machine.  Silk comforters and blankets were being made too, and we helped pull the batting for the inside of a comforter.  Really, really fun and educational.
     We went to the Suzhou Embroidery Museum but unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures there. I didn't think this would be very interesting, but I was wrong.  We watched a Master Embroiderer at work on a canvas that would take over a year.  The museum is full of work that is so intricate and delicate, but also beautiful.  The idea of embroidery at this level was really mind boggling.  All done by hand on silk.

 worms and mulberry leaves

pulling the silk batting for inside a comforter

bowl of dead silkworm pupa - yum
stretching boiled cocoons
The last stop was Shantang street.  This is a 7 mile long pedestrian walkway with ancient halls, bridges and homes. The front of the homes face the street, and the back of the homes face the canals.  Yvonne told us this was because merchants would bring goods and deliveries by boat up and down the canal.  We walked across a bridge that was built in AD 825.  We also went inside Starbucks.

 We had to get back to the hotel to catch our train back to Shanghai.  It was definitely worth visiting Suzhou.  I think the girls will remember it always.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Weekend in Suzhou - part I

Suzhou is a very popular tourist destination just outside Shanghai.  We took the high-speed train, and the ride was only 30 minutes.  Suzhou is known for it's canals, bridges and beautiful gardens.  It's a water town and called the "Venice of China".  
     Maneuvering the train station in Shanghai was probably the most challenging part of our trip.  Thank goodness Chris bought our tickets ahead of time.  Like everywhere else, the station is very, very hot & crowded.  There was no one in our waiting area to answer any questions or give any directions. I saw one man at a kiosk, and I tried to ask him for help but he was only selling lottery tickets.  We tried to study the sign boards (very confusing) and tried to listen to the loud speaker (in Chinese, and very muffled and tinny).
     We did spy a women holding a ticket with the same train # as us, so we resolved to follow her.  That    was the answer.  Phew.
     We stayed at the Marriott, and took advantage of the concierge to arrange an English-speaking tour and train tickets home the next day.  I mistakenly thought of Suzhou as only a scenic and historic destination, but Suzhou also has a lot of manufacturing and a "hi-tech" business center.

Shanghai station

We took a taxi to Lingering Gardens.  From the outside, it looks like nothing, a stone wall and small entry way.   But inside, it just goes on and on.  There is a large wooden lacquer map in the first room, in-laid with stone and mother-or-pearl.  It shows all the parts of the garden.  Lingering Gardens is known for it's ancient rock gardens, as well as the design the ponds and bridges.  In the center of the pond, a woman in traditional dress played a Chinese instrument and sang.  It was surprising to see, but the music really added to the beauty of the experience. Through-out the gardens, we would see different performers - all playing traditional instruments.

 There are several moon gates in the gardens.   This is very traditional in wealthy homes and palaces.  The idea is to pass through a moon gate, is to walk through into joy and happiness.  Lots of couples walk-through a moon gate during a wedding ceremony.

Long ago, the wealthy felt it was important to surround themselves with elements of nature to maintain balance and harmony.  Although they had to live in the city, they wanted idealized scenes of nature inside their palace walls.  So they designed gardens with rocks to emulate mountains & peaks, and cultivated bonsai to mimic great trees.  They could walk on winding pathways from scene-to-scene, and rest in pagodas or small houses along the way.  

Auspicious Cloud Capped Peak
grape vine trellis
As in many parks and gardens in China, I am always impressed by the artistic stone pathways.  I keep thinking of a craftsman on his knees for years to produce works of art.

tea house
clean girls
After a long day, we had a great dinner and hot showers.  Ready for the next day's adventure.