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Goodbye Hangzhou. Hello Wuxi, Suzhou, & Shanghai!

We've arrived in Shanghai after a busy weekend. We met on Saturday morning at school and said a tearful goodbye to the host families. It was nice to see what a connection everyone had made during the week with their host families.

We took our bus to Wuxi and arrived just in time for lunch. During lunch, the chaperones were impressed by how adventurous our students are with eating. There were many new dishes on the table, including several fish specialities of Wuxi, and most of the children were not afraid to try them out. The lake in Wuxi, Tai Lake, is the third largest in China, and the silverfish is caught there. This small fish is long and thin almost like a worm. It was in several of the dishes we had for lunch such as soup and egg custard.

After lunch we went to the Three Kingdoms Studios that is like Wuxi's own Universal Studios. We saw some interesting set pieces and had a fun time playing on "the best playground ever," which was supposedly part of the training grounds for some of the Chinese military, at least in the movies. It had rope ladders, walls to climb, rings like monkey bars, swings, slides, and more. From there we took a boat ride on the lake in an ancient warship.

We left the studios and headed to the largest Buddah statue in Wuxi. It is a beautiful statue high up on the mountainside. There is an enormous garden and park surrounding it. We walked around the grounds and took photos of the statue. We arrived in time to watch the fountain show. The top of the fountain is a lotus flower that opens as music plays and water sprays in synchronization. A statue of baby Buddah emerges from the flower and turns around to see everyone before the lotus closes back up, and the fountain stops. Many people were waiting by the edge of the fountain with empty bottles or cups in order to catch "the water from the gods" as it came out of the various spouts on the side. Apparently, this water will then be used to either cleanse the person or for him to drink in order to make him healthy and strong. However, it certainly didn't look very clean after running through the fountain.

From the fountain show, we went to the Sun Temple and explored inside. Before you can even enter, you must put on shoe covers. This temple is where Buddhists from all over the world gather for events. It was beautiful inside with several different ornate rooms, intricate carvings, statues, and decorative ceilings. When we came out of the temple, we were greeted by the sun setting behind the mountain. We drove to Suzhou, had a late dinner, and collapsed into bed to get ready for another busy day.

This morning, after a great night's sleep and breakfast in the hotel, we explored Suzhou. We started at the Lion Forest Garden, a private garden for the rich and powerful. This garden would have been owned by a former government official and enjoyed after his retirement. Many things in the garden were symbols for ideas that contradicted the emperor. One was not allowed to speak out against the emperor, so these symbols served as a way to show one's political views without the consequences. There were several rooms, one for men only and another for women, and the garden had stone from the Tai Lake and also beautiful flowers.

We went to the Seven Mile Shantang River for a boat ride. This river is actually a man made canal built for the emperor, so he could travel faster to go on vacation. Suzhou is often called the Venice of China because the majority of the city is on water. We travelled by boat through the oldest part of the city to the local market. When we got off the boat, it was clear that this was as authentic an experience as we were going to get. There were people everywhere in the small market street buying their daily groceries. There were stalls with fruits and vegetables, all kinds of nuts, eggs with chicks still inside, and fish still splashing in buckets. The sights, sounds, and smells were overwhelming. When we reached the end of this local market street, we split into our groups to do some souvenir shopping on the second half of the street that was filled with shops for tourists. The students (and the chaperones) were excited to purchase some fun souvenirs. We shopped for about an hour and then met up for lunch.

We had a quick lunch in another restaurant where the locals were fascinated by our group that looked foreign but spoke good Chinese. Afterwards, we went to the Lingering Garden, another private garden like the one we saw in the morning. The kids started to identify the elements of the garden without the guide telling them such as the male and female room. They did a comparison of these two rooms as well. The garden had a large pond with a lady playing a Chinese instrument on a boat. There were also many rock formations and lovely flowers and plants. We saw a few minutes of a typical Chinese opera in a room of the garden before leaving. The kids had behaved so well, and the weather was hot, so we all had ice cream before leaving on the bus to Shanghai.

We arrived here in Shanghai around 5pm, checked into the hotel, went to a quick dinner, and are now relaxing before bed. It's hard to believe that tomorrow is our last full day in China.

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