The Retirees Invade China – Day Eight – Hangzhou to Shanghai

Hangzhou is surrounded by hills and these have been put to very good use by the Dragon Well Tea Company. We visited one of their plantations and the tourist centre to see what makes a good green tea. As we entered the small valley we had row upon row of tea bushes (a variety of camellia) climbing the hills on each side. At the end of the valley is the tourist centre, itself surrounded by tea bushes. In or about April the tea pickers pick the tiny green tips from the bushes and deliver them to the drying process. Some tea oil is placed in the bowls and men swish the clippings through the bowls which are electrically heated until the tips are dry. 72,000 tips are needed to make 1 kilo of tea.

Of course, there is a tea room where we sampled the tea and learned of its medicinal properties. We learned of the Buddhist monk (his statue stands in the courtyard) who first used the green tea for everyday drinking rather than just a medicine. One of its properties is to absorb oils in the human system and this is demonstrated with some rice in a glass to which is added iodized salt which turned the rice black and by the addition of the tea the rice was cleaned.

Persuaded by the demonstration we were first to buy some tea and received an extra can which we sold to one of our fellow tourists. After collecting our tea, I noticed two pieces of calligraphy hanging on the walls reminding me of home.

After escaping the gift shop trap, our bus headed for Shanghai two and one half hours away. The highway was lined with settlements of high rise apartments, and as we got further into the country some country homes with the fast train rattling past them. Today we had lunch on the run eating sandwiches a packet of chips a snickers bar and a banana. Nice change. An hour outside Shanghai we pulled into the roadside stopover for a relief/comfort stop and a break. There was an enormous market with all sorts of things but we were still full from lunch.

Driving into Shanghai we were stunned by the enormity of the freeway system and the apartments reaching to the edge of the freeway. We passed a disused amusement park on our way to the viewing platform on the 88th level of the Jinma Tower, which stands between two other higher towers. We passed them by, barely visible from the bus window due to the dirty air of a fine day. Then we are standing on the footpath looking up to the heavens.

We then ride the elevator to the viewing platform and look out in amazement at a city that has grown to its present size in the last 35 years.

After the viewing platform, we drive to a showroom for what is described as an art gallery but it turns out to be a jewellery sales pitch for a company related to our tour company – not happy Jan. On the way, we pass Shanghai’s only roundabout and the largest sundial. The featured image is a photo of the sundial. The next day we get the chance to ride on the world’s fastest train – the Mag-Lev from Longyang Rd Station to Pudong International Airport. Thirty – one kilometres in 7 minutes reaching a top speed of 431kph and back again. The train rides on a magnetic track and levitates hence the name Mag-Lev. Really exhilarating.

We then had the misfortune to end up at the markets under the Shanghai Science and Technology Park. Well it was the worst experience you have in China being harangued by shop assistants to buy knock watches and handbags and in my case, being physically restrained to buy some further hand bags. Fortunately, Geoff and Jennifer had found a good coffee shop and we took a time out there before venturing outside to see what we could see. On getting back to the surface we found the science and technology centre and a quiet park nearby which led us back to what appeared in the first instance to be Shanghai’s only roundabout only to find out it is a signalised intersection that is round rather than cross shaped. Crossing with us is one of the hangovers from China’s past – the pedal powered transporter of everything. These bikes have one forward gear and we have seen everything stacked on them from refrigerators to waste paper. Across the road looking like 4 enormous rice bowls is Shanghai’s Art Centre.

Lunch time. Not that we felt we needed lunch but it was part of the tour and we had paid for it. So, we traipsed to old Shanghai or at least a remake in the architecture of 19th century Shanghai and the inevitable markets. No sooner had we walked towards the centre than we were met by street vendors and the flavour of the month is strap on skates – convert your shoes to skates. We rebuffed them time and time again but they still kept coming until some of us were able to shelter in the relative peace of the dumpling restaurant for lunch. But the respite was short lived as we had at least a further hour to endure. We strolled through the market place which was far cleaner than the original would ever had been and encountered a pair of elderly women begging. Earlier in the day we had encountered an elderly man playing a whistle in the park at the Science and Technology building and donated all our change probably $1 in Australian money so these beggars missed out.

We are filling in time now as the bus takes us to the Bund – a walk along the Wampu River (a tributary of the Yangtze River) looking at the buildings. We had not done much walking in the last two days so it was good to stretch our legs but the inevitable consequence of eating large meals 3 times a day meant we had calls of nature at a time when only public toilets were available. Now these have proven to be very clean and reasonable with both squat and European toilets available but not so this time probably due to the heavy traffic using them. There was a strong Police presence in this area using mini pursuit cars – chasing pedestrians.

Five o’clock and we are off to dinner – the farewell dinner. Not the great celebration we had expected. Oh well we had a nice time with our new friends. Some of us then proceeded to the harbour for a night cruise whilst others with an early departure tomorrow returned to the hotel. The harbour cruise was extraordinary – the city lights up with a display like I have not seen before. It is still the end of winter so our choice of the open – air deck to get the best view and photos was a brave one. Here are the photos to speak for themselves.

The Retirees Invade China – Day Seven – Suzhou to Hangzhou

After seeing the silk embroidery, I was looking forward to visiting the silk factory the following day. It hardly looked like a factory and it was not. It was a tourist stop with some minor demonstrations on the life cycle of the mulberry caterpillar, the moth and then the pupae in the cocoon, the treatment of the cocoon and finally the sales room. We started with an explanation of the life cycle and the importance of double cocoons as opposed to single cocoons (about 1200m of silk filament from a single and 1800 – 2000m from a double plus the guarantee of a male and female moth to reproduce). We were then told of the benefit of silk fabrics and shown silk doona, mattress protector and duvet. We were then shown how they loosened the filament to make the thread and how tough the silk can be. They also boil the cocoon to kill the pupae before they eat their way out and of course the pupae are eaten by the Chinese. The cocoon after boiling can be stretched over a metal implement from which they draw off the filaments. We were sold on the idea of a silk doona and purchased the mattress protector, and two light weight doonas for about the same price as a synthetic doona here in Australia. In addition, we made some other purchases before enjoying lunch in the 2nd floor restaurant. No not really a factory.

We then set off for Hangzhou and a visit to West Lake which is  freshwater. It is divided into five sections by three causeways. West Lake has influenced the Chinese for its natural beauty and historic relics, and it has also been among the most important sources of inspiration for Chinese garden designers. It was made a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2011, described as having influenced garden design in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea over the centuries.

We picked up our local guide Jack and drove straight to the park containing West Lake. Again, we boarded a Chinese ferry to slowly drift around the lake, admiring the countryside the gardens the Pagoda the view of the city and the wild life. Not very exciting except for Jack who worked hard to find something interesting to say about this body of grey coloured water. However, there were some highlights like the floral arrangements on the walk to the ferry, the quaint little car used by the Tourist Police, the floral arrangements of a lotus near the ferry wharf and the ferry itself. We were joined on board by another tour group from Malaysia and Jack was given the floor to find the interesting things to say about what we were seeing.

A highlight for us was finding a shop selling ice creams. As we sat on the causeway park we notice the wind was rising – tomorrow will be cold. An early dinner meant we did not get to our hotel until after dark. As with Suzhou, the buildings were lit up. Unfortunately, I had to take the pictures from the moving bus, until we arrived at our 5 star Jimna hotel.