Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Days 12 and 13: Beautiful, Beautiful Suzhou

Days 12 and 13: Beautiful, Beautiful Suzhou

Suzhou is a beautiful city, much quieter than the big cities of Beijing and Shanghai, as there are only 5 million people living here! We did lots of walking both days, exploring the side streets and shops. This area is known as the silk center of China, with many silk museums and silk factories. I bought a beautiful Chinese silk vest for 40 yuan ($6.40); we are getting way better at bartering!
Arlene in the garden
Our hotel is only a few years old and uber modern; the elevators are decorated in different themes; one is like you’re blasting off to space with noise and videos playing to capture the feeling, the second is decorated in respect to Mao Zedong, with a never ending video of him giving some sort of speech, and the third is decorated with pictures and videos of the Terra Cotta Warriors. The hallway outside the elevator on our floor is lined with funhouse mirrors; I like to linger in front of the one that makes me look tall and slim. Our room looks like something out of the Jetsons, with bright colours, sharp angles, lights that look like giant bean pods, and shiny surfaces. The bean pod seems to be the theme of the hotel, as the pod logo is on all the towels, the housecoats and the hotel stationary. The street in front of the hotel even has a row of pod lights on lamp standards and the little shampoo bottles are in the shape of pods! It’s like we have entered some strange time warp of what we all thought the future would be like back when we were kids in the fifties! Most importantly, the bed is the most comfortable one we have had since we got here, as Chinese beds are quite hard!
We spent the first day at the museum, then at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. The museum has artifacts dating back as far as 6000 BC; now that’s history for you! The craftsmanship in making clay pots and bronze tools and religious items is beyond belief! It boggles the mind to realize the amount of time that must have gone into making some of these items with intricate detail!
There are many gardens in this city; it is known as the city of gardens and canals. The gardens are smack dab in the middle of the busy city, with high walls blocking out all the action on the outside. The Chinese are masters at using plantings and water to mask outside noise, and use such things as willows and bamboo to capture the wind and create a lovely, peaceful feel. The entire garden is centered around little streams and ponds, with many lovely bridges crossing over.
Walking in some parts of this town are quite challenging, as the sidewalks are used for many things, such as parking motorcycles, or for vendors selling their wares. The most interesting thing of all, though is the barbers and masseuses who have set up shop on the sidewalk. We watched for a while, fascinated, and Bryce suddenly decided that this was a perfect opportunity for a haircut. He attracted a lot of attention, as people seemed surprised to see an obvious tourist doing such a thing! It was all done with great humour by the barber who seemed delighted to have Bryce for a customer, taking his time to do a thorough job, including using the straight razor around his neck, on the top of his head and around his sideburns. All this, and he only charge 4 yuan (.64)! Bryce, being the big spender that he is, gave him 10 yuan ($1.60).
boat ride on the canal
In the evening, we treated ourselves to a boat ride on one of the many canals that run through the city. The Grand Canal passes through China from north to south, connecting Beijing to Hangzou south of here, a total of 1, 794 kilometres! This canal, built by the Sui Dynasty (581 – 618), is the world’s longest man-made waterway. This was an incredible engineering feat for the time, allowing for trade, communication and protection. Within the city of Suzhou, there are more than 360 canals, with more than 180 bridges allowing for easy passage throughout the city.
The canals are such a beautiful part of the city, the reason that Marco Polo called Suzhou “The Venice of the East.” Tomorrow, we catch the bullet train back to Shanghai, then on to the airport to fly to Hong Kong. For tonight, as I snuggled up to Bryce on the boat cruise, I thought that this was one of the most romantic times of my life, one that I hope to remember forever!

Bryce with two friends in the garden


Bryce getting a haircut on the street

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