Sticky rice vs. loose noodles

Dr. Christine Royce describes her visit to the ancient city of Zouzhuang as a member of the NSTA contingent at the Sino-US Science and Education Forum.

Friday, November 19, 2010

“Be like sticky rice … not loose noodle.”
You probably think I have lost it by now. What could she possibly be thinking? Well, this was the quote of the day from our tour guide Jennifer on our bus. Today was a field trip day. Well, the entire experience could be considered a field trip, but today was a day where we loaded the buses and headed out of Shanghai to see an “old town,” which we were to compare to Shanghai as a “new town.”
The group set off this morning to Zhouzhuang, which is a water city about an hour and a half west/southwest of Shanghai. It was described to us as being a “very beautiful city” with many bridges and the river. When reading about it in tour books and on the web, the city is actually about 900 years old and has many “historic” type homes. In total, there are 14 bridges in Zhouzhuang, which was made famous by a painting which was purchased by some American gas or oil tycoon. We watched the sites go by as the bus departed the city for the suburbs which seemed to be a continuation of the city—hundreds of towering structures that were apartment buildings; we watched as we entered a rural area which did have agricultural aspects—rice paddies and other types of plant cultivation; and finally we watched as we entered this “small” town which really looked more like a small city.
We listened as Jennifer gave us information about our time frame, where the facilities where (and yes most of the stalls had squatties) and finally directions for following her and her waving yellow flag. At that point, she gave us the initial directions as we were to progress directly to the boats for a boat ride through the city and to the entry point into the town—which has a charge. Her specific directions—you will have time to shop later, do not stop and look or take pictures—“be like sticky rice—not loose noodle.” Many of us decided that was the phrase of the day and was a perfect way to describe her expectations.

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We were somewhat like sticky rice—with a few loose noodles. We wandered, took pictures at the touristy spots to take pictures, and finally did board the boats for the short ride. Eight people to a boat. Oh, and there was no translation problem when the person who would paddle the boat wanted people to switch seats due to an imbalance in weight shall we say.  Jennifer directed us to where we should meet in exactly two hours—which included lunch at the restaurant—the “blue guy (Haibo) near the big marble wall.” Off we went—to lunch which I must say was absolutely the best food of the trip so far (minus the chicken feet that the removed from the table) and then to explore the town and shop. On the excursion to the starting point, there was much to see and plan to buy—handcrafts made by local artisans; Chinese calligraphy; paintings; trinkets, and everything in between. There was also food—lots of it … and not what you would expect.
The smells of the area assaulted your senses—you could walk by places with fish floating in containers right next to the sidewalk; plants were being cleaned in front of you for preparation; and every kind of meat was on display either sitting in or hanging from stations at the stand. I was not adventuresome enough to try and of the local delicacies. Everything you touched had texture; everything you saw had color or intricate details; everything you heard was different—it would get quiet and you could hear a local woman singing songs or a musician playing a traditional instrument and then it would get loud as a tour group passed by with their own flag; everything you smelled simply smelled like something you weren’t familiar with.
We ventured in twos or threes, teamed up with other groups, compared purchases and sent people off in the direction of the stall if they were interested in something we bought; and snapped photos at every turn. As a group we were able to laugh and interact in a way that was informal allowing us to learn about the location, the people, and each other. When 1:50 p.m. came around, we were to be at the wall near the blue guy and Jennifer and Eva (the other tour guide) had us walk single file past them so they could count us—we weren’t demonstrating our skills at being sticky rice—we had become even more loose noodles due to the many things that we could do during the time there.
The day ended with a ride back to Shanghai, shopping for some, and dinner at Shanghai Uncle—a restaurant with a local flavor, as it was described to us.
Hopefully when we return, some of Jennifer’s words of wisdom and direction will follow us home—we have one more day here in this beautiful city and already we are starting to talk about a reunion in San Francisco at the NSTA National Conference this coming spring. I truly hope that the new friends I’ve made and the friendships that have deepened will connect throughout the upcoming months and be more like sticky rice than loose noodles …

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