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Following the Way

By | July 25, 2010

Saturday, July 24

*pictures coming some time from Susan’s camera
Today was a lovely day. I tried to sleep in, but couldn’t, so I just lay in bed pretending to be asleep for as long as I could stand it. Several of us had planned to go to the Fairy Lake Botanical Gardens, about an hour bus ride. A group went two weekends ago and had an amazing experience, so we all wanted to go too.

The last few minutes before we left, I was googling to get any extra information I could about how to get there. There was a webpage that had a card to print out that said “Please take me to Fairy Lake.” If only I had any way to print it out. I briefly considered copying the characters, but that would take too long and I would probably get them wrong. I looked at Patti’s papers to the right of my computer and remembered she had a map of Shenzhen. Even though it was only in Chinese characters, I was getting used to the look of the land and thought it might come in useful. If I had to point to our general area to get us home, I could find it on the map.

Under the map was Patti’s brochure from when she had been to the Gardens! Now I had the name of the place where we were going printed in Chinese characters! We were set! Good thing, because we were double-checking the bus route at the hotel desk just a few minutes later, and it wasn’t going well until I showed up with the brochure. Magic! Express bus K113, we’re on our way.

The desk staff told us they thought it would cost 8 Yuan, so we were all ready with exact change as we headed to the bus stop around the corner. The bus pulled up just as we walked up. Instead of a moneybox, there was a ticket lady to pay, with several books of different colored tickets, since the fare depended on the distance. She looked at us like this was going to be difficult. But I pulled out the brochure and pointed! No problem, message received! And it was only 6 Yuan, not 8! On the bus ride, I tried to pay very close attention to where we passed Metro stops. We were hoping to go to Louhu shopping district after the gardens, and I knew I could get us there on the Metro, since it’s at the end of the line.

The ticket lady told us when to get off, and pointed across the street. We had also heard that we could pick up a shuttle there to get up the hill to the gardens. The other group had walked most of the five miles before they were picked up by and English-speaking botanist who had been to Quail Gardens in Encinitas. We were pretty sure we weren’t going to repeat that bit of luck, so we looked for a shuttle. Two very aggressive beggars practically got in the minivan with us as we made arrangements with the driver. We were also approached by a woman with a bag of live turtles. I believe she was selling them for two Yuan apiece. Leah, a florist from Carlsbad and one of our art teachers, wanted to buy some and release them in the botanical gardens. Worried about non-native species contamination, we prodded her to get in the van quickly.

Susan had looked into the layout of the gardens, and had made a plan to go to the Petrified Forest first, then walk down to the Buddhist temple on the grounds, as well as the orchid and butterfly garden. But the driver took us straight to the temple. So we went there first. It was crowded and beautiful and hot. We bought incense and lit it as we had watched the locals do, then stood like we’d observed in front of a large Buddha statue in a gated room, each making offerings in our own way, then tossed the incense into a fire. “There go all of our cares,” said Susan, as they burned to ash. As we walked further into the temple, we realized there were many different Buddha statues in other alcoves, and people make offerings to either all of them or the ones that stand for certain things, I guess.

Susan spotted a small group of people following a saffron-robed monk, so we followed them. We ended up in what seemed like a 3rd story loading dock, looking out over a roof with animals carved on the corners. People were sitting around eating. We walked up to the building, and a woman we had not noticed before handed three Styrofoam bowls of noodles out through the carved screen that made up most of the wall. Susan tried to ask a man standing nearby who to pay by pulling out her wallet. “No money, no money,” he said. Another woman popped out of a door in the wood screen with a to-go box of bundles wrapped in leaves. She put one in each of our bowls. It was a bun wrapped in a leaf, stuffed with pine nuts and vegetables. It was kind of sweet and very delicious. This vegetarian noodle soup was probably the tastiest thing I’ve eaten in China so far!

Our group had been separated, and Leah and Desiree found us and joined us as we finished eating. We showed them where to get the soup, but it was too late. Lunchtime at the temple was over! The screen was closed up tight!

