After a 15 hour flight from Dallas, we finally arrived at Shanghai, China in the afternoon. Despite the fact that Shanghai would be one of our destinations during the trip, we immediately took a bus to Suzhou to spend our first week of the trip.
I fell asleep during the ride to Suzhou but was informed that it was roughly two hours long. The driver dropped us off at our hotel, the Suzhou Xi’an Jiaotong Liverpool International Conference Center. I managed to get a picture of the beautiful fountain in front of the hotel but not one of the hotel itself. Oops.
As you might be able to tell from the fountain photo, it was starting to get dark when we began checking into the hotel. We spent the rest of the day settling into our rooms and getting our bearings. Exiting left of the hotel lead us down the street to an area with several ATM machines which we used to withdraw Chinese currency (Yuan/Renminbi) as well as many convenience stores and restaurants. We’d later realize that one convenience store, FamilyMart, would be found on nearly every block in China – which I began to affectionately refer to as the Chinese Walgreens.
During this week, we had classes at Suzhou University, about a 10 minute walk from our hotel. Here’s a picture of their library, which we’d see daily as we walked across campus to our classrooms.
We were originally perplexed as to the design of the library. The unusual metal bars on the sides were very rusted and the glass windows were dusty. We’d later talk to some of the Suzhou University students who informed me that the library is actually supposed to be modeled after a lotus flower, explaining the unique shape of the building and it’s protruding sides. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the students thought of the library as ugly.
You might notice in the picture that the two girls on the left are carrying white bags with red decorative paper. They were tasked with giving these gifts to the Dean and other important staff members – who we met on our first day at the university, prior to our first lecture. This “gift giving” was a customary practice in China to show respect and gratitude to the hosts and was something that our program leader would continue to do as we visited various businesses.
The lectures at Suzhou University were generally interesting and ranged from Chinese history and philosophy to the Chinese economy. Here’s a picture of an interesting poster outside our first classroom. Apparently the building we were in was called the Marxism school (it was a Political Science based building amongst other subjects it specialzied in).
During these days at Suzhou University, we’d sometimes have longer days which consisted of two lectures with a lunch break in between. Regardless of whether the days were long or not, we’d find entertainment in exploring the city after our lectures. The Suzhou University students that we met were a great help in this and kindly offered to take us out to see tourist attractions in Suzhou.
The day we met the students, they took us out to eat at a restaurant called Grandma’s Home in a shopping center somewhere in the city.
As a side note, we’d mostly use taxis and Uber or Didi (the Chinese Uber) to get from place to place in China in our free time. The only times we used the bus were when we were traveling as the entire program group to program-specific locations.
Grandma’s Home was in a shopping center shared by a giant Sam’s Club. This picture does not do the Sam’s Club any justice. It was really big.
Later, in Shenzhen, we would visit a Sam’s Club that was two stories tall. I imagine this one was also two stories tall as most Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs in China seem to be larger than their American counterparts.
Grandma’s Home was a very pleasant experience. All the students in our group enjoyed the food and I believe it may have been our first experience in using the Lazy Susan – a rotating glass disc that food is placed on that is found in many Chinese restaurants.
The students from Suzhou University also showed us one of their other campuses somewhere else in the city. It predates the one we were studying at and is much larger.
We also met a UARK teacher who was teaching in Suzhou and she showed us a lake that was attached to a park that held a church a bit further away from the university campus. We walked a lot that day…
Before we left Suzhou, we also visited the “Humble Administrator’s Garden.” One of many other gardens that serve as tourist attractions. In older times, emperors and high ranking officials would build these gardens as a vacation home and to impress guests.
We also visited the Suzhou Museum, where we saw a lot of crafted pieces from varying parts of history. This included crafted jade, statues, pottery, and drawn art.
In Shanghai, we visited Unilever (amongst other companies) as well as another museum – this one was more modern and varied from a physical model of the city to comics and simulations. We also went to a silk market where we were shown how silk was spun and had the opportunity to buy silk goods (pillowcases, blankets, clothes). We ended the Shanghai portion of the trip with a boat ride around the Bund, allowing us to see Shanghai at night as well as some of its most iconic buildings.
Next was Hong Kong, by far the most beautiful of all the places we visited in China. It had much more green in its landscape and was nowhere near as much of a “concrete jungle” as the other major Chinese cities.
Upon landing in Hong Kong, we went to the Aberdeen fishing village for a brief boat ride and then departed to Victoria Peak, a major tourist attraction. We got to see a magnificent view of the city from atop Victoria Peak and managed to get a glimpse of one of Jack Ma’s (owner of Alibaba) houses near the top.
We also went to see the Big Buddha which garnered very large crowds – some to sight-see and some likely for religious purposes. We weren’t able to go to the very top because the workers only allowed those who purchased offerings to climb the stairs to the top.
There was also a temple with a huge golden room with five Buddhas in it. The room also had mats on the ground so people could kneel and pray.
We departed Hong Kong by riding a ferry to Shenzhen. Unfortunately, I don’t really have any photos from Shenzhen (and the free plan on WordPress doesn’t allow videos) but while we were there, we visited the highest grossing Sam’s Club facility in the world as well as a Walmart Global Sourcing office. Additionally, we got to visit the Shenzhen Luohu Market where our group purchased clothing, additional suitcases, and other accessories.
Our last destination was Beijing, the capital. We got to see the Forbidden City and the famous Great Wall (or at least, a section of it) as well as Tiananmen Square and the final resting place of Mao Zedong.