monkeys in shanghai, onwards to suzhou and chinese punk rockbeing dragged around my first day on the visa errand was a wonderfully random and unplanned introduction to shanghai, involving lots of bus trips on a transportation system that is exponentially larger and infinitely more arcane than nyc's. you can ride on over 1,100 bus lines, costing about 2 yuan each ride - that's worth about 25 us cents. there is no such thing as a route map at the bus stop - you just have to know where the bus goes, or be able to speak fluent shanghainese or mandarin to ask. the alternative is to consult a route book of the bus system, which is about the size of a telephone directory. on some buses, there's a cranky lady that walks around, squeezing through the tiny gaps between the hundred or so people crammed onto the bus to collect the fare (the driver just drives). without the trips to the visa office, and the random wandering while waiting for our queuing ticket number to come up (there were over 200 people ahead of us) - i would never have passed by the shanghai version of monkeys by the road...
the next day we took the train to suzhou, one of the old-style canal towns about an hour's ride from shanghai. suzhou is famous for its role in silk production but also for its amazing gardens, several of which are over five hundred years old (!) my dad had told me that suzhou could be done in a day - it was apparent pretty immediately that what he should have said was each garden in suzhou could be done in a day. we visited both the humble administrator's garden and lion grove - both of which are unesco world heritage sites. the gardens are a bit crowded (suzhou is a huge tourism center, the second you step off the train you are offered 'special' deals on everything from a bike or a bus ride to hotel rooms and guided tours), but are totally worth it. classical chinese gardens are full of little groves and niches and gorgeous meandering paths, with amazing juxtapositions of landscape and architecture everywhere.
the humble administrator's garden was hardly humble - with dozens of little buildings, streams, bamboo islands and formal plantings spread out over five hectares. there was also a massive bonsai collection at the nursery there, which is definitely worth checking out. lion's grove is smaller but seemed much larger, as it houses an amazing labyrinth of rock tunnels and caves.
yes, all the roof tiles are really made of clay.
that evening, after taking the train back to shanghai, shane (another awesome canadian!) took us to an amazing show at the local bar on the corner, SUS2, which apparently, is also known as the Gua'er Music Bar. the first band was a bit discouraging - a bizarre art metal group that was mostly posturing - but the beijing bands really rocked out - amazing passion and energy, even if i couldn't totally understand what they were saying. between this show and the show from my first night in shanghai, i was thoroughly impressed by the chinese music scene. the listing lies - the show was not free but the ticket did come with a beer. unfortunately the following week shane told us that SUS2 had closed due to money issues. crazy.
the only thing possibly crazier, is that a quick google search for one of the beijing bands turned up a picture of the show that we were at! (same picture below). the google translation of the original web page is also very funny. jesse and i are standing by the bar behind all the people in the right side background - that's his white short sleeved shirt and my arm on the edge of the picture, just behind the headbanging kid who looks like he's asleep. i love "experimetal noise".
Ma Fei San and Si Xian Fang Ge
Friday, September 23, 2005 (7:00 PM)
Gua'er Music Bar
2150 Siping Rd (corner of Guoding Rd) (Google Maps, Yahoo! Maps)
”ＥＭＯ－ＣＯＲＥ，ＨＡＲＤＣＯＲＥ，ＡＣＩＤ，ＰＯＳＴ－ＰＵＮＫ，ＰＯＳＴ－ＲＯＣＫ．ＥＸＰＥＲＩＭＥＴＡＬ ＮＯＩＳＥ ＡＮＤ ＭＯＲＥ“
"DISAPPEAR WITHOUT A TRACE" TOUR, SHANGHAI STOP
Place: the Gua'er Music Bar, corner of Siping & Guoding Rds
Time: September 23rd, 7pm
* Guhuaji (Shanghai)
* S.L.I.T. (metal, Shanghai)
* Mafeisan ("anesthetic powder in Chinese Traditional Medicine", Beijing)
* Si Xian Fang Ge (some sort of four-sided checker-pattern, Beijing)