It’s approaching 4:30am here in China, and I am going to be getting a taxi to the airport for my flight in just under an hour. Even though the flight is not until 10 and the airport is only a 2 hour (or less, it only took me 1 hour 40 minutes getting here) drive and I really need sleep the car was booked for 5:30… Anyway, the first leg of my Asian tour is over, and I wanted to share how it’s been. I was staying in Wujiang, a place with really nothing aside from a shopping mall, but Suzhou was around a one hour tube journey.
Attractions: Suzhou has a lot, more than could be done in one day actually, when it’s a one hour journey there and everything shuts at 4pm, 4:30 if you’re really lucky. I went to the temple, administrator’s gardens, and the silk museum. I loved all of them, the temple was beautiful with a lot of great decorations. There were also really nice spots to look over the gardens around it and see a large number of fish in the river. The administrator’s gardens were huge and really varied, with some recreations of how the buildings would have looked inside, pagodas, some great high spots for pictures, and a very large bonsai garden too!
When faced with only having the time to do the silk museum and the Suzhou museum, I’m glad I chose the silk museum. It was unique, and had so many great displays of ancient silk items, modern ones, silkworms and the silk harvesting process, and even a functioning silk loom which was being used! It had a great exhibition on of the different silk gifts that would be given to dignitaries, and a wedding dress.
In addition to being great places to see, the temple and silk museum were both free, and the administrator’s gardens cost just 90 yuan to enter!
Food: I really enjoyed all the food I had here. At the mall in Wujiang there is an amazing bakery, Migo, which does the fluffiest, tastiest bread buns I have ever had. I was a bit surprised that my family was just buying a bag of plain buns, but they were so good! The shop also does hot food, I had a really nice pizza-style savoury pastry when I first arrived, and cake! For dinner we went to a pizza place one day, and a Chinese restaurant the other day. People say Chinese food in China is completely different to back home, and they are absolutely right. The chow-mein did not look or taste anything like it does at home, but it was better for it. The filled buns were also really good!
People: Generally, the people I met were ridiculously nice! I couldn’t find my driver when I arrived at the airport and, without the address (I didn’t think I would need it as the car had been ordered for me) or my brother’s number (why would I need that, it’s a Chinese number, right?) and my parents not picking up their phones or Skype I was on the verge of a panic attack when a lady approached me and sat me down and we went online on her phone and eventually found my brother’s workplace phone number after a surprising amount of searching given I knew exactly what the place was. Then the driver magically appeared and I got to where I needed.
The people in Wujiang were also really nice. The hotel staff always would stand up and greet you with a smile when you entered reception, and the staff at the local bar were lovely too. One of them brought us shots and did one with us last night, and one of the ladies who works there noticed us in the supermarket and waved very happily to us. It really made us feel very welcome.
Tips for Westerners in China: Here are a few things I wish either my parents or I had been told before going:
People do not speak English: And don’t pretend they do. It is very easy to get what you want by just pointing at menu items and giving them the number of fingers, however if you need an extra menu and have the menu open, pointing at the menu and saying “Can we have another menu” is useless, and instead makes the waiter think you are ordering the item where your finger landed.
Toilets: If you want a western style toilet, use a disabled toilet. They have to be this way. Otherwise you may not have the option and the other ones really just look like holes in the ground which I wouldn’t be comfortable using. In addition, China does not always provide toilet paper in public toilets. Make sure you bring some of the hand towels in with you from the sink area if there is not a toilet roll dispense you can use there.
Learn how to read and say food: As one of my brother’s colleagues said to our parents, in China they eat all of the animal. This lead me and my parents to be a bit sceptical about ordering any food as we wouldn’t actually know what we were eating. Out and about in Suzhou and looking for street food for lunch, we saw that very few places had English translations, some of which weren’t helpful and others only translated 10% of their menu. Luckily we found a great stall selling smoothies and sausages so had those, and my smoothie was divine!
Don’t go to tourist attractions during school holidays: This didn’t apply to me as I coincidentally timed my visit very well, but my parents had actually visited the administrator’s gardens once before and hated it as it was completely full of people and they constantly had to jostle to get anywhere and could hardly see anything. I can testify that September is a good time to visit, and my brother’s colleague recommend March and April.
So, that’s my Chinese leg of my journey finished. I really liked it visiting here, but with the language barrier a lot harder to break and cultural differences like the toilets I’m not sure I’d want to live here permanently. I plan to come back next year for a longer stay in China, so that I can see more and meet more of my brother’s colleagues. I met his best friend here, who is also a British foreign teacher and we got on pretty well for the length of time we had, so I’d love to meet up with him again too.
Next stop is Japan. I’m going to a sushi bar tonight for dinner, and staying in Akihabara for a few days. I’m really looking forward to seeing all the anime merchandise!