Day 9 - Suzhou to Shanghai - Silk and Sampans
There was a lot of bus riding today with several stops along the way to Shanghai. Suzhou is known for four things as we wrote yesterday--beautiful women (Jim is enjoying that one!), beautiful gardens, canals, and silk. Our first stop was at a silk embroidery factory. This is a most beautiful and artistic skill where it takes over 30 years to become a "master", and there are only twelve of them in the entire country. There are also students, apprentices and teachers, four levels in all.
They sit in front of a picture which could be anything from Princess Di to peonies, animals, plants, etc. and choose from over 400 dyed silk threads. Depending on the level of the embroiderer, the thread is divided into 2,4,8, up to 48 individual filaments, the last even thinner than a human hair. These are all quite beautiful and, of course, most expensive, but the most impressive was one that had two completely different pictures on either side of the silk material--one of a lion, the other of a tiger. The pictures below show the process but are not finished pieces and covered in plastic, and don't really do justice to the craftsmanship. Since this is considered a "national trade secret", no pictures of finished masterworks were allowed. Many are used as gifts for heads of state.
Of course, they had a beautiful garden, too.
Back on our bus to the quaint town of Tongli which boasts many canals and bridges. The streets are very narrow, and much of it is pedestrian only (read bikes, motorcyles, pedicabs, etc. so you still have to be very careful!)
We took a sampan ride along several intersecting canals. Most had women as oarsman (or oars persons!) and it was a wonderful people-watching adventure as we meandered along the canals watching many families (who were really watching us) shopping at the tiny stall shops, and eating lunch at the many small restaurants along the way.
Onto lunch at a local restaurant that was called the Nan Teahouse. We used simple but lovely chopsticks so we bought some there as well as a beautiful fan at a shop nearby. Jim was intrigued by the artist in the shop--he was quite elderly, showed us his pamphlet touting the fact that his painting was influenced by Dali, Jackson Pollack and others, and we had a delightful conversation (well, sort of) with him. Although we know we overpaid for the fan, we also hopefully, made his day.
The ride to Shanghai took about two hours and we checked into the best hotel so far on this trip--the Waldorf Astoria "on the Bund". The Bund is the old promenade area next to the Huang Pu - the Yellow River that is one of Shanghai's most famous tourist areas. The hotel is quite beautiful with more up-to-date technology than we've ever seen including a bathroom with lots of gadgets.
A quick trip outside to see the waterfront, but the weather was not cooperating, so back in to relax with real cocktails at the famous Long Bar and later to enjoy our first non-Chinese dinner at the French restaurant in the hotel-Pelham's.
Much more sightseeing tomorrow and we're looking forward (well, at least Wendy is!) to our old-city shopping experience.