Monday, July 6, 2015

Visitors in China!

For the last 3 years, ever since we moved to Suzhou, I have been trying to convince the world and its brother to come visit us here. My very convincing arguments have ranged from how the Great Wall should be on everyone's bucket list, to how beautiful Suzhou is, not to mention the convenience of having someone's house to use as a base - come on, next destination, China!! Alas, not many people are inclined to believe the rosy picture I painted, and the standard response to my sales-pitch is usually a very skeptical "Really, China? Who goes to China?"!!

We have, of course, had our standard quota of visitors - Ajey's parents, Anand Kaka & Kamala Kaku and my parents. A couple of friends traveling for business who dropped in to visit. But no full-fledged China tourists - until this year!! Well, to be very precise, our visitor bonanza started in November - when our D Kaka arrived in China with a tourist group. He was with a group, and these tour groups have such tight schedules - we didn't really have too much time to spend together. After a lot of back and forth, we had to drop the idea of him coming to Suzhou - instead we decided to meet him in Shanghai for lunch and then - what else! - shopping in AP Plaza!!

April brought us the D family - Ajey's classmates from COEP and their 2 kids. Over a flurry of emails, their itinerary took shape - Beijing and Xian, of course, and local Suzhou and Shanghai sightseeing with us. It so happened that the week before they flew to China, Ajey was in the US - and he was to fly back to Shanghai the same day as they did. So it was just me to receive our friends at Pudong - except I wasn't entirely sure if it was Pudong or Hongqiao!! So there I was, in the Arrivals lounge - I only knew they were in a Cathay flight from Hongkong that was to land in Shanghai at 10am. By noon, I was convinced I was at the wrong airport - especially after I found out that there was a Cathay flight arriving at Hongqiao at about the same time as Pudong. Should I go....but what if it was Pudong after all?? An agonizing 30 minutes later, the D's finally walked out! Whew!!

Next couple of days were a whirlwind of activity. An evening walk to Ligongdi to see the beautiful lights of Suzhou. A morning at the Chao Yuan temple - another giant Buddha, a bit smaller than the Lingshan Buddha, but a lot closer to home, and also a lot cheaper!! Kite-flying and a picnic by the lake. Then the touristy Suzhou - Old Town, Shantang Jie, Guanqian Jie - a lot of photo-ops, a bit of shopping, exhausted kids!! The best part, of course, was the late night chats - years to catch up on, sharing experiences, reliving memories, and lots of laughter!

Shanghai, we wanted to stay until the lights came on in the evening - so we left a little later after a heavy brunch. First stop, 580 Nanjing - bring on the shopping!! It's always fun to take someone to one of the Shanghai markets for the first time! From Elsa dresses to Messi shirts, electronics to handicrafts and of course, all the fake brands - A&F, Coach, Nike, Rolex - you name it, and it's here - and it's incredibly hard to wrap up and leave - there's always that last bargain, that must-have wallet, those one-of-a-kind sunglasses!! It was off to the Bund then, and the Bund sight-seeing Tunnel to the Pearl Tower. Too bad the weather wasn't ideal - the gorgeous skyline was barely visible. Next morning, the Ds flew to Beijing, and then on to Xian. And then we left for Boracay, so didn't see them back in Shanghai!! Just 2 days - but such a lot of fun!! Until next time, Ds!!

Soon after, it was the Bs turn to visit us - SB, of course, is quite literally Ajey's oldest friend. The last time we saw them was in Dubai, a lot of fond memories from that time!! This time around, we had the paperwork for the visa all ready, and our itinerary had been tried and tested (thanks Ds!)! So the initial planning went off quite smoothly - only to hit a snag when SB fell sick. They came close to canceling their plans, and we weren't sure when their visit could be rescheduled - luckily, in the end they were delayed only by a couple of weeks!! Once again, I headed to the Pudong - this time I made sure I had all the flight details before I left home. So, at the right airport, at the right time - inevitable that the incoming flight was delayed!! So, once they landed, we dropped our initial plan of going to the Bund, and headed straight home!

That weekend, Manasi was headed to Beijing for Fobisia - which meant that Ajey and I were headed to Beijing too!! So, in the end, the delay in our friend's vacation turned out to be for the best. We could all go to Beijing together, stay at the same hotel - during the day, Ajey and I went to watch Manasi, and the Bs went off sight-seeing - worked out perfectly!! We didn't get tickets for the train from Suzhou, so we had booked the overnight sleeper from Shanghai - which meant a day of shopping before we left for Beijing. We didn't plan any sightseeing that day - so that they could shop to their heart's content - which they did!! The train was fun, as always!! We had a little cabin all to ourselves - and little AB thought it was a great adventure, jumping between the berths!!

From Beijing, we headed back home - and the Bs took the bullet train to Xian to enjoy the Terracotta Warriors. They were back in Suzhou a couple of days later - but our Suzhou sightseeing was limited by torrential rains. We just made it to Shantang Jie to get the perfect Suzhou canals photo - but that was it! Another day for Shanghai, of course - can't skip the Bund!! Gave us tons of time at home - and the Bs were only too happy to relax - good food, great conversation - what more can you wish for?? Their visit was over far too soon - but we meet again, hopefully this summer in Pune?? And yes, it's becoming a tradition now - the matching 'lao peng you' T-shirts!!

Yes, really - China, Suzhou in particular, is a wonderful place to visit - still not too late to start making plans!! Don't wait too long, though - we won't be living there forever!! 

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