Holiday – China (Day 14): Suzhou on a Choo-Choo!

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Morning! ๐Ÿ˜ƒ
(Sorry it’s late again!)
Today, we’re on the train heading for Suzhou! But before all that, what could be better than meeting a new Tour Guide?

…it’s meeting TWO new Tour Guides. First up, there’s Mark who’s looking after us in Shanghai, and later we were to meet Stephen, for our Tour around Suzhou.

And it looks like the great weather has returned – around 24-26โ„ƒ with a gentle breeze! Perfect! ๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž๐Ÿ˜Ž

Being China, AND travelling from Shanghai meant it was no ordinary train either – it’s another ‘bullet’ type!

We were picked up by Mark at the Hotel, and our Driver quickly (and I do mean quickly – cyclists, pedestrians and anything else moving beware!) whisked us to Shanghai Railway Station. Opened in 1987, it’s a monster and another impressive piece of Chinese architecture. Very shiny and not a speck of dust in sight! ๐Ÿ˜

Today’s Tourist Tip: Make sure you travel to the right one as there are FOUR in Shanghai! ๐Ÿค”

On time to the second!
Me, not looking trim! (I blame the takeaways here!)

Our 100km journey at a top speed of 300 km/h (including stops) to Suzhou meant that we arrived in around 35 minutes (by ‘standard train it’s anywhere between 1 and 2 hours). It’s the fastest way to get to Suzhou and there’s plenty of them as these trains run every 20 minutes, every day! Impressive!! ๐Ÿ‘Œ

Super-comfy seats!

So what about Suzhou? It’s a major city located in southeastern Jiangsu Province of East China, about 100 km (62 mi) northwest of Shanghai. It’s a major economic centre and is the focal point of trade and commerce.

But we’re not going there for a lesson in economics! It’s a holiday and we’re attracted to its other claim-to-fame – it’s also known as the Venice of the East (after its extensive canal structure).

We met with Stephen – our Guide – and we were soon into our Tour Bus (Driver, Mr Chau) and heading for out of the city for our one-day tour. On the the ‘to-do’ list today…

  • China’s Number 1 Silk Factory
  • The Garden of the Humble Administrator
  • A boat trip on the Canal
  • Lunch at a local Chinese restaurant
  • A visit to the Opera Museum

Silk Factory

The Sun was out and it was a pleasantly warm morning as we arrived at China’s ‘No 1’ Silk Factory. It was founded in 1926 as a state-owned factory but is now in provate hands. After parking, Stephen led us straight into the factory itself and a comprehensive demonstration about the all-important birth of a silk-worm.

We then moved into the factory itself our first stop was a a bit of quality control! The factory also buys-in silk cuckoons and we observed a member of staff sifting through the latest batch to reject those that didn’t come up to scratch!

It looked like a big (and very repetitive) job! Our next stop was seeing an actual loom working and it was impressive to see how fine the strands of silk were.

Click above to play

Those Silkworms are clever beasts!

Pure Silk!

And if we were thinking this was just about the creation process, we were wrong because the next stop was a sizeable piece of retail space selling their wares…

Very cheap prices!

From duvets and pillows to silk prnts, it seemed to have everything! It’s a lot cheaper out here too! – about a quarter of the price than in the UK.

The ancient art of Chinese retail space

I was tempted, but resisted, whilst Ann didn’t! Worth it though – two large silk scarves for ยฃ30 total!!

Our next stop was the “ever so ‘umble”… ๐Ÿ™„

The Garden of the Humble Administrator

It’s large – 13 acres!

The Humble Administrator’s Garden is a Chinese garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most famous of the gardens of Suzhou. The garden is located at 178 Northeast Street, Gusu District. At 13 acres, it is the largest garden in Suzhou and is considered by many to be the finest garden in all of southern China.

The story of the ‘Humble Administrator” goes like this:
During the reign of Emperor Zhengde (1506-1521), the site was occupied by Dahong Temple. At that time, a censor named Wang Xianchen, an Imperial Envoy and poet of the Ming Dynasty, appropriated the temple and converted it into a private villa. In 1510, he retired to his native home of Suzhou under the occasion of his father’s death. He had experienced a stressful official life consisting of various demotions and promotions, and gave up his last official post as magistrate of Yongjia county in Zhejiang province, and began to work on the garden. But the Wang family could not maintain it. After the death of Wang Xianchen a few years later, Wang’s son lost the garden to pay gambling debts and in the coming centuries the garden repeatedly changed hands and was rebuilt many times.

