Sunday, May 20, 2007

China Day 4: Suzhou (May 1)

On May 1 the Chinese May holidays started, and we along with a number of Chinese tourists decided to go to Suzhou, another town outside Shanghai. It was packed there. (And very loud, of course!) Since there were no train tickets we decided to take a cab. Together with the bus ride to Zhouzhang, this cab ride gave me a real impression about how big Shanghai is. You just keep passing skyscrapers and high-rise apartment complexes, all scrunched together (but with trees, don’t forget!) for miles and miles on end. Many of the apartments are currently empty, built because the investors know the people soon will come.

Suzhou is another one of those Venices of the East (except it is further east than Zhouzhang, as Amanda’s boyfriend Chris noted), and it is home to a number of famous gardens from various Chinese dynasties, which are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Cultural Sites list. At the same time Suzhou is also very touristy, and you can’t help but feel it. The gardens are spread all around town (and the “town,” again, is not so small), so you have to travel from one to the other. In Suzhou I got to climb my first pagoda, which was pretty awesome. The staircases are incredibly narrow and steep, though, with only one staircase for people going both ways – up and down – and the Chinese seem to be somewhat oblivious to this fact, which can make for some interesting moments.

In addition to wandering around the gardens, we got to climb part of the original city wall for Suzhou (over 1500 years old) and check out the old water and gate defense system. We also got to check out the silk museum, which I was really set on. Suzhou has always been famous as a silk center, for hundreds of years, and during the Ming and Qing dynasties it was the biggest silk-producing city in all of China. I got to learn how silk is made – the silk worm spins a cocoon, then they put the cocoon in water (no, the worm does not survive this), and then they separate (unravel) the cocoon – i.e., the pull all the silk threads out of it and weave the silk on a loom. The main goal of the silk museum was really to funnel people into the gift shop full of things made of silk, which I shamelessly tried on and did not purchase. For dinner we had this Northern Chinese dish that involves putting a bunch of different veggies, meat, noodles, etc. into a boiling pot of broth at the center of the table to cook, and then fishing them out. (For me it was kind of a slow eating process – chopstick skills improving! – but definitely fun.)

Pictures: 1. Suzhou from top of pagoda, 2. me and Amanda on the climb up the pagoda, 3. and 4. we saw some funny translations. Amanda is taking care of her head, 5. after commenting that this bell ringing constantly was really annoying, Chris together with Amanda insisted I ring it, 6. me and Chris in cave in Suzhou, 7. lilies, 8. touristy Buddhist temple

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