Archive for July, 2013

Remembering China # 6: Suzhou

July 21, 2013

Garden of the Master of Nets, Suzhou, China

Suzhou is one of China’s most popular tourist cities, and because of this, you’re either recommended to go…or stay away. When we think of cities as being magnets for tourists, we generally think of westerners, but the Chinese love to travel, and while increasingly many can now afford to travel overseas, due to the high cost of exit visas, most are still limited to traveling within China itself, and for famous cities such as Suzhou, you’re going to encounter thousands of them.

Suzhou is known as being the Venice of China, due to the numerous waterways that intersect the city (specifically the older inner city). These waterways vary in quality from quite beautiful bands of water amongst the buildings, to stinking polluted and stagnant mosquito homelands.

But more than the canals, Suzhou is most known for its ancient gardens, of which there are many still in their original forms. I was lucky enough to explore several, from the most popular Humble Administrators garden, to the Lion Grove garden with its interesting rock formations, to the one pictured above, the Garden of the Master of Nets, which supposedly once belonged to a fisherman.

Each garden is quite different from the next, but one thing they have in common is they are all crawling with Chinese tourists – and worse – tour groups. For the Chinese predominantly travel in large groups led by a leader –  the one waving the coloured flag and speaking into a megaphone – yes, a megaphone. There’s nothing like enjoying the beautifully sculpted gardens to the sound of a distorted Chinese voice yapping incessantly.

The Chinese tour groups are also highly excitable. Happy to be away and enjoying what their 5000 year old, rich culture has to offer, they like to get off the paths and onto the the gardens themselves, ignoring the ‘keep off!’ signs and climbing onto the base of ancient trees to have their photos taken with their victory pose.

To be honest, in many cases it was intolerable. Attempting to photograph some of these gardens minus the people was a feat in itself. I would recommend skipping breakfast and heading to the gardens super early, or possibly during winter where catching them beneath a coat of snow would be mesmerizing.

As for the rest of Suzhou, well it was nothing special really. In many regards, it was a very typical Chinese city, though the whitewashed buildings are somewhat unique to the area. It was a mere 15 minutes by train away from Wuxi, on the way to Shanghai, and is also on located alongside lake Taihu.

Due to the predominance of old buildings and gardens in the older part of the city, the roads are narrow and holy crap are they busy. There’s a abundance of bicycle rickshaws in the area, which tends to be the best way to get around, but be prepared to be clenching your butt-cheeks the entire trip as the way they cut in and out of the cars and pedestrians alike has to be seen to be believed.

But all in all, Suzhou was a fun city to explore, and if you’re visiting Jiangsu by all means check it out.

Journey to the West: Conquering the Demons review

July 4, 2013

The nature of Stephen Chow is irrepressible. With his latest movie – his first movie as director where he’s not starring, Stephen Chow has once again produced an amazing movie. For those of you who don’t know who he is (and shame on you) – go pick up Shaolin Soccer and jump on board the fanboy wagon.

This latest movie is a reimagining of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West. I grew up enjoying Monkey Magic, and as an adult, formed a deep appreciation for the entire story, having previously posted about Wu Ch’eng-en’s Monkey here

This movie goes back, before Monkey, Sandy and Pigsy are followers of Tripitaka, to when these famous three heroes were in fact demons themselves and needed to be subdued.

Opening with a village being plagued by a fish demon, we’re introduced to Tang Sanzang, a super scruffy (and very reminiscent of SC) Buddhist monk whose attempting to subdue the demon using children’s nursery rhymes. Though his intentions are good, his methods are seemingly useless, and despite the fact he’s returned the demon to human form, it’s the martial arts wielding Miss Duan who dispatches the demon properly, winning the praise of the village.

From the onset, the movie is Chow’s typical slapstick comedy, exhibiting a unique subtleness that is one of the primary reasons I enjoy Asian movies so much. If you’ve seen Shaolin Soccer or Kung Fu Hustle, you’ll feel right at home.

One of the things I love about Stephen Chow’s characters is that they’re often ordinary people. From the filthy Tang Sanzang, to the band of eastern mercenaries that travel with Miss Duan, they’re some of the most piss funny characters you’ll find anywhere. My highlight had to be the scenes where these eastern mercs banded together to fight the pig demon – that entire part of the movie was hillarious.

And just like in his previous movies, there’s a love story running through it which becomes really quite touching yet completely comical all at once.

The movie is natively in Cantonese and while a Mandarin dub is available, you’re best to avoid it.

But beyond that, watch this movie!


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