The second part of the Wuxi trip we went to Turtle Head Peninsula on Tai Lake. It is the most beautiful place of Tai Lake and the name comes from the tip of the peninsula that is shaped like a turtle head! Inside the park are ten famous scenic spots, which include Chongshan Garden, Jiangnan Orchid Garden, Taihu Fairy Islet, and Guangfu Temple.
We only had about an hour to venture through the park, so Collin and I practically sprinted through the different scenic spots. Inside the park was filled with lush vegetation of vines, trees, and vibrant flowers, creating a serene and splendid view for the eyes.
The traditional Taoist culture has influenced this island in many ways of becoming a natural wonderland. The Sanshan Taoist Temple built during the Taibo era (around 3,000 years ago) was actually the only Taoist temple built on an island in China.
Scattered all around the park were these uniquely shaped limestones, I especially liked the checker board carved into a large slab of stone, complete with 4 little stone chairs. Legend has it that the emperor of the Song dynasty nearly bankrupted the country because of his obsession with finding these uniquely shaped limestone rocks. What unusual formations they were indeed!
I saw this alluring women adorned in traditional Chinese silk robe playing the Gu Qin - which is a seven stringed zither with no bridge, I call it an old-fashioned Chinese piano. The notes are strummed by the hand, creating different effects by the skillful techniques of well trained fingers. Confucius was actually a master in this instrument, and said it had powers of enriching the heart and elevating the human spirit.
There were so many different types of flowers, the colors and fragrance permeated throughout the entire park. I couldn't help but snap numerous pictures of their magnificent beauty, I find flowers fascinating. To think that all of their traits were developed soley for evolutionary effects -- with their sweet scents, rich colors, various formations -- they not only attract humans but so many different types of animals and insects too!
A friend once jokingly said -- "Joy you take pictures of food and FLOWERS. You're just like my mom, always snapping random pictures of flowers and trees and plants and stuffs." Gosh, I honestly have NO idea what she's talking about! :) It comes down to the basics for me though, the simplicities of life. The beautiful and pure things that people often overlook throughout the day but never realize their enchanting effects.
9 times out of 10, if I see a beautiful flower I will stop to appreciate it -- whether it's to observe it's exquisite flawless beauty or it's intoxicating smells, it never ceases to amaze me what the world is able to create. Are you diggin the babushka I am sportin on the left? Also note the lack of enthusiasm on my face, that's because sprinting through a freaking GIGANTIC park and then getting LOST in between made Zhang very tired.
Our last stop of the day: Su Zhou. By this time, it was around 7:00 PM, we were all very tired but a wedding dress had to be made people! Most well known for their silk industry, Su Zhou is also heavily populated with wedding factories (score!). As we were taking the city bus to the area, Jiu Ma just so happen to sit next to a young man whose family designed wedding gowns. WELL THANK GOODNESS FOR THAT because upon our arrival, there were THOUSANDS of wedding dress boutiques I honestly don't know where I would've started. It was absolutely overwhelming.
But wait. The story gets better. The minute I walked into the young man's boutique I spotted a dress that was almost IDENTICAL to what I wanted. I couldn't believe my eyes, I literally thought I would be stuck in SuZhou for hours searching through hundreds of thousands of gowns until I found the perfect one. Thankfully all the praying I did in the temples brought me good fortune :). I picked out my dress, made a few modification, took some measurements and BAM I was out in less than an hour. Oh did I also mention that my custom made gown was a whopping $85? Verrry niiice!
After dress shopping we had to grab some grub. We went to the main market center in SuZhou where there were numerous eateries, clothing stores and gift shops. The streets were full of hip youngsters dressed in colorful and ecclectic fashions, I was surprised as to how up to date the youth seemed to be here. I also saw this donut shop, probably the weirdest donut shop I've ever seen. I usually go for the usual glazed and maybe on a good day I'll go for a chocolate glazed with sprinkles. They had crazy flavors like "Italian-style Bacon" (what the heck does Italian bacon taste like??), "Spicy Fluffy" (wow yeah I dont know about that..) and Burberry (Uhm..so would that donut cost like $400?). I did not buy one, I just couldn't -- all these flavors were just too much for me to handle. (Shipley's will always be #1 in my heart.)
