Friday, October 21, 2005

I am a Tourist: Suzhou

It's turning into Fall, and I'm worried about the Shanghai Winter. People tell me it's just horrible, all cold and windy. So I'm trying to take full advantage of the good weather while I have it. Last Thursday was a nice day and I didn't have any work or school, so I decided to take a trip to Suzhou, a famous tourist city that's about sixty miles from Shanghai - it's no relation to the Suzhou River I mentioned earlier.

I decided to take the bus there, and the train back. The bus was no problem, no matter how much of a bother it was to get to the Jiading. The bus ride was about an hour long. The only real hassle was, right after the bus got going, I was called about going to a job interview later that day! I was able to schedule for Friday and I consoled myself by watching the oddball movie "Once a Thief" on the TV screens - we only got to the halfway mark, though.

Looking out the window on the way there, you notice that Shanghai doesn't have the extensive suburbs that California has, and almost immediately outside the city you come across farming villages. A lot of these small cities seem to be built around canals, even though Shanghai doesn't have much of that.

Suzhou has two million people, and six million people in the metropolis area, but it still felt more like these smaller towns to me. I walked a couple miles from the Southern bus station to the tourist area, and it was mostly smaller-scale buildings, with much fewer people on the streets than Shanghai. Canals and rivers are all about, the water generally seems pretty clean, and the houses are often built up right againt the water.

Suzhou is most known for the ancient Chinese Gardens. I decided to start at the Garden of the Master of Nets, which the Lonely Planet Guidebook and Chinese sources consider better than all Suzhou's other garderns, combined. Even though the garden was at the end of an alleyway, there was still the familar row of tourist stores.

The initial view of the garden was a small lake, looked over by traditional-looking buildings. It was small but everything felt very well-placed.

Also the garden had a cool collection of weirdly formed rocks. Some of the rocks here look like they're multiple rocks glued together or something. This and a similar sense of whimsy is common to Chinese gardens.

But I must admit I didn't so much care for the garden. Maybe it was too small, or maybe because all the internal halls don't hold much interest for me.

Compared with Shanghai, the streets of Suzhou look a lot more traditional and stereotypically Chinese, but perhaps the city is too large to be called charming. Like a US city, many parts of the main ways are dominated by car traffic, with pedestrians a little rare. It's a nice contrast to the international/post-modern look to Shanghai architecture, but it's not a city I'd want to live in. In fairness, though, there was a street scene around this massive Taoist temple.

From there I headed to the North End of the City. I had a look at another garden, the Garden of Harmony, which is a bit rococo in its multiple stylings. It was larger than the Master of Nets Garden, although there wasn't the sweet spot you look for in these gardens - points where you can stand, look around, and think the surroundings have been arranged, placed, and plotted with the care of a master painter. It did have plenty of nice smaller views, though.

I also thought the Guardian Lions were cool-looking. I guess I'm not the only one who thought so, as they don't just guard the gates, but various random points around the Garden.

And I'm a sucker for koi fish. Some of the fish here were incredibly large. This kid fed them some rice.

Anyway it was too short a day-trip and there's still a lot of things I didn't see in Suzhou - I'll leave that for some other time! I finished off my visit by wandering around a waterfront park, and then I took the train back to Shanghai. It's the first time I've taken a train in China, and I thought it was very convenient and cheap, although the train-station was a bit of a madhouse.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

the golden lion thing could easily be a dustbin