Published: December 16th 2011December 16th 2011
front of Shanghai station
you can see how big it is
There was a bit of a "gap" there folks due to the fact that occasionally I have to have a rest from the (self-imposed) tyranny of the blog. I am now in Suzhou which is about 45 minutes from Shanghai on a relatively fast CRH train. You should see a picture of the actual train that I arrived on below. The trick was of course to get to the station in Shanghai and a taxi was necessary for this which cost about $3.50. Then it was a question of finding out where to buy the ticket, as the station is huge (see also picture attached of the frontage). I tried the automated machines, on which you can select English, but ground to a halt I thought when it requested me to place my Chinese ID on the touchscreen. Not much chance of that. Therefore had to proceed to the "manual" ticket office which unfortunately was on the other side of the road so naturally had to hulk the bag down and up the stairs to get there. Fortunately there was an English speaking teller so it was quite simple to get what I wanted. I gave myself plenty of time (there
the CRH at Suzhou
modelled on Shinkansen?
is a train to Suzhou virtually every 15 minutes) so I would not be rushed (unlike me) and miss my train. A bullet like train was awaiting me and I just had to find the right carriage and seat which was not a problem.
If I thought the station at Shanghai was big the station at Suzhou seemed to be almost as large, certainly in terms of the inner passageways (like 40ft wide and designed for national holiday traffic!). In common with Shanghai the taxi loading zone was downstairs in the basement -- you can forget the Sydney airport taxi queue, which would look like a picnic compared to this after arrival of a Chinese train! I actually tried to find an alternative way out of the station, which virtually proved to be impossible, so returned to the taxi queue which however was quite quick despite 2 long lines of people. Even though I showed the address of the Hotel Soul in Chinese to the taxi driver he could not find it himself -- this is hardly surprising I really now know. I had actually asked for a twin bed room (ecoboy - to save on the sheet laundering)
and they gave me one on the 5th floor, but as soon as I got out there I realised it was a "smoking floor". Back to reception and they gave me room 707 on the top floor -- although there was not really any view in the classic sense, but the largest bed I think I have ever slept in. Suzhou is the traditional "small" Chinese city of nearly 1.6 million inhabitants. The hotel is very groovy in a Phillip Starck wannabe kinda way and great value for the price, about $70.
I just did a bit of a wander around town starting down the Guanqian Jie pedestrian shopping mall 100 m from the hotel. Then wandered a bit further over into a more neighbourhood sort of area (these things are relative in a city of this size!) and tried to get some local colour - like the local produce market for the greens etc in the photo below. I also fairly thoroughly did one of those 4 floor electronic type stores with laptops and cameras and stuff. There I managed to buy a wireless camera flash transmitter for off-camera flash use (what every photographer needs - well very
optional actually) for about $30 which was a bargain . Had a very interesting long chat with the young arts/graphics graduate with reasonable English (otherwise would have had difficulty) who was manning the stall. As he did not have an English name (they are adopted) I suggested Nicholas for him (at the hotel there is Rebecca and Stefanie and Martin etc).
Although there is a supposedly classic food street below Quanqian I ended up in a place at about 9 PM. I ordered this hot chicken dish or whatever it was called on the basis of a photograph. It said it had peppers in it, but it was only after eating about 10 pieces of what I thought were green beans, and my lips were starting to go numb, that I realised that they were actually green chilies! It also had massive amounts of cloves of garlic in it (also see the snap below for that). To say this kind of gave me later heartburn is an understatement!
Today 16th I got up and had the buffet breakfast at the hotel. Then my first mission was to get my train ticket out of here tomorrow to Nanjing. I
asked at the front desk and he suggested somewhere near an ICBC bank but that place did not seem to exist. Then I got a more specific steer from the hotel to what may have been labelled in Chinese as a train ticket office but meant nothing to me. Fortunately she spoke enough English to be able to buy the ticket then as I could not face the trauma of trying to buy it at the station before I go tomorrow. Then I thought I had better go in search of some of the gardens that Suzhou is supposedly famous for. The so-called Humble Administrator's Garden (also translatable apparently as the "Garden of the Stupid Officials") is about 5 ha and is virtually the largest in Suzhou. However before I got there I also went to the rather smaller and enclosed Forest of Lions Garden which specialises more in the ancient Chinese art of rockery. As I have said before I am not highly into Chinese gardens and was not trying to cross off five or six of them. The Administrator's Garden is close to the Suzhou Museum but at 4:15 PM I take it that it was last entry
dressed for 6 degrees!
at 4 PM as the gates were closed. Then along the road to the North Temple Pagoda which is nine stories high and is the tallest south of the Yangtze. At going on 5 PM in the gathering gloom (dark really starts at about 5:15 PM) it was interesting going up and down those stairs with no electric lights in place anywhere - no wonder people were using their mobiles.
So that's about it from Suzhou. I bought earlier a small bottle of the local rotgut amber fluid which might be somewhere between whisky and brandy, I cannot really tell. Mixed with lemonade thank you for a pre-dinner drink. That cost me about two dollars for 125ml bottle -- there were some clear spirits of unidentified provenance rated at 52% alcohol which sounded rather dangerous for the same price. The train out is at 11:45 AM and I may manage some more snaps but they will have to wait until later.
And weather facts in Suzhou? It was max. 5-6 today, 2 deg. at hotel at 6pm then well zero when out to dinner. Nanjing even colder tonight -6! but getting 2-3 warmer in the day in next
2 days. That means thermal sorta under my shirt, then pull then fleece - and thinner socks under heavier woolen ones. You do get it used to it - and being sunny helps!
There are more photos below