Clearly the locals knew all of this and consequently it was very busy. It felt like the whole of China had arrived at the same time as us, and it made the photography a lot more challenging!

Very green and only ONE pagoda! ๐Ÿ˜

It seemed to go on for ages (in a good way) but at times, it was a real rugby-scrum at times.

Monty Don would have been proud, but the ‘Jobs for the Weekend’ would have been enormous! ๐Ÿ˜Š

Our day was flying by, and Stephen led us to our next experience – Suzhou’s Canal.

Boat trip on the Canal

This was the highlight of the day for me! Canals in China is not something you immediately think of (well, I didn’t!) but it looked perfectly natural and in-keeping with the local area. In fact it’s part of the longest canal IN THE WORLD at 1104 miles (part of the Grand Canal). I didn’t know that! ๐Ÿ˜

And it didn’t disappoint! Our ‘Pilot’ was a woman, slight of build, but very handy with an oar! She manouvered our boat with extreme precision and confidence, even performing an abrupt ‘three-point-turn’ towards the end or our trip to avoid a temporary obstruction. Respect! ๐Ÿ˜ฒ

But things were about to go a bit ‘Pete Wong Tong! What we weren’t to know when we innocently boarded our vessel some 20 minutes earlier was that ‘obstruction’ I mentioned meant that we didn’t quite fully complete the journey – and Stephen was waiting half a mile ahead not knowing that we’d already got off! ๐Ÿค” Cue some degress of stress on both sides!

Luckily, it all worked-out in the end, but it was one of those ‘moments’ where your mind works overtime thinking about all the negative permutations! ๐Ÿ˜ฒ


Confucius say: “Beware entering Restaurant after Chefs have left”

Stephen had rescheduled lunch for later than previously suggested without explaining why, so by the time we were told, we were ready for it as it was getting on for 1.45pm! At this point, things started to unravel. Whether Stephen was even more un-nerved than us about what had happened on our canal journey, but the result was his timings went a bit more wobbly and we ended up not getting to a restaurant to eat until around 2pm. As we’ve learned out here, restaurant cooking stops at around this time, so over the next hour, things got interesting in terms of what we ordered!

Squirrel Fish (yes, really!)

Initially, it didn’t seem to be a problem. We were shown to our table and handed a menu. Stephen helpfully guided us through it all and we chose what had become our ‘standard’ out here – Sizzling Beef, Boneless Chicken, Noodles/Rice, some Veg and a portion of that nice sauteรฉd potato.

Err, not quite! After a heated exchange between Stephen and the local waiting-staff (which we guess when translated went something like this: “what time do you call this? Do you realise the kitchen is closed!”

What we ended up with was chicken WITH bones, NO sizzling beef, some rice (yay!), some potato that looked like spaghetti, and a local speciality dish called a Squirrel Fish. Initially, we weren’t sure whether it was squirrel dressed-up to look like a fish or fish dressed-up to look like a squirrel. Fortunately, it was the latter! ๐Ÿ˜

I guess it all turned out to be ‘OK’ (just) and certainly not the best meal we’ve had out here. Never mind, after an hour, it was off to the next part of our tour. However, we seemed to walk for miles along the banks of the canal (very nice!), but again, it was packed!

..and then our Guide got lost! ๐Ÿ™„ meaning we had to double-back on ourselves! After a couple of further mis-steps, we located the Opera Museum. Our only obstacle (well, two actually!) was there was a canal in the way and an un-made road/path! (it’s sometimes hard ot tell the difference out here!)

The Opera Museum

The latter was the type that was perfect for ricked ankles… or worse! So Ann and I sat things out whilst Stephen, Ralph and Karen scrambled over the rugged terrain to the Museum.

And that was it! Our Tour was over. It had been great to see so much of Shinzou and just shame, timings went a bit awry later.

We said our goodbyes to Stephen and thanked him for his services. After a quick coffee at McD’s, we headed for the platform perhaps finally accepting that no-one queues out here and pushing-and-shoving is part of the daily grind when commuting. We returned again by bullet-train and were soon back at our Hotel, (after a slightly mis-calculation locating our Driver). After a quick refresh, we ‘hit the town’ for a light-bite.

Tomorrow is our final day in this beautiful city – and it’s a rare ‘non-organised’ day! Phew! I could do with a rest! No doubt we’ll find something to fill the space! ๐Ÿ˜

See you (virtually) on the other side. ๐Ÿ˜‰

More photos (and none of my chat!) HERE

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