#9 Teaching at Taizhou Teachers College-Sensational Suzhou

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May 15th 2006
Published: August 9th 2006
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Early morning tranquility captured in the Master of the Nets Garden.
Suzhou is one of China's ancient water towns, and is probably Jiangsu's major tourist attraction. It is famous for its classical gardens, silk, freshwater pearls and beautiful women! In recent times, Suzhou is a popular alternative to Shanghai for international companies investing in hi-tech and light industrial manufacturing. It is about 21/2 hrs from Taizhou by bus, and only an hour by train from Shanghai.

I had been looking forward to travelling to Suzhou for some weeks, but time and other commitments had prevented me from doing so. My friend and neighbour in Oz, Jacque, is teaching in nearby Taicang, so it was a good excuse to get away and make contact before she returns to Oz in July.

Jacque and I decided to keep things simple (and cheap!) and booked into the Suzhou International Youth Hostel. We were joined by Jacque's friend Karen (teacher from Zhejiang) who is another Aussie and a real character.
We were located very conveniently just inside the boundary of the old city walls, about a 10 minute walk from the main part of down town, and only 5 minutes to the "tourist " street of Shiquan Jie along winding little cobble-stone alleys where
Master of the Nets GardenMaster of the Nets GardenMaster of the Nets Garden

Originally known as the Fisherman's Retreat, this garden was laid out in the 12th Century AD. Several centuries later, it was renamed The Master-of-the Nets Garden and is famous for its peony blooms in spring. The focus of this small but elegant garden is the centrally located pond, with its surrounding walkways and pavilions.
life carries on as it has for centuries.

The first evening, it was pelting down with rain, but we managed to link up with some other friends of Jacque's for a great dinner in a Moslem restaurant, recommended by Max, the only male in our group.
We had also expected to catch up with Fiona and Kim, two teachers from Suzhou High School, however, due to problems with mobile phones, we did not connect with them until the next afternoon. We thoroughly enjoyed the flavours afforded by this different cuisine. I will be back!

Saturday was a little finer, so Jacque, Karen and I set out to explore. Both Jacque and Karen have been to Suzhou a number of times before, so their first priority was to go silk shopping! After that, we walked around the old areas of town near the canals and the famous Humble Administrator's Garden. The whole area was under construction/renovation, with old buildings being reconstructed in the old style. The local government is going to considerable lengths to preserve the local architectural style. This is even evident in the design of the bus shelters! Rather that than the modern white-tiled montrosities
Roof FeatureRoof FeatureRoof Feature

A fine example of a carved gateway, found in the Master of the Nets Garden. It is formally known as "The Gateway With Richly Carved Earthen Ornamentation"
that seem to be so popular in other parts of China!

It was quite a weird feeling walking around, and noticing more foreigners in one afternoon than I had seen all year since I arrived. Apparently, there is a 66,000 strong ex-pat community here! Amazing in such a relatively small place!

Finally met up with Kim and Fiona at their apartment at Suzhou High School. The grounds were very pleasant with trees, gardens and a "lake". Very tranquil, but I am informed teeming with mossies and other biting insects at certain times of the year! That's when you remember that Suzhou is part of the Great Canal System and at one time was crisscrossed with a lattice-work of dozens of canals. Although many of them have been plugged in recent years to make way for modernization, there are enough remaining to see why this city has been nicknamed the "Venice of the East".

A visit to Suzhou is not complete without exploring at least one of the numerous classical gardens. In its heyday during the 16th Century, Suzhou boasted almost a hundred of them. The gardens were built as extensions of villas by aristocrats, famous

There are still over 20 small canals within the old part of Suzhou, giving a timeless and tranquil feel to the increasingly bustling city.
scholars, actors and painters. They were built as a retreat from the hectic life elsewhere and at one time to avoid the riots involved with the underpaid and badly treated silk workers!

From my research, I suggested we go to "Master of the Nets", the smallest of the Suzhou gardens. Many people had said they liked this garden better than the larger ones. As an added bonus, it was located about a 5 minute walk from where we were staying. Jacque and I agreed that we liked the idea of going early in the morning to avoid the crowds. It proved to be a great decision, as we had the place to ourselves for most of our visit! I was also pleased to find lovely "arty" type postcards in the Gift shop- the first I'd seen in China! The gardens themselves were impressive in their wonderful use of space. The complex is wedged between residential buildings, but you never feel encroached upon or cramped in any way.

Another Suzhou "must see" is Tiger Hill, located in the northwest of town. Tiger Hill is an artificial hill surrounded by villas and gardens, and features the leaning
Boat on CanalBoat on CanalBoat on Canal

Small boats like this still ply the waters of the remaining canals. More modern versions take the hordes of tourists for a relaxing hour or so "float" down the canals finishing at various points of interest, including The Humble Administrator's Garden.
pagoda known as Cloud Rock Pagoda at its summit. It is a very popular spot for local tourists and is also the final resting place of He Lu, who was the founder of Suzhou. I thoroughly enjoyed a few hours wandering through this complex, admiring the wonderful design of both the buildings and the gardens surrounding them.

