Sunday we asked the hotel for advice as to what to see. The girl at the desk wrote the name of "A beautiful place" for all of us, that we just HAD to see. By the way, when we got there on Saturday, we asked for a map of the city. "Oh, we only have one! We are only a three star hotel. At four star hotels, more English maps." Note to self.
Anyway, seven of us filled two taxis to go to the beautiful place. About a half an hour later, after crossing numerous bridges, in an area that somewhat resembled Lake Washington, the taxi containing Debbie, Miguel, Karis and Jessica behind Amy, Gale and my taxi abandoned the trip. But we were determined that we must be almost there so we pressed on. Finally our taxi driver stopped and he seemed to be asking us where the heck we were wanting him to take us. "The beautiful place?" we offered hopefully. He was frustrated. It was all beautiful, but he was baffled. Finally, he took us to a pagoda which was really out in the middle of nowhere. We were fascinated by the street lined with people selling plums and tea so we decided to risk not getting an easy taxi back to the city. What a day we had. We had stumbled on some old Taoist caves, which were vast and cool and where no other white people were in sight. There were three caves: The Rain Cave, The Third Cave and the Sunrise Cave (in that order). What we gathered was that they were used for retreats and we wanted to become Taoists and stay there forever.
However, after an hour we had to emerge, so we sweat our way all the way to the top of the pagoda (a journey that took about 20 very hot stair climbing minutes) and were treated to a very good view of the plum and tea forests from the top. We felt so lucky!
When we got down we bartered for some tea and then focused on getting back to the city so we could meet our group for the bus ride home. At first we asked a tour bus of University Students to let us ride with them but they had no available seats and their bus driver annoyingly obeyed the law and wouldn't let us stand. A guy who was standing nearby heard us and of course offered to drive us for a very hight rate (the taxi meter charged us about $12 for our 1/2 hour ride...this man was going to charge us more than twice that). We got him down a bit and he drove us about ten minutes toward Suzhou when he saw a taxi driver changing a flat tire. We thought he had stopped to help him, but little did we know he was selling us to him. He got us out of his car and put us into the taxi cab, then told us we were paying the driver what we had agreed to pay him. "We will pay the meter" we said, which made him very angry. What followed was lots of very loud yelling in Mandarin between the driver and the swindler, some of it right in my face. Finally, the driver handed the swindler a very large bill and drove off with us. He was acutally nice and we could tell he felt badly about the situation. Anyway, we got back in time to eat great Japanese food (enoki mushrooms wrapped in tenderloin, potato croquettes, tempura, udon noodles, etc) before our bus ride home.
Now it is Monday afternoon. School was crazy today for some reason, I think it was the game I tried to play that Karrie recommended, using fly swatters to hit word categories. I would explain but the clams are calling. They liked it but they were SO ear piercingly loud over it. During lunch I went to get a massage from the abundant blind person but he was nowhere in sight (!). I did get a very good hour long massage from a seeing man though, and it was a very good way to spend a lunch hour and three dollars! Only four more days of teaching!