My friend, Charlotte, and I were going out for lunch together, and wanted something close to where I work. Well, there is one nice restaurant just down the street, but it was totally packed. So we looked around, and there, just over the street, was this upstairs place, called Shui Xiang Cha Lou ...
As we climbed the steep stone staircase there was a strong smell of incense - my friend momentarily thought maybe we had walked into a temple instead of a restaurant. Inside it was a bit dark, with old wooden floor-boards and dark wooden furniture. We were met by the usual bevy of eager waitresses, and we saw that there was a buffet style meal. Charlotte inquired and found that we could have a meal for 48 yuan, so we agreed and we were taken to a table. We left our coats and went to the food bench. There we collected a tray each and a series of tiny plates and bowls which we filled with local delicasies, and so we headed back to the table.
On the table had been placed various little bowls of nuts and seeds, and a cup of tea each. So when they came to ask us what tea we wanted, we said we were quite happy with what we had been given. Oh, no, they explained, that is your welcome tea, and it is free. The food is also free. But you must buy some tea!
So we looked over the list, and sure enough, the cheapest cup of tea was 48 yuan. So we chose a cheap cup of tea each and got stuck into our little bowls of food. The tea arrived in a drinking glass - it always amazes me, this Chinese way of serving hot tea in a glass with no handle. It was green flower tea - it looked like there was a round clod of grass floating in it. But it was very nice, probably the nicest green tea I've ever tasted. And the food was ok. And the place was interesting. I recommend the "tea house" experience, though its really good to have a Chinese friend with you - this place was not really set up to accomodate western tourists.
Peter and I went to Lake Tai (or Tai Hu) today - about time, after being in Wuxi for nearly six months. Getting there was quite easy, we caught the number 1 bus at the bus stop closest to our apartments, and when it stopped and the engine was switched off, we were there.
We paid our 70 yuan, and were told (in English) that the price included the bus ride and boat ride. "Yellow bus", a pointing attendant told us as we went through the gate. We climbed aboard - mmm, padded seats. That's unusual! The bus took us to the end of the peninsular known as "Turtle Head Island". We followed the crowd - there really weren't any recognizable (English) signs other than "toilet". Well, we stopped there, and when we came out the crowd had moved on and we weren't sure quite where to head. There were some boats, but we didn't know which one we should go to. Then we saw an entrance sign (yeah, in Chinese, one of the symbols we can read ...) and an attendant quite a distance from the boats. We showed her our ticket, and she tore a chunk off and pointed to where there were several boats. As we got closer to the boats another attendant pointed to one of the jetties. As we walked down the jetty and looked enquiringly at a group of attendants another one was pointing to the right boat. You see, international understanding.
We went across to the Fairy Islands (I think) and wandered around. One of our students had told us there were monkeys here, but we didn't see any. It was pleasant, very Chinese. We bought some corn on a stick - it was that or tofu, there didn't seem to be anything else available other than some expensive-looking restaurants.
This was rather interesting:
What do you reckon about those chains? Well, as we got closer we realised there were hundreds of padlocks on the chains.
They all had inscriptions and dates. Some of them were heart-shaped and two interlocking hearts were part of the inscription. While we were there a couple came out of the nearby building and added a padlock to the chain. Sweet, ay?