18.10.2009 - 18.10.2009
They call Zhouzhuang the Venice of China. We went there our first day, leaving at 8:30 am. The traffic going out of Shanghai was unbelievable. But it was so interesting just looking at everything from the bus. Backing up a bit, the Shanghai office arranged a tour for us and two of the girls who work there met us for the tour with a guide. I was shocked when I walked out and there was a big bus... a FINISAR bus! It was funny, all of us Americans were just goofy with suprise and pride, taking pictures of the bus. Joe, our GM was laughing at us like we were idiots... he's been here many times.
I got a wheelchair at the airport since my hip makes it hard for me to walk long distances and torture to stand in line. I felt so embarrassed but my colleagues were thrilled because the wheel chair allowed us to skip all the lines and go right through immigration control and the health screen. The line was really long and Chinese don't really get the whole queing thing. It saved us at least an hour. We were met by my Shanghai HR Director who had a van for us and zipped us to our hotel, the Parkyard Hotel. It doesn't have a website so I can't show you but it's quite fantastic. It's got a luxurious lobby and a gym, spa, pool, gardens, a very nice restaurant, a wonderful buffet breakfast that has everything you could ever want; made to order omlets, all kinds of breads, cheeses, fruits, bacon, eggs, hash browns, etc., then a whole variety of Asian foods. The people who work in the hotel are incredibly kind and helpful. And no tipping! I can't walk out into the lobby before someone runs over to take my computer bag for me. My room is great. I have a suite with a separate sitting room and desk area, a large bathroom with a huge tub and a walk in shower, robe, slipper, all the extra lotions etc., free wi-fi, and a really comfy king bed in the bedroom. This is my first free time to relax in my room without having to hurry and go to sleep.
Right after check in we walked to a restaurant nearby and had a huge feast of something like 20 different dishes. I can't even begin to tell you what we had. Christine took pictures of everything and is going to share them with me. Some I skipped; the jelly fish for one. Some were delicious. We were so tired I don't even remember much of it. There were about 20 of us around a huge table in a private room.
The trip to ZhouZhuang was fun. The girls brought a wheelchair for me which again horrified me but boy was I glad. We were there for about 6 hours and there was a lot of walking. Everyone took turns pushing me and the "cobbles" were not wheelchair friendly. A couple times I thought I was going to be flung into the canals! And there were lots of bridges that I had to get out and walk over, crookedy stairs with no rails. But the funny thing was everyone was weirdly solicitous and perfect strangers were grabbing my arms and hoisting me along! I could have managed on my own but nobody would stop helping me. At one point a big group of students all came by and had to have their pictures taken with me individually. It was the weirdest thing! Susan and Sheila had the same thing happen so we think it was because we were Caucasian. There really weren't other Caucasians there, even though the place was packed with people. We stopped at a place for lunch, a second floor restaurant. Me: "I'm ok, I can do it." Strangers: grabbing me and hauling me up the stairs. Another feast of unrecognizable and delicious foods. Things just kept coming out and out and out; a big fish that had been turned inside out, and deep fried so it looked almost like a fish awesome blossom. It was yummy. A pot with a whole chicken in it. A pork thing that was sold everywhere in the town and was really good. Some slimey green things I didn't try.
The drive back to Shanghai took forever with unbelievable traffic and crazy driving. There are bikes and motorbikes and people pulling wagons and people pushing wagons and people pushing people and you name it. They cut in and out of traffic with crazy abandon. Merges take your breath away. We were in giggles in the bus. The bus took us to the Bund where we had another wild wheelchair escapade to a boat where we had a buffet dinner and took a sail up and down the river. Shanghai at night rivals Las Vegas. It's a neon extravaganza. This place is NOT handicap friendly. The wheelchair rides left me feeling more beat up than ever because they were downright bone shaking.
The other thing is public bathrooms.... the hole in the floor variety. Even at the office they have 2 toilets and one hole in the floor. Hello. Not for me. I will hold it all day. :-O
The ride back from the office today was the craziest drive so far. These people are the most random drivers I've ever seen. More honking than ever and crazy passing, merging, and lights... they are mere a hint of a suggestion. People on bikes with people sidesaddle on the back - nursing a baby! I wish I had gotten a picture of that! The Chinese as a whole seem like an overwhelming mass of craziness. But every single one I've dealt with one on one has been amazing and lovely. I've never seen such accomodating people. My team here is really special, as are the three ladies from Malaysia. The guy from Texas and the guy from Australia are a bit different, but the Asian ladies are great. Sheila and Christine went out shopping tonight with a couple of them for translaters and negotiators. I sent along money and a shopping list. Susan has a massage appointment. I have a dinner appointment with the HR Director from Malaysia. She wanted one on one time.
The dinner last night was surreal. I truly don't understand why I could be treated as such a VIP and it was almost embarrassing. I know it's part of this culture and it was very much like I have read in CultureShock China but seriously I was treated like Obama or Queen Elizabeth. Everyone was introduced to me and I had to taste everything first. It was quite an experience. I'm not one who likes to have the attention focused on me so it was not particularly comfortable! And there was a step into the room so I had the six people grabbing me to help me up the step! Hey, maybe I should get them to prop me up while I pee in the hole!
I have to say this time is so intense and full of experiences, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and people... I wish I could slow down and take it in better. When I think of the contrast to my relaxing two weeks in Italy! But this is a work trip, not a vacation.
One more thing about the food; in China they provide lunch for all employees. They bring in these boxes (like Bento boxes) with hot lunches. I am so full all the time! I have no idea how to count WW points. But mostly everything is a bite or two of something. I skipped breakfast this morning.