Monday, March 27, 2006

The Suzhou Experience

Now that I am safely back in Fort Collins, I need to talk about a legendary overnight trip to Suzhou. It is interesting all the way from our trip there to our trip home. Suzhou was our "GO BIG" trip as Morris' friend Chris put it.

Morris' girlfriend Nancy is currently living in Korea, and she flew to Shanghai on Wednesday for a 10 day sojourn. She has a friend living in Suzhou, and Morris also has a friend there (Chris), so we decided to take an overnight trip there. Of course, we had to start out the day with a 2 hour massage. At the place by Morris' house, if you come in before 6pm you can get a 1 hour foot massage and a 1 hour full body massage for 100 RMB, which is roughly $12.50 USD. Quite the deal. Well, the foot massage caused us to miss the 5:30pm train to Suzhou, and for whatever reason there was no other commuter train (Get it? Commuter Train. You'd think these would start at 5:30 and go late) until 8:30 but we didn't want to get there that late, so we start looking for alternative transportation.

There was a group with a small bus trying to fill it for a trip to Suzhou. The cost was 50 RMB per person, and there were 4 of us. On the way to check out this bus, we passed a taxi, so we asked him what his rate to drive us to Suzhou was (about a 2 hour drive) and he quoted 350 RMB. At first we thought that was excessive, so we told him we wanted it for 250 RMB. Well, now the bus drivers come over and start yelling at this guy for trying to steal their fare. We'll call this "almost a fist fight #1". The taxi driver gets really rattled and tells us we can go for 250, so we load up in the car and head out. About a mile from the train station, he changes his mind and puts it back to 350. We tell him to take us back to the train station. When we get out, he demands to be paid for the part that he drove, and we tell him no since he broke the deal. Then he physically grabbed Terry by strap of his bookbag and took his glasses off. The "almost a fist fight #1" wouldn't have been so bad because that was just between drivers, but this was really bad because it would have involved our group. The last thing I wanted to do was get in a fight in a crowded train station in Shanghai. Once the driver saw Morris and Me gearing up, he decided to just find the closest policeman and have him arbitrate the issue.

This was a funny scene. There are literally thousands of people at this train station, and we're in the middle of an intersection taking turns telling our side of the story. Lots of people came over to watch, but it wasn't like american lookie-loos that you see on the freeway. These people were just generally interested in what was happening in their neighborhood and wanted to hear the issues to judge it for themselves. The taxi driver was clearly nuts, and the policeman just didn't want to deal with him anymore. He asked us to just give the guy 10 RMB so he could save some face and we could all go on with our lives. As we were walking away he said to us (in English) "Welcome to Shanghai", and then he started laughing. We ended up finding a much more pleasant taxi driver and just paying her 350 RMB. Actually she was so good that we gave her a 50 RMB tip, which is never done there, so she was really happy about that. Hopefully over time carrots will convince people in China that treating your customers nicely will have rewards.

Once we finally made it to Suzhou and checked into our hotel, we headed out for dinner with the locals. This place was a Japanese restaurant with an all-you-can-eat-sushi and all-you-can-drink-sake dinner for 138 RMB, or roughly 17 USD. Remember, this is our GO BIG night, and we hit it hard from the beginning. We stuffed ourselves with sushi and drank lots and lots of sake. We actually ended the night with some sake bombs. Dinner was really fun, and we headed out to a lounge which was hosting the last night of an awesome band that was headed back to the phillipines the next day. We stayed for one set, and then moved on to a brand new Irish Pub. The Irish Pub had a pool table so we shot some pool for a while. Then Chris got it in his head that we needed to do some Irish Car Bombs, so he ordered pints of Guinness and shots of whiskey for everybody. If you don't know what a car bomb is, you take the whiskey and drop it into the Guinness and then pound the whole thing in one motion. As you can imagine, some people can't handle their liquor so well. Immediately after Chris pounded the beer, he dropped the empty glass on the table and went running for the men's room, where he proceeded to let loose 138 RMB worth of sushi and sake (and the car bomb).

We got the hell out of that place since our friend had literally completely covered the men's room floor and headed to a techno dance club. 3 people headed home early, but Terry, Chris and I stayed until 4:30am to close the place down. I swear, I am pretty sure there were people there that never or rarely see white people. Nobody was dancing, so we cleared out some tables to open up some dance space. Once we got out there, a bunch of girls and guys headed out there to join us. We had a really great time hanging out, dancing, and drinking with these people. In China, the really popular drink at clubs is this mixture of blended whiskey (like Johnny Walker Black) mixed with sweetened green tea (like Arizona Tea) and served over ice. In fact, you usually just buy the entire bottle of whiskey from the bar and a bunch of bottles of tea and mix it yourself. These people were nice enough to let us drink from their pitcher while we were hanging out and dancing. Needless to say, by the time the club closed at 4:30 we were toast and needed to crash.

We did our best to wake up in the morning and get checked out by noon, but none of us were feeling so hot. After wondering around downtown Suzhou for a while, we found a chinese restaurant that was sufficiently busy and sat down there. The food was good, and we even ordered some chicken soup to help soothe our weak stomachs. Little did we know that the soup would contain the entire chicken head. Pretty gross, but the soup still tasted good. Then we headed out to the most famous garden in Suzhou called "Garden of the Master of the Nets". The garden was pretty, and we killed some time hanging out there since that was better than hanging at the train station. Terry and I spent some time getting Morris and Nancy to pose for pictures like models. I wanted the shots I took to appear candid, and I think they came out pretty well.

We took the train back to Shanghai, which was an interesting experience. You have to be really careful where you go in China because you might end up in a place where English is not an option. Luckily I was travelling with people that spoke and read Chinese so I was able to travel to lots of places that I wouldn't have been able to as a tourist. There was no English at the train station. They were sold out of tickets, so we had to buy them from a scalper. I would have been screwed if I was by myself. Anyway, we made it on the train and the seats were actually really comfortable.

Morris, Nancy and I headed out to the Haagen Dazs dessert restaurant near the water for some really good coconut-milk based desserts. I wish they would open something like that here in the US. Of course, we went for a 2 hour massage afterwards! Then we met up with Terry to go get some Hunanese food. If any of you spicy food lovers ever go to Shanghai, you have to go to this restaurant called Dishuidong. The phone number is 6253-2689 and the address is 56 Maoming Nanlu, 2nd floor. They were voted as having the best hunan ribs in town by the local expat newspaper, and I certainly believe it. This is the only restaurant that I went to twice on this trip.

All in all, the trip was really a lot of fun. Staying with Morris in Puxi was great, and having Morris, Terry, and Nancy there to suggest things and deal with translations made (most) things easy. The trip would not have been anywhere near as fun without the local flavor and friends to hang out with.

Check out the Pictures from Suzhou to see the documentary of this legendary evening. I have also added some new photos to the end of the Shanghai photo set.


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