Susan's Shanghai Blog - Week 38

This week's blog covers our weekend trip to Suzhou. Suzhou is located in the southeast of Jiangsu Province, just next to Shanghai. It is situated on the lower reaches of the Yangtze river and on the shores of the Taihu Lake. The urban population is around 4 million with the "administrative area" hitting 10 million. Suzhou was originally founded in 514 BC. The city's canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. Since the Song Dynasty (960-1279), it has also been an important centre for China's silk industry. The classical gardens in Suzhou were added to the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1997 and 2000. Suzhou is often dubbed the "Venice of the East" or "Venice of China". Many of the gardens were destroyed by the Japanese invasion and the war following. They were restored in the early 1950's.

We took the high-speed train, which was our first experience on the trains in China. It isn't the easiest thing in the world to do for those people who don't speak Chinese. The main website to buy train tickets is only in Chinese, so we had a friend from work help us to book our tickets. Then we got to the train station and went through security, only to then find out that we had to pick up the tickets in a different building. So back out of security and down to the end of the block and across the street to the ticket office. We found a window without a line, showed our confirmation number, and she pointed us to window 10, which we found out was the "English speaking" window. We didn't really need to speak much since she took our confirmation numbers and gave us our 4 tickets.

Back to the train station and through security for a second time and we got to the "big board" which has the trains. We were able to locate our train number and the right Lounge number.

When we got to the lounge, there was a lady sitting in the middle of a huge number of bottles of water and I looked at her, and she motioned me over. I don't know if they do this all the time, or this was some special promotion or advertising thing, but it seems that everybody with a train ticket at that time got a bottle of water.

We booked 1st class tickets and they weren't bad .. very similar to the trains that we took in France and Germany. Here's Tom in his favorite Asakusa Japan t-shirt.

We stayed at the Pan Pacific hotel, which on the outside looks like a palace or a fortress. Inside, it was really nice.

This is the picture of the garden behind our hotel from our window. You'll see later in the blog that we went to this garden later and the next morning we realized that we could have entered for free by showing our hotel key. Oh well!

The first thing we did was attempt to get lunch. We had asked at the hotel about good chinese food and they pointed us to 2 restaurants. We went to the first but they had no English menu, nor did it seem anyone really spoke English. We walked to the 2nd and same thing .. so we headed back to the first and picked things off the menu (thank goodness for pictures). What we found is alot less English in Suzhou than in Shanghai, even though it was only 50 km away.

In this garden behind our hotel was the Ruiguang Pagoda. The Ruiguang Pagoda is the oldest pagoda in Suzhou, built in 247 BC, and it is constructed of brick with wooden platforms and has simple Buddhist carvings at its base. The entire park area was quite nice and relaxing, with bridges and paths that went through a number of buildings.

There was one of the buildings on the lake where you could buy fish food and feed the fish that were in the pond. Obviously, the fish were used to getting fed when people walked by because as soon as we came close, they call came over to get ready for the food to be thrown.

Then Panmen Gate, built in 1351, is on the south east side of Suzhou, on the other side of this garden from our hotel. The Panmen gate was where you could enter the city either by water or by land and is the only part of the city's ancient fortification that is left.

This is the Wu Gate bridge or "Women Bridge", which spans the canal and comes from the Song Dynasty.

We went in search of the Confucius temple, which we didn't actually get to. However, we did come across this interesting set of statues which was in front of the area where the temple was supposed to be.

We stopped at this little bookstore/cafe and got some type of tea. We don't remember what it was called, but it was pretty good, and interesting looking.

Next was the Garden of the Master of the Nets. Some consider this garden the most beautiful in Suzhou and was created in 1140 (redesigned in 1770). The name supposedly comes from the original owner/creator, who was a skilled fisherman. On the pathways, in alot of places they had nice mosaics of birds or small reptiles.

That night, we just did dinner at the hotel (especially with our non-English lunch experience).

Sunday, we caught a taxi up to the North Pagoda, which is a 76meter high octagonal shaped pagoda which towers over the North side of one of the main roads through the older part of the city. The foundations are said to date back to the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-265) while the rest dates back to the Song Dynasty. In the front is a big Buddha statue made of stone.

We climbed all the way to the top to get some views of the city. You can see dragons were on the various parts of the roof. Out behind, there was a temple where the worshippers where burning incense, with the larger ones being thrown into this large bonfire over to one side.

We went walking through the older part of town and ran across some of the canals that give it the name of the Venice of the East.

Sign going into one of the gardens, we like that everyone has to be "polite" as well as "observe the social morality".

The Humble Administrator's Garden, which is the biggest garden in Suzhou and considered the most beautiful. It was created in the 16th century and each successive owner made changes to it. At the entrance, there was a small museum that showed period furniture and some history. Each of the pavillons or buildings had a different name. Similar to the Garden of the Master of the Nets, it also had nice mosaics in the walkways.

We thought this was interesting ... a round door similar to the Hobbits in The Lord of the Rings.

This is the Suzhou Museum, which is next door to the garden. We did not go in, but we peeked inside to look at the architecture, since it was designed by IM Pei (the same as the pyramid in the Louvre).

We headed down a shopping street called GuanQian Jie, heading towards the Temple of Mystery. At the start there was this entryway gate.

Then we got to the Temple of Mystery, or the Xuanmiao Temple. It is a Taoist temple, founded in Xianning 2nd year (AD 276), Western Jin Dynasty, and was initially named "Zhen Qing Dao Yuan". It was destroyed by wars in Southern Song Dynasty. It was rebuilt in Chunxi's years (11741189), and was renamed Xuanmiao Guan in 1264. In Qing Dynasty, due to the taboo against using the emperor Kangxi's name, Xuanye, the temple was renamed Yuanmiao Guan, and then again renamed back to Xuanmiao Guan.

Another canal on our way to the Twin Pagodas. This is a pair of brick Northern Song Dynasty pagodas stand sentinel over a few remains of an Arhat Temple. The pagodas are 30 meters high and date from the beginning of the Song Dynasty. They were intially built in 982.

And of course, we had to take a ride on the new Suzhou metro system, and new it is! line 1 began operating only in April of this year and there is another line under construction. Eventually, there are 109 stations planned to be completed by 2020.