Tales of Worm Poop and Gucci Knockoffs

Greetings from Hangzhou, China, where our tour group is staying in a Howard Johnson hotel. I swear to God, it has to be the nicest HoJo in the world. It is 24 stories tall, with a bar at the top floor where you can look over the majestic beauty (and I mean that) of this city of 6 million or so—and pick up a, um, "date" to boot, if you so choose.

We started the morning in Suzhou, where we went to China's foremost silk factory and learned all about silkworms, mulberry trees and worm poop. Our tour guide, while showing us a silk-stuffed pillow, explained that some Chinese people put silkworm poop in their pillows—and sometimes even drink it—for its medicinal qualities.

He didn't look like he was kidding.

Then we got to shop for silk bedding, silk ties, silk scarves (I bought about 1,477) and even silk long underwear. The same place also sold what seemed to be some softcore porn featuring naked Asian women. And this was a government-owned store.

This was followed by a boat cruise through Suzhou's canals. Our tour guide said Marco Polo called Suzhou the Venice of the East or something. I think Marco Polo had consumed too much worm poop when he said this. Nonetheless, Suzhou's canals were seriously cool, and the local people were very nice.

After that, we went back to the silk factory for lunch (More Chinese food! I am DYING for a hamburger or a chimichanga or a pizza! But not enough to go to Papa John's—which is actually in Hangzhou, God help us!), and then went to an embroidery factory. Some of the embroidery works they had were truly amazing (and truly expensive). Then, we were off on a 2 1/2-hour drive to Hangzhou, with a brief stop at a rest area in between. But this was no normal rest area; it had a grocery store and a "dinning hall." In the grocery store, I bought some Pringles made in Belgium. Yes, that's right: In China, I bought Pringles, an American product, that were made in Belgium.

Shortly after that, we checked into the HoJo, then went to dinner (More Chinese food! Can someone PLEASE Fed-Ex me a Sonoran hot dog?!?!?), and then—again, I could not make this up if I tried—traveled on an optional trip to a secret covert store selling knockoff purses, watches and whatnot. I went because I need a suitcase or two (mine are falling apart) but came back empty-handed, because the luggage was mediocre and overpriced. However, the tourists desiring impressive purse knockoffs made off like bandits.

Tomorrow, we take a boat cruise and do some other stuff in Hangzhou, and then head to Shanghai for the final day and a half of our China journey. I just hope nobody sneaks worm poop into my food during the final 2 1/2 days.