We arrived in Wuzhen (pronounced Wu She) in time to get checked into our hotel and have a little time to look around before dinner. This is an incredible little city known as the Venice of China and I is an ancient
city along a grand canal where all the shops and waterfronts are being restored. Many of the old stone bridges and pathway are still there. I believe the Chinese see the city as a destination site and it is popular for business trips and meetings.
We stayed near the traditional shops and store district.
The boats along the canals are Chinese style gondolas with canopies for shielding the sun. It felt old as I meandered in and out of shops and walked along the narrow pathways that boarder
the Grand Canal that first evening. The air was heavy with the summer humidity and the mosquitos were feasting on any unprotected flesh. I had worn my insect protection but other members of my group were not so prepared. It was
almost like I was in a movie scene from “Memories’ of a Geisha” I know that is a Japanese movie instead of Chinese but the scenes and feelings were so similar. Picture the long narrow cobblestone streets that wind around with little
shops on either side. The residences sat on the second story overlooking the street. All buildings were constructed out of white smooth stucco like substance, with weathered wood and stacked rock in interesting patterns. The roofs were the typical
Chinese style with the turned up edges and red brick colored tile. This was a real story book setting. The original part of the city was very old and was falling apart. The Chinese government made a deal with the people to get them to move back. The
Government would come in and take their land and homes and restore the houses if they would stay and work in the newly restored village. That catch was that after the property was restored the government owned the renovated property. I am sure there
is not much room for arguing with the Chinese government.
Americans are not easily corralled and our group was no exception. We quickly tired of our tour guide trying to keep us in a tight group. We really wanted to just look around and
take pictures at our leisure. After a long evening of walking in a group we became increasingly irritable and we headed back to the hotel. My colleague and I decided we had had enough of group activities and we went to get a foot massage. We sat
side by side in a little pagoda like area and the masseurs worked their magic. It was not long before we were wincing in pain. We were simultaneously laughing and trying to keep from crying. The practitioners were quite skilled and tried to show us on
an acupuncture foot map what area of the body was being affected. They spoke little English and we spoke no Chinese but we both continued to try to communicate which eventually fell away to more laughter and wincing. After our massage was
complete our feet felt amazingly refreshed. It was time to find my hotel room and get some sleep.
In my room was a bowl of fresh fruit. I feasted in it for breakfast. I ate the Banana and some other citrus fruit that tasted like a tangerine/
orange. I really had no idea what it was because the skin was as bright green as a lime. I did not care as they were in a peel-able skin, so I knew they could be eaten safely. I enjoyed every bit with my breakfast green tea early in the morning.
I could not sleep but I relaxed in my room for a few hours to catch up on my jet lag. A little later I went off to meet up with the rest of the team for a proper breakfast before our morning group activates. It was another day of torturous
group lead tours through the factory district. We went to the ancient shoe factory where they made those horrible shoes for women who had bound feet. We got the full story of how and why Chinese women underwent the archaic practice. The women thought
their husbands found small feet preferable, but the men did not want the women to be able to escape so they hobbled the women. I know this is historical but it sickened me. At one point the guide was laughing about the practice and I could not
contain my disgust and walked away from the group. One of my male colleagues followed me and confided that the guide was incredibly inappropriate. The tours went on to the silk factory which I very much enjoyed. The women working were actually
making silk by the old method and asked if I wanted to help stretch the silk. I jumped right in to the process. It was harder than I expected to pull the silk at an even rate while keeping it an even thickness. At one point we all jumped into the pulling
process. After a few hours of walking and being guided to shops lead by our guide, we caught on to the fact that he must be getting a kickback because he kept leading us to all the stores. We finally got fed up as we could see the bridge back to
the hotel and in mass we revolted against his oppressive touring approach. The sixteen year old had reached her limit. She jumped up and ran up to me and the other woman on the tour and said “would you tell that guy to leave us alone and we don’t
want to shop anymore.” We started to laugh and told her to keep walking with determination and don’t look back.
All in all I enjoyed Wuzhen and all its charm but I am not sure which shopping experience was more unsettling: catching
our own cab to the shopping district and negotiating with no language skills or being prodded along in a group with someone with good language skills and a clear self-serving agenda. I was glad to be back on the bus heading for Shanghai and saying
goodbye to our weekend guide.
Our last stop before going back to our hotel was to take a tour of the tallest building in Shanghai. It is called the sky walk. It is 100 stories high and takes 2 different elevators and one escalator to reach
the top. At the 100th floor you can walk around and view the entire city and portions of the floor are glass. You can see all the way down to the ground as you walk over the glass. It was very unsettling and although I don’t have a fear
of heights, it takes me some time to gain balance when I am that high off the ground. I was ok standing and looking at the ground but had a very hard time watching the traffic below me as I walked on the glass. It was a beautiful view of the city out
the windows and when our tour was over we stepped off the escalator to meet up with two female Chinese friends I had met on my previous visit. I was delighted to walk into their arms and away from the group. I had invited my other female colleague along
and we skipped out of there delighted to be having an all-female dinner with trusted Chinese friends to speak the language and get us where we needed to go. We said goodbye after a long enjoyable dinner and they loaded us into the cab and gave
instructions to get us safely to our hotel. Safely is the operative word here. At one point we almost jumped out of the cab because our driver looked like he was having some kind of fit. His body would jerk uncontrollably and we feared for our
lives. We wondered if we got out, how we would get another cab and give instructions. We finally decided he was harmless but probably had Turrets Syndrome. We made it back to our hotel and breathed a sigh of relief. We went immediately to our rooms
because tomorrow was an early workday and we would be hooking up with the remainder of our group in the Shanghai office before heading off to Hangzhou (Hong-Jo).