Thursday, November 24, 2011

Shanghai Day Five - Suzhou

After fulfilling our booth duty both Wednesday and Thursday, we had a free day on Friday.  A few of us decided that it'd be a great opportunity to get out of Shanghai entirely and explore a little further afield.

Just about fifty miles west, is the city of Suzhou.  By car, this would be a good 90 minute drive each way with traffic, but on the bullet train, it was just 18 minutes!  We arrived at the Shanghai train station, and immediately, I was impressed with how spacious, modern, and ultra-clean the station was.  Multiple bullet trains depart hourly for destinations like Beijing and Hong Kong, and it had me wondering why we fail to accomplish this kind of luxurious mass transit in our own country.  We have the same challenges of population density and geography, but what we lack is the political willpower to spend money on infrastructure.  I guess that's where a benevolent dictator can be useful sometimes.

Politics aside, it was hard not to feel like we need to step up our game in the USA if we're going to remain competitive.  The Chinese have got it going on!

Our first stop in Suzhou was the Suzhou Museum.  I'm not much of a museum person.  My idea of visiting exhibits in a museum involves about two seconds on each exhibit, getting me through the museum in under fifteen minutes if I'm lucky.  The Chinese historical artifacts were the most interesting, with the carved ivory tusk being the most incredible thing I saw at the museum.

The little wee baby porcelain figure that you see in the photos below is actually a pillow.  Doesn't look very comfortable, does it?

After the museum, we headed through the shopping district to the Buddhist Temple and Pagoda.  The shops were very humble, and unlike in Shanghai, the vendors did not harass us to purchase their wares.  They smiled and waved, and even provided directions when we needed them.  Very friendly and beautiful people.

At the temple, we had the opportunity to climb the eight story tower overlooking Suzhou.  From the tower, we could see the endless sea of housing blocks, intermingled with shops, construction (always construction in China), and the massive train station in the distance.

After climbing the tower, we visited the toilets, and to our amusement found a sign that warned of "Landslides" with an image of a fellow who looked very much like he was doing the "Green Apple Quickstep."  Not sure what the original Chinese intention was, but as we were not in a hilly area, we though landslide must have a deeper meaning, especially for the frail western digestive tract.

Our next stop was the Suzhou Silk Museum, where we had the opportunity to learn about the history of silk (which is as old as China itself), see some live silkworms munching on their favorite mulberry leaves, and even see some weavers actually working the silk looms.  This museum is a must see for anyone finding themselves in Suzhou for the day.

After the Silk Museum, we strolled through the markets a bit more, and ended up at the Humble Administrator's Garden.  This garden is the retirement home of a former city official, who felt it was a worthwhile endeavor to spend his remaining days tending his large, expansive garden.

The garden is filled with little streams, buildings, meandering walks, trees and shrubs of all varieties, and of course, koi in every pond.

With daylight waning, we decided to head back to Shanghai.  We attempted several times to hail a cab, but were unsuccessful.  Every cab that drove by us was off duty, so we finally opted for a rickshaw ride back to the train station.  I'm glad we did; it certainly added to the color from the trip.  And when we returned to Shanghai, we further adventured into the very busy metro subway system to get back home to the hotel.

We returned to the hotel very exhausted, but totally satisfied with our day trip in Suzhou.

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