Greetings from American soil! The 2012 ILSSO group has arrived in San Francisco. The last few days have been a whirlwind of excitement. We found ourselves in the city of Suzhou which is appropriately named “the Venice of the east” due to the canal system that winds its way through the city. We got to experience the canal as we took a boat ride through the city, neighboring up to houses with steps leading to the water where residents once purchased market goods off boats from their back door. Today, residents of the city enjoy goods from a market place in the village which we had the chance to explore.
Next, we ventured to the Suzhou Silk Institute where we learned about the life cycle of the silk worm. We saw the cocoons being milled into fine threads of silk and then watched the fibers spun into garments and bedding. After a stroll through the customary gift shop, we set out for Lake Tai — one of the largest lakes in China. Our first stop was a large goose operation that processes 250 geese each day for consumption by local markets. Next, we met with a local farmer who raises carp as part of a cooperative pond system. We were surprised to learn that the size of pond that the farmers are given is proportional to the size of the farmer’s family. After showing us her fishing operation, she escorted us to her tea grove. The trees that she harvests (by hand) produce four different varieties of tea. After thanking the farmer for her time, we boarded the buses for Shanghai.
The commercial center of China, Shanghai was home to the 2010 World Expo. This vibrant, modern city reminded us of New York City with familiar logos of worldwide brands and skyscrapers that were absent from Beijing and Xian. After checking into our hotel, we pounded the pavement in search of some American food…a much needed break from the white rice and various local dishes that made up most of our meals.
Sunday morning brought about a later start time and a visit to the Yu Gardens. Once a private garden constructed by a prominent Shanghai resident as a gift to his parents, the Chinese government now maintains this area for the public’s benefit. We were amazed by the beauty and serenity of the gardens, even in the dead of winter. After admiring the rock formations and koi ponds, we headed for a local bazaar that sold nearly every good imaginable before lunch at a local restaurant. After lunch, we stretched our legs along the Bund, Shanghai’s infamous waterfront and took photos of the city’s magnificent skyline. We finished out the afternoon with some “retail therapy” on Nanjing Road, the largest commercial sector of China. Each of us was able to exercise our negotiating skills as souvenirs were purchased. The expression “Everything in China is negotiable” couldn’t be more true. We rounded out the evening with a farewell dinner that included birthday cake for Brian and Nicole and a Chinese acrobat performance.
Our final day began with a few missed wake-up calls before checking out of our hotel and heading to the airport. Half the group opted to take the high speed MagLev train to the airport. This train uses magnetic levitation to avoid friction which allowed us to travel at speeds as high as 186 m.p.h.! Once we arrived, we checked in and boarded our flight to Beijing and then our transfer to San Francisco.
After 10 days abroad…
We’ve traveled by plane, train, bus, and boat.
We’ve weathered snow, rain, fog and sunshine.
We’ve tried new foods and mastered chopsticks.
We’ve brushed our teeth with bottled water and have acquired a taste for Chinese tea.
We’ve become experts at currency conversion and have stimulated the local economy.
Most importantly, we are returning to the U.S. with a new perspective and plenty of stories, photos, and memories.
On behalf of the entire ILSSO group, thanks for following us on our adventure. We can’t wait to share our experience in person.
National FFA Organization