Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Debut Trip to China!

Given an option, I would probably have never chosen China as a potential holiday destination since I did not have the best impression of the place and its people.  However, after this chance trip, I think I can say those are now things of the past - I would not mind making a second visit back to this country.  So it's really true that one shouldn't be too quick to dismiss something until you've tried it firsthand.  You could end up pleasantly surprised, and if not, well at least now you know!

This trip was part of a group tour, so accomodations and transportation were all pre-arranged.  I'm therefore unable to provide information on getting to-and-fro places, unfortunately.

SIN to CHINA, Shanghai
Having grown accustomed to travelling via budget airlines, the flight to China via Singapore Airlines this round was a really refreshing one.  This was my first flight out from Terminal 3, a very pleasant and quiet scene compared to the usual hubbub going on in Terminals 1 & 2.  Come to think of it, this is probably my first time flying SQ as well!  And since I do not have the luxury of travelling so extravagantly all the time, it will probably be some time before I get to fly SQ again.. :(

Singapore Changi Airport, Terminal 3
SQ Boarding Lounge, wow!

The flight up from Singapore to China, Shanghai, is approximately 5 hours and 20 minutes.  There is no time difference between the two cities.  We left Singapore around 1 A.M. and arrived in Shanghai's Pudong International Airport*, Terminal 2 around 6.30 A.M.  Clearing customs was relatively a breeze, and we were out of the airport in under an hour (time includes disembarkation, waiting for luggage).  Am not too sure if the process was always this smooth, but I'm sure recently being the host of the World Expo this year helped some.

Arrival in Shanghai on a lovely autumn morning!
Pudong International Airport, Terminal 2

*Shanghai has 2 international airports - 虹桥机场Hongqiao International Airport and 浦东机场Pudong International Airport; today Pudong acts as the primary international airport.  Unfortunately at this point in time, it seems that the website is available only in Chinese.  Google's Translate service does a pretty good job of translating the site into English though.  Else, you may also get a Chinese literate friend to help decipher the information for you!

Located south-west of Shanghai, Suzhou is a 2½-3 hour car ride away.  A faster way would be via train, which should take under an hour. This page seems like a very good start if you'd like to know more about travelling via trains in China!

Also known as Surging Sea Hill.  A relatively small area to cover, allocate about 1 hour for a tour here.  Things of interest here are some rocks with interesting folklore/history attached to them; 千人石 Thousand People Rock; 剑池 Sword Pool; 云岩寺塔 Yuyuan Pagoda - a 7 storey pagoda which has a bit of a lean to one side, and is said to precedent the world famous leaning tower of Pisa in Italy.  The pagoda's lean is most obvious from a specially setup vantage point which is near the edge of the garden, across the foot of stairs leading up towards the pagoda.  Overall, Tiger Hill was just another touristy place to visit to me.  Unless you are well learned/interested in Chinese poetry/calligraphy which form the essence of Tiger Hill, this place will probably not leave a deep impression on you either.

Tiger Hill in the autumn

What's within

Signboard: Big Victory of Wu on this Soil / leaning Yuyuan Pagoda

Bits of Chinese history in stone/metal

Also known as the Couple's Garden Retreat; part of the Classical Gardens of Suzhou which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  In historical times, the place was originally referred to as the Lotus Garden, also read as OuYuan, as the Chinese word for lotus has a similar sound: 藕(Ǒu).  The two words are similar in writing, but bear different meanings.  It was later renamed to Couple's Garden Retreat, as the layout of the place consists of two gardens, and also the word 耦 has the same meaning as the word for a human couple, 偶.  Fun fact:  The romantic connotation and ambience of this garden have made it a popular spot for holding match-making events in current day!


Our tour also included a Canal Boat Ride, which I felt was a bit of an emotional blackmail thingie.  On a very short boat ride (like just up and down a short 100m stretch of the canal), the boatman/woman would sing for you.  Before the ride, the guide told us some sob story about these boatman/women, and you're not obliged to, but you can give the boatman/woman a tip on your way out if you liked their singing.  Uhh, okay.  So if after listening to that sob story, I don't give a tip, I'm gonna look like a poor excuse of a human being?  I understand though, that life in the poorer provinces is hard.  This not being my first exposure to less fortunate living, I wasn't taken aback by the blatant extortion, but was still a bit repulsed by it as always.  I like to part with my money on my own free will, instead of being told I should.  Like if the boats had a little tin with a sign saying something like 'Fill me if you liked my singing!', instead of the guides relaying sob stories, I'm sure more people would be more willing to fill that tin on their own free will.  It's not like we think these folk are rowing the boats for the love of it, duh.


Comparable to Singapore's budget hotels' standards, but perhaps still a 3-star by local standards.  Oddly nice quadrangle area to bask in the morning sunshine on a cool autumn morning though.  Not sure if the hotel has non-smoking rooms, but the room we got reeked badly of cigarette smoke - ah, welcome to China, where smokers can run free, even in air-conditioned spaces.  I think I breathed in more 2nd hand smoke in the 9 days I spent in China than in the last 9 months back home.  In fact, I think I was even beginning to miss it a bit by the time I left China... *GASP!* -_-"


Raves:  Nice quadrangle area, clean toilet.
Rants:  Filthy carpeting, non-smoke free room, flat pillows.
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