Yuyuan Gardens has been a marketplace since the 18th century. Now it is mostly a tourist spot filled with jewelry stores and booths selling things like "the national instrument," which our hosts' son mastered pretty quickly by playing it exactly like a recorder. There are old ladies demonstrating children's toys that you fling 50 feet in the air, which is both amusing to watch and also kind of sad that they're still selling trinkets for pennies for long, grinding, loud days at that age. I guess it's a good microcosm of China as a whole. There are rich tourists and expensive jewelry stores surrounding poor merchants selling cheap crap that will break in a week, all wrapped in beautiful buildings, a pond and a square that have been around since the Ming dynasty.
We walked through the square and I practiced my cynical tourist act with the catalogue people. I look away and keep walking. When someone was particularly persistent, one of my hosts would angrily shoo them away.
Our restaurant was housed in one of those old Ming dynasty buildings and it was incredible inside. On the way up the stairs to our private room were pictures of Bill and Hilary Clinton, Fidel Castro, a premier of the former Czechoslovakia. Anyone who was important enough to show off to in Shanghai has eaten there, and now, they've condescended to me too. The meal was delicious as has been everything I've eaten in China. But, also every meal has a story. Our host is a very wealthy man, and he talks about how there are two kinds of business man in China. Those that just want material possessions and those who want to elevate the country. He is in the latter category and so, he is very proud of his country. Every dish we had, he told us about the history of the dish and whether it was a traditional dish and what part of the animal it was from and how in China they don't waste anything.
Sometime during the meal my roommate and I were presented with lavish gifts that we don't deserve but were very grateful for. In China, it is traditional to present guests with gifts. He explained that the value doesn't matter, but it is very important. Every step of the way he along with everyone else involved has made us feel special and welcome and honoured. I just hope I can somehow earn the above and beyond treatment somehow.