Read about the latest destination of breakphreaks China travels!
The most prosperous of the canal cities – Suzhou was our next stop on the way to Shanghai. We took the backpacks to some youth hostel and had a short walk along the touristic streets nearby. It was freeeeezing! During the night we’ve got a deep understanding that Ming Dynasty style contributes very little to make the room really warm.
Next morning the weather got even colder and after the non-inspiring city walk we rapidly tried several accommodation alternatives. The Hanting Express hotel, located on the business street 10 minutes nearby had less historical charm, but provided much better value for money and had an aircon (heater) that could blow us from the bed.
Here I can share a little bit of a personal advice: youth hostels usually assume that the customer will be satisfied with any level of proposed standards. That fact, however, can hardly interfere with a moderate price level (of course, I am talking about the private rooms here, not dormitories). Luckily, during the low season some real quality hotels might be very hospitable and have an incomparably better service and facilities for a slightly higher price. So, feel free to sniff around the youth hostels and to try various hotels nearby (even those that look royal luxurious). You might be pleasantly surprised :)
Well, one night of the melting therapy returned our fighting spirit level to the healthy threshold and we’ve started to explore the city. Yes, the main main main reason for visiting Suzhou is its gardens. You might have seen Versailles or Peterhof beauty that reflects the nature conquest by human beings. The aesthetics of Chinese gardens is very different, the royal architects and designers’ main intention was to cause the small space look much bigger. The best example might be the Master of the Net garden:
As you might see, only a Fisheye lens is capable to fit enough details. The garden is overstuffed with various pongs, bridges, mirrors, stairs and rocks. You can walk several hours through the maze, discovering romantic places with philosophical names like “listening to the sound of thunder pavilion” or “pond of universal eternity” (the names are improvised without affecting the main idea :)
Well, it is necessary to say that the garden elements are packed in an absolute harmony: every reflection in the pond, every bench, every window discovers another romantic view on one of the garden corners.
Tourists are nothing but a big attraction for the local people. They are very polite and frequently ask to have a picture together:
Walking along the canals is very inspiring for lots of the artists. Some from abroad even open their galleries, like Le Pont Des Arts – a very hospitable and intelligent place, maintained by a French painter.
Suzhou is strongly associated with Pingtan – a special regional kind of storytelling with musical accompaniment. We’ve got a chance to listen to such a performance in a small museum. We were almost the only ones below 60, facing the locals with another kind of surprise when they’ve tried to discuss with us various subjects in Chinese :) We were still charmed by a two-hour performance and I’ve sampled most of it and used some fragments in my electronic tracks (yet to be released). Please pardon for the absence of pictures – it was too dark in the hall. Instead, you can probably enjoy the view of Confucius temple meanwhile:
Kicking hard, it’s not about the kung-fu! Confucius was a scholar and a philosopher that tried to formalize the principles of governmental justice and social moral in fifth century BC! His purpose was to form a high order social structure that would honor each member and manage its resources in justice and harmony. Among many others, he preached a very famous statement that was later called the silver rule: “Do not do to others as you would not have them do to you”. His approach had later reached the status of governmental religion and kept it’s value for centuries ahead.
Outside of its romantic corners, Suzhou is a big industrial city with wide lanes and big buildings one should not try to get away from:
Every city has it’s own places that are hardly nominated in various books, but it doesn’t makes them less worth to visit. For example, there was a temple, where we’ve made some architectural shots:
All we know is that the temple is near twin pagodas in Suzhou. If someone can tell what this place really is, it would be very kind to share the appropriate info in the comments.
Ah, another recommendation for those that are eager to absorb Chinese culture but still remember where did they came from: Cafe 85ºC. You won’t be disappointed by the assortment and for us it was a good place to start a day in :)
Mudu, the first from the two, reachable by 40 minutes bus from Suzhou is a very small town built along the narrow Grand Canal branch. Demonstrating relatively simple life it is considered as a place that gave to China many representatives of social, cultural and political elite.
We’ve enjoyed a full day of visiting gardens and museums, sometimes taking pictures with locals (I was fast enough to release the shutter too, hope that haven’t done anything wrong, though :)
Everywhere (and Mudu is not an exclusion) you can see Chinese tourists being photographed while dressed as ancient lords, ladies and Emperors:
Though Mudu gardens might look very similar to those of Suzhou, don’t think twice, buy a ticket and enter. You have a big chance to find something interesting. Such, in one of them we’ve found an incredible set of embroidery artworks, covering nearly any painting style or even simply looking like photographs. Sorry, I can’t remember the exact name of the garden (and villa), so if someone knows it – please write it in the comments, since the craftsmanship level at that place was really beyond our imagination.
After visiting the official touristic places we’ve tried to make our way through the maze of the narrow streets, randomly choosing our direction off the canal:
It became darker and we’ve started to look for a bus back to Suzhou:
We were lucky enough to catch the last one. Next day was planned to be dedicated to another water town, called Tongli. That picturesque place is more commercial, but still very worth to visit, being off enough from the western tourists’ route (or at least, so it was in our season):
Yeah, some of the gardens were on re-construction and, frankly, there is no need to put so many pictures of them, if you wanna see them in da real size, make it true sooner or later, since this is only a short introduction that took us 4 months to experience (still hope for more).
The real highlight of Tongli is its Sex Culture Museum (moved here from Shanghai), the one that really tries to research sex and love-related issues of the human life throughout the centuries. Educating and totally not rude, don’t miss it when you are around:
We’ve moved toward the bus station to take the bus back to Suzhou and then another one right ahead to Shanghai. We were almost out of the town, when I’ve realized that all the Diana+ lenses are not on me! We’ve tried the teahouse we were in and finally got to a conclusion that it all had been left in a particular museum among others! A very kind woman that lives nearby enjoyed my almost pantomime performance and even tried to call the place, but it was already closed.
So, we’ve decided to experience Tongli at night! Checked several hotels, mentioned in Lonely Planed and chosen a small one (off the beaten track) with very clean rooms, hot water and free WiFi (sorry, I can’t remember the name, but it was not the only one :)
In the morning, just when we’ve entered and I said in Chinese something that should sound like “Yesterday, I” – three women smiled and got all the accessories from under the table in the reception office!!! So, that, we’ve got a chance not to hurry and enjoyed further walk along the canal, visited several museums and got our backpacks on the bus to Shanghai, the rocket-fast dynamic city with most futuristic skyline in the world! Starting to write the next essay very soon, please stay tuned :)