By BASIL and THERESA WIJASURIYA
A journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step. These words from Lao Tzu became a mantra for my husband Basil and me as events unfolded before us in the weeks ahead of our trip to China.
We had a pleasant surprise when Basil received an e-mail from Star Media Group in late March to say that he had won a five-day, four-night tour of Hangzhou, Suzhou, Shanghai, and Wuzhen in China for two people.
While sorting out our travel plans, we realised that there might be some challenges for us, especially since we did not speak Mandarin. Fortunately, all our fears went away once we were finally on the trip in May. The people in our group – there were 38 of us – were nice and generous, lending a helping hand every now and then.
It was drizzling slightly when we landed at Hangzhou Xiaoshan International Airport, but not freezing cold. From there, we went to Suzhou first, and it was a fairly long trip. We noticed stretches of colourful flowers and ornamental shrubs along the way.
Once at the town, we stopped at Guan Qian Street, which has been in existence since the 1930s. The tour guide told us we were free to roam around for a bit. We teamed up with another elderly couple and looked for something to eat for dinner, finally ending up with dumplings in soup.
The next morning, we were taken to a place called the Couples Retreat Garden. Here we wandered around, admiring the different trees, shrubs and some flowers. The gardens were mostly built by scholars, over a period of a thousand years.
Later we went on a short cruise around the canals. Our boat operator sang a folk song, and we felt like we could be in Venice!
We were off to a silk factory next to see how silk was made. We bought a few embroidered silk handkerchiefs as souvenirs.
In Shanghai, we had a “nasi” dinner as the guide called it. It was a meal of rice, steamed river fish, prawns and some vegetables.
We took in an acrobatic show later and marvelled at the sound and light displays. The backdrop was constantly changing, from the Great Wall of China to trees to a sunset scene and more. A Chinese opera singer took to the stage too, wearing an elaborate costume.
Also part of the show was a motor act, where a group of riders rode inside a huge globe. The audience was enthralled. After the show, we walked around to see Shanghai city’s lighted areas, especially the Bund, and the Oriental Pearl Tower.
We had a nice foot massage the next day at a pharmaceutical company, where the people there also gave us a short talk on the qualities of traditional Chinese medicine.
After that, we moved on to Wuzhen, where we were put up at a homestay. The area is known as the Wuzhen Cultural Water Village, and we stayed in buildings that were hundreds of years old, but with modern facilities.
What a breakfast we had the next morning. The homestay operator and his staff cooked all the food for everyone. The great care they took to cater to our breakfast needs was commendable.
Our last stop was at Hangzhou. We were a little sad that our holiday was ending but happy that we shared some life experiences in our short time together.
In Hangzhou, we went to the West Lake, a Unesco Heritage Site. Here, at the top of a slight hill, there were beautiful flowers arranged in floral patterns and it was breathtaking. The guide also showed us a pagoda built on a small island and told us a sad legend involving two lovers. At the Longjing Tea Plantation, the terraces of tea plants and shrubs were interesting to see.
After a satisfying dinner, we went to the Song Dynasty City theme park, one of the top 10 scenic spots in South China. Located in the south western part of West Lake, it was designed to look like China during the Song Dynasty. The streets in the theme park were lined with stores and restaurants designed to look “ancient”.
The next morning we were back at the airport, ready to fly. We were happy to return home, but in our hearts we were sad to leave our bus, our group and China.
The views expressed are entirely the reader’s own.