Posts Tagged ‘Suzhou’

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.

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Remembering China # 4: Tai Hu

June 2, 2013

Lake Tai, or Tài Hú is not only China’s 3rd largest freshwater lake, but one of the main reasons that Wuxi is a popular Chinese tourist city. Wuxi is a pretty cool place really, with lots of things to do and see, but for the foreign tourist to China, there’s definitely other places you’d be better off visiting – such as Suzhou next door – or Hangzhou just a short distance away.

Funnily enough, we only went to Tai Hu one time. It was the end of winter and absolutely freezing, but the guy who was charged with babysitting us in those early days, Pan Zili, graciously drove us down there for a look. It was quite pretty actually, and if you pretended that the haze was mist and not smog, you could go so far as to say it was picturesque.

Most of the surrounding trees and grasses were brown and flattened from the recent snow, but there was a nice vibe down there – plus a few pagoda style teahouses (you know, like the ones we imagined as our stereotypical China).

One of the best things about our visit to Tai Hu, was walking across an old looking Chinese bridge(that was probably only recently built) to a small island. On that island, a pack of around 5 feral cats were absolutely going to town on a rubbish bin. Whenever we travel, we always try and find cats – so these feral, scrawny little beasts made our day.

I don’t know why we didn’t go down there more often to be honest. There are several touristy locations, such as Turtle Head park, and a Chinese movie studio where they still film period drama’s and movies, while putting on live shows. I guess all told, without access to a car, it was a bit of a pain in the ass – particularly seeing it wasn’t on the same side of Wuxi as the school where we lived.

The only other time we were going to go there, was a few days before our kiwi friends, Matt & Abby, were about to head home to New Zealand. As the four of us hopped in a taxi and made our way towards the lake, it became darker and darker, until it was what we officially call ‘scary dark’ – in that, it looked like the weather in the USA just prior to a tornado touching down. It then proceeded to dump down rain for the rest of the day, so we just returned to Wuxi city centre and walked around, enjoying the surprised water attacks that would pop out from beneath the tiled pathways.

Tai Hu was actually a very prominent part of Chinese news a few years before we were there. Large algae blooms were appearing in the water, which was a massive issue as it’s still used as one of Wuxi’s primary drinking water sources. There’s even a beer called Tai Hu Shui – meaning literally ‘Tai Hu water’ –  a pretty good beer at that!

The son of one of the owners of the Aussie expat bar in Wuxi said it was terrible. He said that when they turned the taps on, the water coming out was a horrible thick green sludge – mm, mmh! And what causes algae blooms you might ask? None other than pollution – and likely industrial waste dumped directly into the lake from any of the numerous factories in the area.

If you happen to get to Wuxi, do make the effort to visit Tai Hu, and if you do get there, please send me a photo of you in the paddleboat – i’ll appreciate it on multiple levels.

Lake Tai Hu, Wuxi

Lake Tai Hu, Wuxi


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