The petrified trees were interspersed with whimsical topiary trees and picnic tables made out of sawed off, polished-top petrified tree trunks, giving the whole area a very fantasyland look. I would not be surprised at all to learn they petrified trees were not in their naturally occurring spots, but had all been moved there and arranged meticulously. As we wandered among the stone trees, we heard a lot of thunder, but it never did rain.

Staff at the paleontological museum at the Petrified Forest helped us determine that number seven on the map was the butterfly garden. Though we were at the top of the lake and it was at the bottom, we decided to start walking. Not long after, we saw our shuttle driver. We decided we didn’t need to have the most tiring day in the world, so we hired him to drives us there and wait for us to drive us back to the bus stop.

There were not many orchids blooming, but there were many butterflies in a large mesh enclosed garden. You could rub your hand on wet sponges located throughout the butterfly enclosure, and the butterflies would land on your hand, attracted to something like sugar water, I assume.

Our driver took us back down to the bottom of the hill, where Leah and Desiree hopped on the bus to return to our hotel. Nikki, Ann, Susan and I took a taxi to the Louhu shopping area. I’m positive I could have gotten us there by public transportation, but the others didn’t want to risk it. It turns out we were quite close, so a taxi worked fine. Our taxi driver spoke some English, as well.

He dropped us off at the Shanghai Hotel, right across the street from the shopping area. We stopped in the hotel to find an ATM, and used their fabulous western-style bathrooms. Not only did they have western-style toilets, they also had toilet paper, which everyone carries around in their purse. On top of that, they had soap and paper towels! The lap of luxury!

We decided to have afternoon tea there as well. It was lovely, and quite a contrast from our lunch at the temple. Two extremes today! We each had a three-tiered platter. We’d ordered the Asian style, so the bottom was shrimp wrapped in crispy noodles and curry samosas. In the middle was a wonderful muffin, a tiny scone, delicious tapioca pudding, and a small dish of slightly spicy but otherwise tasteless black cubes of gelatin. The black stuff is supposed to be very good for you, so I ate it. The top dish was fruit. Yum! It was all very civilized and snooty. The lounge was full of westerners. It was also a very good thing to have a nice rest before getting back on our feet, and it was nice to get to know each other better. The four of us were a very compatible and relaxed traveling group.

Then we went shopping. At Louhu the bargaining was more serious than at Dongmen. They started higher and would go lower, as long as you attempted to leave. I probably did overpay for a few things, but I got some nice gifts for people. One thing I did not buy was a sequined dress with a stand up collar that would have been entirely appropriate for competitive ballroom dancing, and not much else. I could have had one custom fitted or even made, and I have a hard time passing that sort of thing up. Who knows when you might need one? But I did not even go see how much they were selling for. I just eyed them enviously.

We shopped until Susan and I spent all of the money we had brought, and then we hopped on the metro to go home. This was a route I was now familiar with! We switched to good old number 70 bus, now practically routine. About ten minutes into our ride, the bus stalled just before a bus stop. The driver got on the phone for advice and started turning the engine on and off. It seemed he couldn’t get it into gear. My group started to get a little nervous. It was about 10:00 at night. But we had only been there a few minutes, and we had seen a second number 70 bus in the bus station, waiting to pull around after ours left. We wouldn’t have to try to figure out another way to get home. Sure enough, within another five minutes, the next 70 bus pulled up, and everyone on our bus switched over. They didn’t even have to announce anything.

We got off at our Walmart, and walked the short walk home. The day had flowed quite smoothly.


Katie Ross on July 26, 2010 at 11:47 am.

Jenny, You are having the most amazing experiences. It is great to follow along. You need to buy a new camera at the Chinese Walmart! All of this is too good to miss getting photos. I’m trying to imagine the petrified trees, the soup, the butterflies and everything!


Nicole Hickman on July 27, 2010 at 10:41 am.

I completely agree with Katie!


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