China: Adventures in Suzhou

Day 2 continues….

So we sit on the bus that quickly takes us out of Shanghai and through the outer sections of the city. There really is no end to the city. There are still apartment buildings, more buildings, more highway, and more people. It is just less crowded. Occasionally we see people tending to the fields, terraced slabs of forced growth plucked and groomed by able Chinese workers in 100 degree heat. I am grateful for sufficient bus air-conditioning and Chinese snacks passed and shared by all in their pretty packaging and processed goodness.

I ask Peter again, “So do you know what we’re doing once we get to Suzhou?” He answers, “Oh, probably something cultural. Visiting temples, that kind of stuff.”

And then we arrive.

At a water park. Yes, my first cultural activity in China is an afternoon at the water park, screaming down slides, floating in the wave pool, and shooting small Asians with water guns. Let’s just say, both Peter and I are very surprised. This was obviously not in our plans. But we went with the flow…. of water!

Of course we did not bring our bathing suits to this cultural excursion so we buy ridiculously expensive suits at the gift shop. Thankfully they stock only the most up-to-date Chinese styles. Peter buys these tight Speedo-esque bathing shorts that leave little to the imagination. I get a tankini with a skirt to cover my bottom. We are rocking it. I end up also wearing Peter’s shirt since I am concerned that my assets might draw unwanted attention from the less-curvy asians.

No pictures exist of us actually wearing these bathing suits (believe me, it is better this way) but here is Peter armed with a water gun, acting very mature.

We have a blast at the water park which was almost like a mini Adventure Island with some great slides and jungle gyms. It is so fun to act like a kid and play in the water like a fool. The best slide is this loopy one that ends in a big funnel. There are four people facing each other in a raft and once you hit the funnel you swing up and down the sides till you shoot out the end. I just so happened to board a raft with the 3 white guys on the trip who also happen to be the heaviest guys on the trip. Throw my body weight into the mix and you get a heavy raft that goes FAST. When we hit that first side of the funnel, we gain so much momentum that I’m positive we are going to complete the entire circle or, more likely, flip over. Ouch. Thankfully, gravity is on our side and we ride the slide twice without a problem. It is FUN.

After about 3 hours slipping and sliding our group heads to the locker rooms to change. Having brought no towel (I hate not being prepared…), Wade’s very sweet girlfriend lets me borrow her minuscule strip of towel to dry off. Literally, this thing is smaller than a hand towel, maybe smaller than a quilt patch, and about half as absorbent. I end up moving the water around my body while being oggled by naked Chinese women.

After semi-successfully drying off, we board our bus for the hotel before dinner. I shower in 5 minutes flat and get ready for my first real Chinese meal. And boy, it does not disappoint. We enter a restaurant and take the stairs to a private dining area on the 3rd floor. After splitting into two big round tables we are served Chinese beer from the bottle. Derek also grabs a bottle of Baijiu, a cheap rice liquor popular in China, and forces all the expats to take a shot. The shot is served lukewarm and makes me feel ill almost immediately. Fortunately, the horrible taste is soon cancelled out by the absurd number of incredible dishes that begin to populate our table. There are steaming bowls of white rice, chunks of pig dripping in fat, sliced cucumbers in meat-filled tacos, sweet and doughy fried donuts, roasted eggplant saturated in a rich and spicy sauce, and so on and so forth. Typically for meals in China, the table shares many different dishes that are served quickly in succession for a good 10-40 minutes, depending on the quantity of food ordered. There is a revolving disk in the center of the table which you turn to access your dish of choice, however, you must be conscious to wait your turn. You either put food on your plate or eat directly from the serving plate. Chopsticks are the only utensils. Chinese meals are ordered disorder and it is delicious. And table manners? Throw those out the window. Feel free to slurp, bring your plate to your face, and shovel food into your mouth like you’re starving. Of course after this meal, I am far from starving. I am delightfully stuffed and sleepy.

But sleep is not on our agenda quite yet. Most of our group ventures to the streets of Suzhou in search of a good bar and good fun. We walk to a street lined with bars and clubs and become extremely indecisive. We finally enter a bar and sit down in relief. However, a Chinese guy says that this place is Japanese and he doesn’t understand anything. Not like the white people with you don’t understand anything anyways. But we move on and force the group into a big karaoke bar which happens to also be Japanese. Peter, who speaks Chinese, senses the discomfort of the Chinese guys and girls and decides to do some karaoke to lighten the mood. Lady Gaga to be exact. He also begins to dance. Eventually we begin a conga line and get about 6 of us on the stage. Despite potential awkardness, a great success!

You get the idea.

