The conclusion of my ten-part documentation of the Great Mother China Homecoming of 2013, featuring Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Suzhou, in the company of Terence Kua (of Terence Travels), and dedicated to the lovely people of the indefatigable Republic (of the People)!
There aren't many fat people in China, we hypothesized. Maybe part of the reason is having Mickey D sell roast (instead of fried) chicken. The buns taste like pandesal, but you have to admire the generous smother of vegetable. (At five years old, I swore I'd never step foot in China, "because they only eat vegetables there." Later, Mother wrote in my first confession list, "I will eat vegetables.")
Or maybe, the cultural emphasis on exercise - daily dance groups on the grounds of a football stadium, or walks in Fuxing Park, for example.
Also in Fuxing Park: Family engrossed over a motor boat toy during the Qingming holiday (when locals "clean" their ancestral tombs).
In nearby Xintiandi, archways and balconies for future outdoor productions of Miss Saigon, West Side Story, or Romeo and Juliet.
The age-old problem still persists, however: relentless public spitting. Display of machismo? It's annoyingly disgusting. It's like peacocks shoving their fancy tails down everyone's throats, like who enjoys eating feather. Also, talking at maximum volume, coming from a culture that upholds the demure, powerless Maria Clara. Also, the in-your-face rudeness, that seeming lack of hospitality that should have remained in the past millennium - but it's a dying trait, I gathered.
The fashion sense - now that's a trickier discussion. Pingjiang Road, Suzhou: left, a power-dressing couple; right, one of Carrie Bradshaw's nightmares. Bottom is a ninja photo-op in Shanghai's Old City with someone straight out of Middle Earth. And just what's the fuss over Hollister?
Also in Pingjiang Road, this man sells sort-of-rice cakes. He's differently-abled, if we have to be politically correct, speechwise (and now, an atrocious grammatical booboo).
What's most admirable with the local Chinese, though, is their sense of equality. Maybe years of communism does that to you. Waiters and salesladies address customers with a frankness and directness quite nonexistent in the Philippines, where social strata is strictly, nauseatingly observed. Check out the Terence: enlivened by a Suzhou canal (left) and wares in Tianzifang.
Also in Tianzifang, propaganda art, huge doggies, and a peek at More Than Toilet restaurant.
Now on to our epic search for xiaolongbao, which Shanghai is famous for. Our first day, we asked the hostel front desk where we might find the best xiaolongbao in the city. We ended up walking for quite some time, passing by this house (captioned in my Instagram account as the one grandfather built with his bare hands, which a lot of my followers mistook for truth.)
We also passed by a rather slummy area. Contrast with the elegance of a French Concession house - if Jean Valjean and Cosette were Chinese...
Taking pictures in the middle of the road, which the rampant disregard for traffic rules afforded us.
We ended up in the Old City, which we'd set aside for the next day. That was when we realized how "untrustworthy" the locals are in giving directions. "Just walk straight ahead and you'll find it" is the most dangerous advice you can follow. Below, my lady friend and her daughter post-Yuyuan tour... not.
We did get our fill (twice) of Dintaifeng - world-famous xiaolongbao restaurant with Southeast Asian branches in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and Jakarta (meaning, Manila's with the likes of Rangoon and Phnom Penh).
We also tried out Nanxiang in the Old City. That restaurant is the epitome of gustatory segregation (enlarge the photo). It's comfort rooms are smoking areas.
Meanwhile, the local 7-11 sells this fascinating assortment of rubber Check out the general specifications.
Back in Hangzhou, a lot of jolly, free-spirited Chinese tourists!
While in Suzhou, signs warn of falling off canals inhabited by crocodiles (in Ding Yuan) or advice caution and boat-ride courtesy through ingenious translations.
If you're on a budget, the Phoenix Hostel is highly recommended. People's Square is just round the corner, and a metro station, only three blocks away. It's homey and relatively clean, with surprisingly well-furnished rooms that cost us roughly 200 RMB a night. At the terrace, they serve their "famous" egg sandwich and house a morbidly huge rabbit. But they have weirdly built bathrooms.
Finally, it's very, very worth noting that while we were there, H7N9 was just emerging - and the people evidently could not give a damn. That's how the media sensationalizes a disease. "No big deal," apparently. They did have advertisements of a different sort in the metro. Zai jian!