Our flight from Beijing to Shanghai left at 7:30 a.m. and arrived at 9:30 a.m. The airport in Shanghai was built for the World Expo. It was very exciting for China because it was the first time the Expo was held in a developing country. They built thousands of apartments and other buildings in anticipation. There continues to be a lot of building in the area, including a high speed train from Beijing to Shanghai. When it’s completed, it will take 4 hours to travel between the two.
We drove for 1 1/2 hours from Shanghai to Suzhou. It is warmer in the southern part of China so the weather was sunny and warm. According to our tour guide, 70% of the population in China are still farmers and we saw a lot of farmland on the way. He also said that northerners are taller, considered stronger and control the country and southerners are shorter, slimmer and are artists. The southerners are well known for their silk embroidery. On our drive we passed several large manufacturing sites developed partially with investments from developers in foreign counties. It is common for a manufacturer to build large apartment buildings or dormitories in order to recruit, retain and require longer hours from their workers. Most of the manufacturing in the past in the southern area used to be just fish and oysters. Now it has diversified to many other industries. The name Suzhou means a big place that manufactures silk. We will visit the silk factory tomorrow.
Next we went to the Grand Canal which used to be very important to the economy to send goods from the southern part of China to the north. A few items most popular to ship were rice, silk and salt. Now, it is used mostly for tourism. Tourists cruise the canal to see how the people there live and shop. The people are very poor, not like those who choose to live in the Hutong we visited in Beijing. There are also restaurants and a hotel in one section of the canal. At night it is well lit and very pretty.
There is a distinct economic difference between Beijing and Suzhou. The buildings are older and it wasn’t unusual to see laundry hanging from the balconies. There are also a lot more bikes on the roads in Suzhou. It was an opportunity for us to see the economic diversity in China, the most affluent and the least. There are big gaps between the rich and poor and according to our guide, the economy is an upside down “T” with very few people who are affluent at the top.
We stayed at the Marriott and had another traditional Chinese dinner. At this point, some of the people in our group were longing for variety and more American fare and headed out to have pizza instead.
Tomorrow we visit the beautiful Lingering Garden and the Suzhou Silk Factory and then drive from Suzhou to Hangzhou, a 2 1/2 hour drive. In the evening the Hangzhou municipal government will host a banquet for our group (I’m guessing it will be another traditional Chinese meal 😉
Tips if you go:
Fortune cookies–You won’t see them in China. They are an American Chinese tradition.
Adult libations–If wine is your drink of choice, buy it at the duty free shops in the airport. Chinese wine is not of the caliber of wines from other countries.
Hair–The hotels provide hair dryers but heating a curling iron is a real problem. It requires a completely different power booster which is hard to find. If you use a curling iron, it would be worth doing a little research to see if buying a curling iron with the correct plug or bringing an adapter with you is the best option.
Night light–bring one with you.