Saturday 26 August 2017: Sylvia
I had been in Shanghai for the week for work and needed to be there again next week. David, the Chinese GM, had kindly organised for me to spend a weekend in Suzhou in between as we would spend Monday there.
After a very busy week where I had been scheduled every minute from early until late it was a relief to have a slightly later start on Saturday morning. Stacey, one of my work colleagues, and I were picked up at the hotel at 9:30 and transferred to the Shanghai Pet Fair where we were able to mix and mingle with some quarter of a million others at the largest Pet Fair, certainly in Asia and most likely in the world.
At 12:45 we were transferred to the train station and escorted through for our short, 25 minute ride to Suzhou, where we were again met and transferred to our hotel. Suzhou is a small scale city in China terms with a population of over 12 million. It is a beautiful city with canals, a large lake and lots of beautiful gardens, that in more recent times has also become a significant business hub. Apple, Bosch and Microsoft all have offices and R&D centres in the technology centre here.
Stacey and I decided to wander the canals around the hotel to the lake that we could see from our rooms. Despite the 34+ degree heat we were able to enjoy the scenery, and relaxing with drinks overlooking the lake area.
Sunday 27 August 2017
This morning we were met at the hotel at 10am by our guide for the day, Julia. The first stop on our itinerary was Tiger Hill, apparently the most scenic part of Suzhou, in the old city. The old part of the city has retained a lot of its original architecture with white houses with grey roofs with upturned eaves. Nothing in the old part of the city was allowed to be built taller than the Black Pagoda so it is predominantly low rise. This is in sharp contrast to the more modern parts of the city where a large upside down U shaped building (Julie said it looks like pants) has about 78 floors and another tower is under construction that will have more than 120 floors.
Tiger Hill was once the main palace area of the local king, who built a number of gates to protect the area from invaders. He was eventually buried in the area in a hidden tomb. Apparently the 1000 workers who built the tomb were all executed to ensure the location remained a secret. At the top of the hill is a large pagoda, which is the landmark for Suzhou. When they found the tomb several years ago (it was flooded to ensure it would not be found), the local officials had the option of opening the tomb to the public and likely losing the pagoda (which already has a lean on) or retaining the pagoda. They chose the latter and the tomb is still hidden from view in an underwater cave.
We were amused by some of the English signs in the area.
After exploring the pagoda area we wandered down the back side of the hill (and I should have mentioned it is really more of a hump) through beautiful bamboo gardens etc.
Our next stop was the Lingering Garden, once the private garden of a wealthy family in the area. It is a typical Chinese garden complete with corridors and hidden windows to tease and build anticipation of the garden to come. We decided that the Chinese must be more patient than us Westerners – or at least than Stacey and I. There was also a large walled courtyard area with numerous bonsai trees inside. I hadn’t realised that the bonsai tree (called something different in Chinese) actually originated in China, not Japan.
After a traditional Chinese lunch, sampling some Suzhou specialties we headed to the old part of the city with its narrow streets and canals. It was lovely to wander the narrow streets, hung with the ubiquitous red lanterns. We finished up in an old style tea house to watch some traditional Suzhou opera and ballads. To be honest, the music was not really my style and all sounded much the same but it was pleasant to relax for a bit in air-conditioned comfort.
I have now visited several Chinese cities and while I wouldn’t quite go as far as the Chinese saying that suggests that Suzhou is heaven on earth, it is certainly the prettiest Chinese city I have visited to date.