The next night, Jiu Ma (#1!) suggested that we check out one of the most famous market areas in Shanghai -- Chenghuang Miao otherwise known as The City God Temple, an area of temples that are reminiscent of old Shanghai. Back then, every Chinese city had a designated Temple of the Town God which served as a shrine for Daoist worship. The temple in Shanghai was named “Cheng Huang Miao” which was devoted to the god of commerce.
However, the temple was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution but thankfully restored during the early 90s. It now has been transformed into one of the largest marketplaces in Shanghai filled with gift shops, restaurants, bulk food shops, basically anything you can think of!
I loved the lighting of the shrines at night -- the structures looked incredibly magestic. It is hard to imagine that long ago these were the buildings people prayed in! The antique Chinese architectural designs really brought you into another dimension of time, especially with the elegantly curved roofs crowning the shrines.
Nestled inside the shrines were individual vendors selling a variety of goods. This woman sold hundreds of different types of Buddhist bracelets and name stamps carved from stone. Back then when people wrote letters, instead of signing their signature they would have a name stamp containing the character of their last name.
This man sold Jian Zhi or Chinese Papercutting, an art practiced since the beginning of the Han dynasty in China when paper was first invented. Back then people who used paper as a means for decoration were considered to be nobels and royalty. Now they are used commonly in every household for decorative use, many families enjoy placing papercuttings by the front door to bring good fortune. One must have much patience and a steady hand to master the art form of Jian Zhi!
This man sold miniature figurines and jewelery made from copper that he made with only a scarce set of tools and his hands. If you look at the bottom left hand corner of the photo on the left, you will notice the miniature little figurines (you can barely see them) but I have blown them up in the picture on the right. The detailing is pretty incredible, the figurine literally fit on the tip of my index finger. He told me it took him about 6 hours to mold each of the miniature figurines, I think it'd take me a solid 6 weeks haha :)
Now. Onto the important stuff...THE FOOD. Oh man, the food possibilities are ENDLESS here. Many people come to Chenghuang Miao for the infamous Xiao Long Bao -- there is a small restaurant here (I do not know the exact address) that serves only Xiao Long Bao. Don't worry, you won't have any trouble finding it once you are here -- just look for the long lines that pour out of their doors (the wait could be as long as an hour sometimes!).
We actually went to the main food court for their wide range of options. They serve hundreds of different types of traditional Shanghainese dishes -- think lots of seafood, dim sum, soups, and steamed dumplings. The woman in the photo above is serving "Tang Yuan", tiny glutinous rice balls served in a steaming hot broth sweetened by Jiu Nian or fermented rice. Some tang yuans are filled with traditional fillings like black sesame, red bean, etc. The weird picture on the top right is Lotus Root stuffed with Glutinous Rice -- for those of you who have never had Lotus Root it's delicious. It's the root of the beautiful Lotus flower -- with a very slimy but crunchy texture and slightly sweet nature, it is often stuffed with glutinous rice soaked in soy sauce and steamed to a wondrous perfection.
There were so many different types of crab -- I honestly had no idea what kind they were. The common crab we have here in Texas would be the blue crab and other than that I don't see much else. Here they had square shaped crabs, trapezoidal (is that a word?) shaped crabs, tiny round looking crabs -- I mean there were a lot of freaking crabs dude!
But don't panic non seafood eaters, there's plenty more to choose from. They also had a variety of fried foods -- fried chicken wings, tempura vegetables, fried fish cakes, fried rice cakes as well as various types of chow mein, soup noodles, cold noodles, hot noodles... I think even the pickiest of all picky eaters would be able to find something here.
They also had a HUGE selection of dimsum, some things I recognized other things I hadn't a clue. They had Xiao Long Baos, Glutinous Rice wrapped in Bamboo Leaves, various types of Puddings, Steamed Cakes and Desserts, different kinds of steamed dumplings, it was seriously the most intense dim sum spread I've ever seen. Mind boggling.
Unfortunately, the dishes we picked actually weren't that great. The weather was really cold that day, and they don't really use heaters here so all of our food was cold by the time we brought it back to our table :( Better luck next time as one would say!
With full tummys and empty pockets, we headed home to enjoy a homecooked meal from Jiu-jiu. The livin is good in Shanghai! :) My last installment will be more family photos, more food of course and any other random blurbs (they are pretty random...) If you have any questions about the places I've been or good places to eat in Shanghai, feel free to contact me!