We had teed up one of the taxi drivers to meet us outside the front gate at 9.00 am on the morning of Saturday 29th, and sure enough, he was there waiting for us, smiling, when we made our way to the gate. With the usual greetings of “Ni hao”, we were soon on our way to Tianjin airport to catch an 11.15 flight to Shanghai.
Return air tickets and the hotels had been pre-booked, but transport between Shanghai and Suzhou, Suzhou and Hangzhou, and Hangzhou back to Shanghai were unknown quantities. However we felt sure, after reading the Lonely Planet guide to China as well as other information on-line, that there would not be any problems in these areas.
After checking in and getting our boarding passes we sat in the waiting area with a sense of anticipation. Of course there were shops that had to be looked in, and we saw a nice camera, which we bought for Brenda, something she had wanted for a long time, and this was a good quality digital camera for a very good price. Before too much longer we had boarded and were waiting to take off. The flight was a good
flight and on the way we were served a Chinese meal - a choice of either rice (which Brenda had) or noodles (which I had), complemented by cold Chinese pickled vegetables and a sweet bun filled with bean paste, washed down with a couple of paper cups of room temperature Coca Cola.
We landed in Shanghai to weather that was several degrees warmer and more humid than what we had left behind in Tianjin, and after a couple of inquiries, made our way to the long distance bus depot where we attempted to purchase two tickets to Suzhou. We were told that there was not a bus to Suzhou for another few hours, which didn’t appeal. We met a Chinese couple who got talking to a young lady who said that she would get us a mini-bus. It turned out that she knew a guy who worked at the airport and she arranged with him to come and pick up our group, which by now had grown to a total of eight, about a kilometre away from the airport. She explained to us that we couldn’t stay where we were, because the police would see us and not allow us
to take this mini-bus, so we had to walk a fair way away from the bus terminal, where the guy in due course met us and so we piled in to his mini-bus. The trip was uneventful, and some two and a half hours later, and 50 Yuan ($8) each lighter (which was the same price as we would have paid for the regular bus) we were deposited in downtown Suzhou. We were told that we could take a public bus to our hotel, but when an empty taxi happened along, we hailed it and got him to drop us at the hotel.
By the time we checked in and deposited our stuff in the room, it was quite late, so we decided to get our bearings by walking a blockie and finding somewhere to eat. We settled on the “healthy” chicken kebab meal from KFC and afterwards walked around a bit more to see some of the sights within cooee of our hotel. Because we had been up early that morning we decided to go back to the hotel, have a nice hot bath and an early night, in anticipation of a big day of walking and sightseeing.
and Hangzhou are two cities on the Grand Canal that links Beijing to Shanghai. They are called the Venice of China, in that both cities are criss-crossed by a network of smaller canals that are branches of the main one. These canals in turn are crossed by a myriad of roads and quaint Chinese-style architecture bridges, with many of the older homes fronting these smaller canals, often with their own little landings for the junk-style boats that once upon a time were used to ply trade and crafts up and down the waterways, but in more recent times are used mainly for ferrying tourists.
Over the next two days we walked many kilometres and saw numerous attractive buildings and parks, some of them adjoining the canals, and some situated further away from them. By and large, the numerous temples have a certain sameness about them and it doesn’t take long for one to become all “templed-out”. We visited the Suzhou museum of opera and art, inside of which in one of the halls, a young man was training under his tutor to be an opera singer. In Chinese opera, men dress up and play the part of women, and so,
because it is opera, they sing in a high-pitched, castrati voice that I am assured takes a lot of skill to master. There are also many gardens in Suzhou, and we visited several of them. The Chinese love rocks and water, and so in any garden you will see both of these elements in plenty. The “rocks” are often made out of concrete or fibreglass, but look quite realistic. A popular style is to construct a rocky feature that can be climbed over, walked through and which contains numerous nooks and crannies big enough to walk into and stand still until ennui sets in, usually (in my case, anyway) after about seven seconds. Another feature common to many Chinese gardens of old is the picture window - usually a large square window, sometimes with glass, but through which is a carefully planned scene, more often than not a garden scene that has been planted in such a way as to afford a view that is pleasing to the eye. One must remember that these houses, with their gardens and picture windows were built in the days before television or photography, and so the visual effects had to come from nature
and careful planning by the builders of these houses. We had found a great little Italian restaurant just around the corner from our hotel, so we ate there the next two nights - quite cheap and reasonably close to authentic Italian food (Chinese style).
On the Tuesday morning we took a taxi from the hotel to the South Long Distance Bus Station, to get a bus from Suzhou to Hangzhou. This bus station is about twice the size of Flinders St. Station in Melbourne, with about ten times the number of people, all pushing, shoving and queue-jumping which is so typical of the majority of Chinese. One has to increase one’s body space by standing with elbows on hips and legs a little further apart than normal, and be ready to shift sideways at the slightest hint of anyone trying to jump in. We eventually got our tickets and went to sit in the waiting room for an hour and a half or so. Although we got there at around 9.30 am, we were hoping to get the 10.30 bus, but were only able to obtain seats on the 11.10 bus.
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