Day 3– After an exhausting night, we get up early for breakfast at the hotel which happens to look suspiciously like dinner. They have noodles, vegetables, fried eggs, and dumplings. Thankfully, they also have white toast and jam, hardboiled eggs, and COFFEE with milk. Thank the lord.

We board the bus again and head off to the countryside, destination unknown. We begin to pass a lake and see these incredible housing developments to the side. Big signs promote their square footage, golf courses, and water-front views. However, when looking closer at the buildings, we see peeling paint, deserted floors, and overgrown lawns. Nobody lives there. We pass maybe two or three of these developments, all empty. This pretty much confirms for me that there is a housing bubble in China. There is all this development, but no demand because it is too expensive for the average Chinese person. I wonder how long this will keep up or if there will be a large exodus from the city to the suburban areas.

Finally, we arrive at another amusement park of some sort but without the water. It boasts go-carts, apple orchards, and sheep?

Of course the two white guys try to decipher the map. Where we going guys?

Peter and Wade. As you will see in the next picture of me with Wade’s girlfriend, it is very popular in China for people who are dating to wear matching shirts. Cool, only if they are superman shirts. Maybe.

Taking myself very seriously.

So the first item on our agenda is GO KART RACING! Irresistible. Peter and I load up in a 2-person kart where one person is in control of the gas and brakes and the wheel is between both people equally. Let me say, taking over the wheel when not in control of the gas and brakes is both exhilarating and terrifying. The course is windy and a blast, if you are going fast. Many of the guys and girls in our group went painfully slow, at maybe 5 miles an hours. Omg it was absolutely hilarious to watch them chugging along with a look of utter concentration and fear.

This park also had fruit orchards which we didn’t take advantage of. It was way too hot to just stroll.

Next on our to do list is this sort of laser tag game. We split into two groups, don smelly camo gear, and stand at attention for about 10 minutes while this Chinese guy yells instructions at us… in Chinese. The four of us there who don’t speak Chinese look at our imaginary watches and itch our sweaty helmut heads. After the longest 10 minutes of my life, Peter translates for us: “Plug your backpack into your helmut and gun. And don’t get shot”. Um… THANKS. So we plug in and run off into the field to hide among the long grass and constructed huts. Peter, my team leader, apparently has a plan and yells directions while me and my other more incompetent team members hide and kind of roll around in the grass. Several times I successfully sprint from dug out to dug out and attempt to shoot people. My backpack is beeping, my gun is making weird noises, and I don’t know if I’m actually hitting people, being hit, or just dead. Those instructions were somehow lost in translation.

Somehow our team wins. Maybe I’m dead, maybe I’m not. Oh well, I am on the winning team and I’m sweating so much the dirt is smearing across my skin. Ok, so laser tag was fun although a tad confusing and a little HOT. As in, so hot I managed to chug three bottles of water post-game.

The winning team. So hardcore.

After laser tag, we do another round of go cart racing and plop on the bus in (heat) exhaustion. I’m so hungry I can eat a dog. But I don’t. Instead we drive down the street to a nearby restaurant that unfortunately is outside. But it is alright in the shade and as long as there is food I’m game. We split into two groups again and are served dish after dish after dish of steaming food pushed around the table to share. It is delicious and satisfying even though I’m not exactly sure WHAT I’m eating. I know at some point I eat itty bitty snails that you suck out of the shell. Weird.

The dishes come plastic wrapped to feign cleanliness. They did seem clean though…

Tea served with lunch. It tasted like dishwater. I think it was.

Stuffed and happy we re-board the bus and head back to Shanghai. Mostly all of us fall asleep. It is a welcome sleep. Jetlag has started to actually catch up to me. Once back in Shanghai I then pass out for 2 hours and wake up at 10pm. Peter and I then venture out to the foreign bars to meet up with his Scottish bosses. We listen to an band playing American songs. This is China?

Next up… exploring Shanghai. The China you expect. Till then, have a wonderful weekend!


9 thoughts on “China: Adventures in Suzhou

    1. Thanks for your comment! Suzhou is definitely an interesting place to visit although I would like to go again beyond the amusement parks. There must be so much more to discover. Have you been to Xiamen? Now THAT is a jungle.

      1. Xiamen is also on my list! I’m moving to China to teach English next month so I’ll be able to do lots of traveling since I plan of staying for a few years.

      2. Xiamen is great, very very tropical, and you must visit Gulangyu Island. Good luck teaching English! I’ll make sure to follow your blog and keep up with your travels.

  1. wow…so different than the China I live in! so many countries in one! next time, you’ll have to come out west! and glad to find your blog again, keep posting!

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