Text and images by Michael Schmidt.
Today has been the longest but most memorable day yet. Still suffering from jet lag I woke up at around 4am with no hope of falling back to sleep. My sleep patterns are not right yet. I am finally getting used to the locals asking about my tattoos and taking pictures with me. I actually don’t mind it and people are really fun and welcoming here. It is kind of liberating to not have a cell phone or go on Facebook.
The crew met in front of the hotel at 9am sharp to set out on our daily adventure. First stop was the food market, a huge warehouse that consisted of various hanging meats, fish, chicken coops, and the freshest vegetables I have seen in a single space. My favorite part was the chicken coop section because the workers back there had fun seeing my reaction when they choked the dead, skinned chickens and slapped them down on the countertop. We had a way of communicating by acting silly, something that I am really good at. You can have fun with people even if you can’t communicate with them verbally. I have learned to use a lot of sign language, smiling and laughing with people. Sometimes I will even high five them and they love that. This is fun stuff!
We photographed the food market for about fifteen minutes and then got back on the bus to head out to the ancient towns of Zhujiajiao and Suzhou. These are water towns on the outskirts of Shanghai. It reminded me of when I was in Venice, Italy, because all of the traveling was via boat or walking through alleyways and over bridges. There are no cars or mopeds, which was quite a relief. It was a very peaceful place to be. I ended up buying some goldfish from an old woman who insisted I set them free for good luck. The group gathered around while I poured my goldfish into the pond. The rest of the day was destined to be a good one as luck was now on my side.
After the pouring of the goldfish we took a beautiful scenic boat ride on one of the canals through the town. It was a great way to view the historic buildings, relax and reflect on our trip.
By the end of the boat ride everyone was really hungry so we stopped at a local noodle and dumpling spot. The dumplings are really fantastic here so we usually order a few rounds of them so everyone gets fat, happy and tired. It really showed when we were back on the bus. I took a look back and everyone was passed out so I took some pictures of them.
Next stop was the Master of Nets Garden in Suzhou, a place of preserved architecture and an example of traditional Chinese garden design. There were many beautiful rock outcroppings and pavilions. The wall designs are remarkable and they allow sunlight to pass through them, creating beautiful light patterns, which is eye candy for a photographer especially.
We aren’t done yet! The most memorable part of the day for me was the Suzhou embroidery factory, where you will find the best Chinese silk embroidery. This is an incredible art and I commend them for their patience and skill. I photographed the artists while they were doing the embroidering. It was as if they were in a meditative state and did not realized a group of photographers were in the room, snapping away with their loud shutters and tank sized cameras. There is a lot to appreciate in their single and double-sided silk embroidery. If I had the money I would have purchased the silk embroidered piece of Van Gogh. These pieces are very expensive but it is a dedicated art and skill so they should be.
It’s now time to head back home; tomorrow is another big day for me. A special thanks to our tour guide Henry, who has provided us with so much extensive knowledge thus far. I really like when Henry says “beyond recognition”. I think he really likes to say it too. Henry and I get along quite well.