As I mentioned in the previous posts of this series, I am writing a mini-series on my trip to China. Each day was so jam-packed with activities that I decided it would be best for readers as well as myself to split the days up into posts for better digestion of information.
First up on the bright and shiny day five of our trip was a visit to the Pearl Center. This was basically another factory visit that was about 30% interesting facts and 70% wasted time walking around a storefront dodging salesmen trying to coax me into making a purchase. What exactly am I going to do with pearls? Definitely not their target audience.
But, as I have said before, this was part of the reason I could even afford to go on the trip. These little excursions kept the cost of the trip low and manageable for someone in my lifestyle, so I didn't mind so much. During the 30% part that was an interesting lesson about the difference between pearls and how they are harvested, we had the chance to hold a pearl oyster and guess how many pearls were going to be harvested before the instructor opened the shell.
I think I guessed 8 pearls. Inside, there were over 30 pearls! The most accurate guesser won a pearl necklace (pictured below). Nice touch!
Outside the factory was a fruit stand with some huge, excellent-looking peaches. We bought a couple of them and my mouth began to water the way it does when I see the first Ontario peach basket of the season at the corner store. Alas, to my dismay, the peaches were not as good as they looked.
After the factory, we were on our way to Tai Lake. Our national guide Eric had been looking pretty chipper on this particular day, and talking particularly excitedly about Tai Lake. I got the impression that even though he probably leads the exact same trip every week for a long period of time, this was his favourite stop.
I could see why.
We were led on a gorgeous walk through some delicious greenery and cobblestone pathways. There were lovingly tended flowers everywhere, and it was honestly like being in a fairy tale.
According to Wikipedia, the lake is renowned for its unique limestone formations at the foot of the adjacent Dongting Mountain (洞庭山). These "scholar's rocks" or "Taihu stones" are often prized as a decorating material for traditional Chinese gardens, as exemplified by those preserved as museums in nearby Suzhou, which we had seen only a couple of days before.
After Tai Lake, it was back onto the bus for a (somewhat long) trip to Hangzhou. Along the way, to save time, we made a group decision not to stop for a formal sit-down lunch and eat at the rest stop instead. This suited me quite well for a couple of reasons. I was excited to try the weird fast food they have in China (especially McDonalds...again) and I was also getting kind of tired of the extremely white-washed Toronto-suburbs Chinese food they'd been feeding us.
This looks like poop but it was actually the most delicious rice-stuffed leaf ever. Had little pieces of meat inside. So good.
They sit in a bath of water until you order one.
The lady preparing it for us.
A guy kneading dough for dumplings.
And of course, in true Chloe fashion, I was able to find my favourite thing to look for on vacation. Oh yeah baby, they had some weird chip flavours.
The winner to make it all the way to the register was this guy:
The winner to make it all the way to the register was this guy:
Let me tell you, they were amazing. I have never had anything like this before, they were somehow fresh and sweet as well as salty, but it all worked out perfectly. And the crunchiness of the chips added to the feeling of crunching on a cucumber. Magical.
And so continued our ride to Hangzhou.
Hangzhou presented us with yet another picturesque lake, around which we hurried to a Buddhist temple just a few minutes before it was to close.
We were late, but also the G20 summit is happening in September in Hangzhou. The Chinese government is busying themselves trying to fix up the city to live up to its role, I suppose. So everything was under construction. I don't know what the city looked like before, but it is covered in old tree-lined streets, which couldn't have been a new addition, and the lake itself is also beautiful enough to draw the eye away from some possible cracks in the sidewalk pavement or bent street signs. Not that that was probably even the case to begin with.
After the temple and the walk around the lake, we had dinner in a somewhat slightly fancier restaurant than usual, and were given unlimited beer in exchange for our earlier dismissal of the included lunch. Since the beer is really weak there (something around 2.5%), I didn't really need the extra calories. The food was alright.
After that, we were ushered into a theater to watch another included show. This one told its own story of Hangzhou, and was slightly less inspired than the one we had seen in Beijing. Some of the people on our trip had opted to go shopping instead, and we did pass by this area on the bus after the show. From what I gathered, the shops were much the same as what we have in Canada, but with exorbitantly higher prices. No love lost there.
We were deposited in our hotel, where we dropped off our stuff and decided to go for a walk in the night life. The first exciting stop of our trip was to a bubble tea chain called CoCo, upon which rested a sign which I noted to say that CoCo is the largest bubble tea chain in the world. I found this hard to believe as I had never heard of it before, but later realized that the closest bubble tea shop to my office here in Toronto is a CoCo. They have amazing flavours.
Anyway, so we' were trying to just point at the summer special (original milk tea with tapioca – of course!) and the cashier was asking us a question in Mandarin that we just couldn't understand. This went on for a moment until the customer behind us in line took pity and explained that she was asking if we wanted it hot or cold. Which seems ridiculous but is actually totally valid, since no one in China drinks anything cold that I could see. Well, we were white people and we wanted a cold bubble tea.
Other notable sights were various advertisements (with a nicely designed brand, I might add) and a shopping mall (where I noted that prices were much higher than in Canada).
I'd venture that this had been enough excitement for one day, so we walked back to the hotel to prepare for the next day.
Stay tuned for say 6, the penultimate day of our wonderful trip to the other side of the world. We'll explore a tea plantation and then feel the stark contrast between suburban/rural China and the soaring towers of Shanghai at night.