If you're looking for an easy and amusing weekend trip from Shanghai, you could do worse than Tongli, not only because of its proximity to easily accessible Suzhou, but also because of the China Sex Museum, an interesting peek into China's sexy underbelly.
Getting to Tongli from Shanghai or Suzhou
My boyfriend and I left work on Friday, hopped on a train from Shanghai Railway Station (the Hongqiao Railway Station is also an option) to Suzhou; the fast train takes 25 minutes—equivalent to a trip to the bank. Once we arrived at the Suzhou Train Station, we decided to stay overnight, hit the town and soak up the traditional feeling of a local hostel. Spending the night in an old wooden Chinese canopy bed, complete with light peering in through carved wooden shutters made a nice break from the big city. (We stayed at the Ming Town Hostel on Pingjiang Lu (Píngjiāng Lù, 平江路), but there are loads of other great budget hotels in Suzhou to choose from).
After dropping off our bags, we enjoyed a quiet walk along a canal, snacked on the always tasty late-night Chinese barbecue (shāokǎo, 烧烤) and had a great night out. While out, we found that Jane's Bar (621 Shíquán Jiē, 十全街) had horrible karaoke and after a very quick beer we taxied over to the Blue Marlin (Xīnghǎi Jiē, 星海街), only to find it a bit empty and sad. Finally, we found a good crowd at Jenny's in the Li Gong Di (Li Gōng Dī, 李公堤) bar district, enjoying live music thanks to a fun group of Filipino entertainers. After our night in Suzhou, the next morning we grabbed our belongings and caught the hour-long bus to Tongli.
China Sex Museum
Why go to Tongli? To see the China Sex Museum, of course! It's entertaining and enlightening, and was built to educate China's youth and promote a healthy relationship with sex (it seems to be working, as the population is 1.3 billion and growing). As an added bonus, we experienced the quaint water town and the feeling of leaving 23 million of the world's population back in Shanghai.
The China Sex Museum is located inside a little gated canal town—the kind that's supposed to cost RMB 80 to enter. However, I was able to easily walk by the ticket taker by saying "xie xie" when he said something to me in Chinese. Apparently, after 4pm no one really minds anyway. I am not advocating this behavior. Well, maybe I am. But don't quote me on it. Once inside the town gates you can meander through the alleyways until you find the museum. Finally locating it was a glorious feeling, since it took a year and a half to track it down—my search for this museum began in January 2010 when my boyfriend and I wandered in the bitter cold for what the "fully updated" Lonely Planet had located near the Pearl Tower in Shanghai. We walked around for at least two hours until finally giving up and accepting that I was wrong and he was right. Fast forward to Tongli, over a year later. At the museum entrance you pay RMB 20, and are immediately greeted by an enormous penis. A picture with this comical statue of a man with fists clenched, draped in chains and a giant, erect member sticking straight out is sure to get multiple comments from your friends on Facebook and Weibo (sorry Grandma!).
Phallic SculpturesAfter this hilarious introduction, a garden full of odd phallic sculptures awaits. One of my favorites was the fellow seen pictured above. He was well endowed below the belt, a bit of generosity courtesy of the artist. Inside several buildings on the tour, you'll find erotic paintings, sculptures and toys, all with English and Chinese captions. Descriptions of foot binding and marriage customs are always fascinating. After several years in China, I was surprised to see that the exhibit and posters presented homosexuality in a positive light. Before you leave, don't forget to go upstairs and appreciate the contrast between the old Chinese wooden furniture and the more modern geriatric-looking sex chair. If you have the chance, make sure to check out the video at the end of the exhibit that was unfortunately not playing while I was there, but is almost certainly entertaining. Please fill me in if you get a chance to see it.
Erotic SouvenirsThanks to sociology Professor Liu Dalin's collection, the Tongli Sex Museum is one of the more entertaining museums I have been to. It's one you won't forget, especially if you purchase a replica statue of the giant penis man in the gift shop. My ayi has hidden it behind picture frames on the dresser because it is just that offensive. Practically speaking, it would be a useful bracelet holder. According to the China Sex Museum website, the establishment is available for meetings anytime. Why not book it as the next location for your annual company meeting?! The one caveat I will mention is that it was a bit awkward admiring ancient Chinese porn next to strangers. I did hang back so I didn't feel like we were looking at it together. Don't take too long, though, as you will want to give yourself enough time to catch the last bus to Suzhou at 5:45pm to ensure that you have enough time to return to Shanghai. Our trip to Tongli was a day and a half well spent and allowed just enough time to get back for a dinner party in Shanghai, equipped with a bottle of wine and a good story. The rest is history.