The Maybe Not So Humble Administrator’s Garden

上海 Blog #10

二零一五年五月三十号星期四六

Saturday May 30th, 2015

Local Time: 21:00 Shanghai Time

I was woken today by a knock at the door around 8 o’clock. A kind little maid began rapid fire Mandarin-ing me upon the door’s opening. Having little idea what she was saying, I began asking her for three towels only to realize I didn’t actually know the world for towel, nor the word for toilet paper, which we also needed. So, I resolved the situation by pointing to the towels on her cart and insisting这个 (this one).

So, for everyone’s benefit, here is your Mandarin lesson for the day:

Towel is毛巾, pronounced Máojīn (Ma-oh-jeen) and toilet paper is卫生纸, pronounced Wèishēngzhǐ (way-shun-jer). Also, bonus word is soap because I’m sure I will need to ask for another bar soon. The characters are肥皂 and the pronunciation is Féizào (Fay-dza-oh).

The bus to 苏州 (SuZhou) left at 9am. SuZhou is a small city by Shanghai standards, home to about 10.5 million versus Shanghai’s 24.25 million (New York City only has 8.5 million). Shanghai’s total area is 2,448 square miles, and SuZhou’s total area is 3,277 square miles (New York City’s area is about 470 square miles). These cities are massive, although SuZhou did seem way more compact. Let me just say we were driving through Shanghai for absolutely ever before we finally hit SuZhou’s city limits.

After a brief lecture on SuZhou’s history and modernity from a professor from a nearby University, we dined family style at a relatively upscale location. The meal featured SuZhou’s staples of fish and rice. The fresh water fish (pictured below) unsettled my juvenile tastes a little bit, but I ate it anyway and it wasn’t bad.

We had free time after lunch to explore the shops and museums up and down the city’s main Canal. Finding a few souvenirs that caught my fancy, I obtained my first experience at haggling with a shopkeeper. I think the man gave me bonus points for bargaining in Mandarin, although he and I both stuck to our guns and drove a hard bargain. I ended up getting what I wanted for less than $4 so I’m not going to complain. I talked to Mark and Zhai老师 later who both had tips on haggling. Mark said never pay over 30% of the original asking price. Zhai老师 said if you walk away, they’ll given you almost any slightly reasonable price you ask for (sorry about the preposition). I sort of want to give those techniques a try. Other people on the trip don’t bother haggling. They look at buying things at price from the street vendors as a sort of charity case. I don’t know, maybe their right, but I actually want to try living like a local and not a relatively “rich” American while I’m here. Besides, I find haggling novel, interesting (I am an economist after all) and kind of fun.

A short but traffic packed bus ride later, we came to the Humble Administrator’s Garden. Designed to be a quiet retreat for an emperor’s administrator post retirement, this sprawling paradise was anything but humble. The place was packed with tourists of all sorts: Chinese, Japanese, Taiwanese, Korean, Indian, Italian, French and American. It must have taken us an hour and a half, maybe even two, to traverse most of it. The scenery was beautiful, but the atmosphere was disrupted by the bustle of tourism.

I had a great conversation with Zhai 老师 about music. It turns at she and I both have very similar music tastes from our love of 韓红 to 空白格. I’m looking forward to singing karaoke with her later on in the program.

The garden’s exit dumped us out to the entrance of the SuZhou Historical Museum. Not going to lie, this being our third day straight of museums, I wasn’t too intrigued. However, the museum building itself was designed by the same dude who designed the Louvre, so the architecture alone captured my interest. In particular, a beautiful pagoda surrounded by a large, lily-pad-full koi pond was a lovely place to chill.

Dinner was another cop out of Spaghetti at “Mr. Pizza” in downtown SuZhou. It was pretty cool walking up and down the streets thinking to myself the city predates Christ. Pretty mind blowing.

Fair warning about some but not all of the public toilets in China. Some public bathrooms are just like normal western bathrooms, complete with complimentary throne, toilet paper, sink and soap. Others, like one I ran into in a SuZhou mall, are lacking toilet paper, soap and any height to the actual toilet seat itself. Essentially, you have to figure out how to orient yourself around a hole in the ground, without the luxury of wiping when done. It’s yet another adventure. You’ve been sufficiently warned.

As a side note, I feel like in China, my motto has become “I’m in an eternal state of….”. For example, I would say in China I’m in an eternal state of…..

  • Not understanding 90% of what people say to me.
  • Needing a shower.
  • Talking with pantomime like gestures.
  • Almost getting hit by a car, bus, motorbike or wave of people.
  • Being stared at.
  • Finding pleasure and adventure in monotonous or mundane activities.
  • Wanting a picture.
  • Feeling content, but not too full after eating.
  • Being thirsty for water.
  • Missing friends and family in U.S.
  • Wishing I could stay longer in China.
  • Loving lacking access to smart phone.
  • Wanting to learn more Mandarin.
  • Being thankful I speak English natively.
  • Wanting to buy souvenirs
  • Wanting to buy food
  • Wanting to talk to Chinese people
Me In Garden's Pagoda
Me In Garden’s Pagoda
Me in Garden's Doorway
Me in Garden’s Doorway
Bao Bao in SuZhou Bamboo Natural Habitat
Bao Bao in SuZhou Bamboo Natural Habitat
Bao Bao at SuZhou Canal
Bao Bao at SuZhou Canal
Bao Bao At Humble Admin's Garden
Bao Bao At Humble Admin’s Garden
Bao Bao And Dragon Friend
Bao Bao And Dragon Friend
Woman In Traditional Chinese Dress
Woman In Traditional Chinese Dress
SuZhou Museum Koi Pond
SuZhou Museum Koi Pond
SuZhou Fresh Water Fish
SuZhou Fresh Water Fish