Luggage out at 7 p.m. then catch the bus at 8 a.m. as we head to Suzhou, The Venice of the East. Once again the countryside has out cropping’s of high density housing mixed with single family homes and farms.We pass a new building under construction and currently referred to as “ The Low Rise Jeans” building. The photo rather explains the situation. As we drive along we see canola being grown in very small plots, and the farmers seem to be putting up temporary green house like structure, to start the vegetables perhaps. Every small piece of land seems to be put to use growing something. This south part of China is very good farm land and while not farmed in large acreages like Canada, the land is put to good use. The farmers apparently don’t “own” the land, but they are able to grow and keep what they like. Our guide was telling us the farmers in this area are quite prosperous. We did find out, the “State” owns all the land and most of it is leased for use either as homes, farms or industry. An interesting concept similar to many First Nations of Canada.
Suzhou is known as a place of culture, beauty and sophistication, having produces many artists, writers ad politicians over the centuries.It has developed a local culture based on refinement and taste. Unlike other large cities, Suzhou has banned glass & steel high-rises from it’s traditional “Old City” Suzhou is threaded by a network of narrow waterways. All of these small channels lead to the “Grand Canal” which is a main conduit of trade and travel within China.
On our drive to Suzhou we stopped at a highway rest stop for what turned out to be a memorable place. It’s quite a large place and includes the normal facilities …. I didn’t use them but found out they were rated a very poor 4 with poor cleanliness…some of the smell noticeable outside the rest stop.Inside there were a variety of food vendors, a grocery store and a convenience type store. We were hit with an overpowering smell which we never could figure out, the source. We found several interesting food items which my have been the source, but hard to say. You could purchase BBQ duck heads, BBQ duck feet and the whole BBQ duck…head included. There were other BBQ items but we couldn’t really identify them.
Upon arriving in Suzhou our first stop was “Master of the Nets Garden.” Listed as another World Heritage sight the garden demonstrates for combining art, nature, and architecture.It was first built in 1140 but has changed hands a number of times, with the new owners changing it’s name and expanding the garden. The garden is divided into east and west portions. The eastern portion is the residential area and the western garden is an ensemble of buildings around the Rosy Cloud Pool. The two dominant portions of the garden are the Barrier of Cloud grotto and a cypress tree dating from the Ming Dynasty. The areas to the south of the Rosy Cloud Pool are used for social activities and the areas to the north for intellectual activities.
Before going for lunch we stop at the silk embroidery manufacturer. This is a dying art as it takes years to become a “master” and it is very hard on the eyes. The people doing the embroidery are limited to the number of hours per day they can work. We had an opportunity to meet one of the “masters” who was in her 70’s and had been doing this since her teens. She is one of only a handful of “masters” remaining. As with any stop we encounter street vendors selling all sorts of goodies andJan just couldn’t resist this charming hat with attached ponytail. During the trip we got to know Jan and found he was a great travelling companion and kept us in stitches with his wonderful sense of humor.
After our lunch we set off by boat to tour the side canals of the Grand Canal. The Grand Canal is the longest artificial river in the world and links the Yellow and Yangtze rivers and the oldest part of the canal dates back to the 5th century BC. The total length is 1776 km however only some sections are open to navigation. Today it is divided into 7 sections linking various cities and towns along the way. The Grand Canal Suzhou section refers to the part from the Wuqi Bridge to Yazi Ba and covers about 82 km. Coal, construction materials, rice, oil and agricultural products are shipped to the bordering cities and towns.
You travel close to shops and homes and could watch people washingtheir car in the river…well not in it, but parked next to it. In addition we saw ladies washing clothes by hand ( beating the clothes) and hanging to dry. Given the water is polluted and dirty I am not sure how clean the clothes get. Perhaps they avoid wearing white .
After a lovely cruise we were taken to our hotel the Pan Pacific Hotel – Suzhou. The hotel backs onto a historic park containing the Panmen Scenic area, Ruiguang Pagoda, Panmen City Gate and the Wumen Bridge. We had checked in around 4 p.m. so we were left plenty of time to wander the gardens and area.The Panmen Scenic area was officially opened in 2001. The area contains the Panmen Gate and is the only gate left of the original 8. It’s truly amazing to see the defense system built so long ago and realize it’s sophistication complete with a large portcullis which could be lift or let down to control the flow of people of vessels needed to defend the area.
The 13 storey Ruiguang ( Auspicious light) Pagoda was built in the 220 – 280 period as a way to repay maternal love. Reconstructed in 1004 the pagoda of today is 54 metres tall and has 7 stories and 8 sides.The third story was the core of the pagoda and in 1978 a “heavenly palace” was found hidden in it and found to contain several precious relics. I spent about 90 minutes touring the area and taking photos. The air off in the distance is so polluted but here is a photo of high-rise apartment buildings downwind of a belching smoke stack.
After an early dinner we were back in our room by 7 pm.After a refreshing shower it was off to bed for a good night’s sleep.