my cousin picked me up this morning to go to xitang, a picturesque canal village 2 hours drive outside of shanghai. his assistant drove, accompanied by his assistant's wife. xitang reminded me a lot of lijiang, a lot of old houses converted into bars, teahouses, hotels, and souvenir shops. it's basically a tourist trap, and a new one at that, established just in 1997. for foreigners, xitang is famous for being in the mission impossible 3 movie, and tom cruise's portrait dot the landscape as well. we had lunch there, and afterwards soaked up the atmosphere drinking tea along the banks of the canal, before taking a ferry boat back to the entrance. afterwards i got dropped off back at my hotel where i rested for about 2 hours before we reconvened for dinner.
i woke up at 7:00 to get ready to spend the day with my shanghai cousin. we were going to xitang (西塘), a scenic water village (shuixiang 水乡) in nearby zhejiang province, about a 2 hour drive. i went downstairs to the 3rd floor to have some complimentary hotel breakfast. i missed breakfast yesterday because i had to go get my physical exam. normally i don't eat breakfast, but my parents were very insistent that i at least check out the selection, which might be very good considering how expensive this hotel is. they did have a pretty good selection, half western, half chinese, all-you-can-eat buffet style. i didn't want to overdo it so i just some chinese porridge, a tsatsuo bun, a piece of toast, some fruit, a yogurt, and an orange juice. still probably more than what i normally eat for breakfast, but i was making some healthy choices (they had some bacon which i was tempted to get but they were soggy). i ate quickly and went downstairs to the lobby to wait for my cousin to arrive.
around 8:00 i got a phone call telling me to go outside. driving the car was a young business associate of my cousin's, along with the associate's wife. i sat with my cousin in the backseat. the drive took us across shanghai. most interesting was just the first few minutes circling the area around the hotel. up to this point i haven't really explored the area very much, but go a little further and there are all these stores and restaurants. in fact, there's actually a family mart convenience store right next to the hotel that i never noticed. and this whole time i'd been fretting about where i'd go to get drinks and snacks! going across shanghai we also passed an ikea store. "is this the xujiahui area?" i asked. i'd actually visited this ikea 7 years ago, back when i lived in the xujiahui apartment of my californian aunt/uncle. i recognized the store, but the area was different, a forest of tall apartment buildings (back then it was kind of desolate).
with 30 minutes left before we arrived, we stopped at a rest stop to use the bathroom before we continued on our way. that's where i saw the assistant's wife for the very first time since she sat in front of me the whole time. i asked them if they had english names, his was michael, hers was vivian.