There are so many other places of interest available in Suzhou, but they will have to wait for another visit. It was a great weekend, despite the rain ( it often rains in Suzhou, so I'm told!). I now have a number of new "foreign friends" and an open invitation to stay in Suzhou anytime I can get away! Can't complain about that!

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 25


Dinner With FriendsDinner With Friends
Dinner With Friends

New friends and old out to dinner. From right to left: my friend and 21st Ave neighbour, Jacque; myself; Karen a friend of Jacque's who teaches in Zhejiang province; Maggie, Canadian lady teaching in Yancheng and last but not least, the charming Max. Max has been teaching at Yancheng Normal College (equivalent to the college I am at)for the past 21/2 years and speaks almost fluent Chinese. What a bonus for us!
Silk ShoppingSilk Shopping
Silk Shopping

Karen and Jacque eyeing off the silk bargains on offer at many stores in Suzhou
Suzhou CanalSuzhou Canal
Suzhou Canal

Some efforts are being made to clean up the waters of Suzhou's Canals. There are always folk in little punts and sieve like scoops clearing the larger, more obvious debris. However, as with many of the waterways in China, there is a long way to go!
Big M PedicabBig M Pedicab
Big M Pedicab

There are always plenty of bicycle rickshaws (pedicabs) available around any of the major tourist spots. This one lies patiently waiting outside the Humble Administrator's Garden for it's next passenger.
Lunch with Local FriendsLunch with Local Friends
Lunch with Local Friends

We were privileged to be invited to lunch with a local family. Coffee (second from the right) is a college student in Yancheng, but her hometown is Suzhou. She graciously invited us for "dumplings". When we arrived, she and her mother had prepared a full banquet spread! It was a great occasion for her parents as well, as this was the first time they had met foreigners and had them in their home. We were all very honoured, and mindful that this was a moment to cherish. Not to mention the challenge presented by three extra mouths to feed! The meal came to a close after the ceremonial grinding of fresh coffee, by no less than Coffee herself!
New Music Genre?New Music Genre?
New Music Genre?

Couldn't resist taking a shot of this "establishment", found while wandering the cobble-stone alleys near where we were staying. English translations from Chinese are often absolutely literal!
The Back DoorThe Back Door
The Back Door

The back entrance to the Master of the Nets Garden, showing how these charming places are tucked away amidst modern residential structures.
North Temple PagodaNorth Temple Pagoda
North Temple Pagoda

This 9 storey pagoda is the tallest south of the Yangzi. On a clear day, it affords great views of the town and surrounding countryside.
Tiger Hill EntranceTiger Hill Entrance
Tiger Hill Entrance

Magnificent city gate archway marks the way to Tiger Hill. The famous Cloud Rock Pagoda can be seen in the background.
Litter, Anyone?Litter, Anyone?
Litter, Anyone?

Yes, you too can be carried around by two struggling, hard- working men or women! I think they charge by the kilo so it can get quite pricey!
Verdure-Embracing Mountain VillaVerdure-Embracing Mountain Villa
Verdure-Embracing Mountain Villa

Such a descriptive name for a beautiful place! This is one of several residences to be found within the grounds of the Tiger Hill Recreational Area.They were built at various times in history, and are constantly being renovated to ensure they are preserved in as original a form as possible.
Lunch On The Go!Lunch On The Go!
Lunch On The Go!

Yummy egg and spring onion pancakes make for a quick and convenient snack.

You've heard about it, well here's a prime example! I think you all get the message, anyway. I can imagine there would be equally interesting results from direct translations of English into Chinese!
Room For Rest & ReflectionRoom For Rest & Reflection
Room For Rest & Reflection

A number of the villas have rooms open for enjoyment and interest. This one is typical of the Ming Dynasty Period (14th/15th Centuries).
Bonsai GardenBonsai Garden
Bonsai Garden

Yes, here they are again, this time in the Tiger Hill Complex! There is a large area set aside for the display of a myriad of bonsai plants. I just love them!
Cloud Rock Pagoda (Yunyan Ta)Cloud Rock Pagoda (Yunyan Ta)
Cloud Rock Pagoda (Yunyan Ta)

Also known as Huqui Pagoda (Ta), this pagoda was built in the 10th Century and is constructed entirely of brick (an innovation of the architecture of the time). Yes, it is not an optical illusion, the pagoda does lean to the right! It apparently started tilting about 400 years ago, and now the top is displaced more than 2m or so from its original position! Pisa, eat your heart out!
Cloud Rock Pagoda Through Ancient GateCloud Rock Pagoda Through Ancient Gate
Cloud Rock Pagoda Through Ancient Gate

This ancient gateway was built in prehistoric times as part of the memorial to He Lu, founding father of Suzhou. He is believed to have died in the 6th Century BC and many legends surround him. One popular story, relates to him being guarded by a white tiger. Hence the name, Tiger Hill.

21st September 2006

Very pretty
What a beautiful town this is and the food!!!!! Bet we wouldn't get anything like it here. Tready, you'll piss me off if you don't come home fat.
22nd September 2006

one of my employees spent time in this city and has woderful photos. Glad you made it theer. See ya'll soon!
6th October 2006

very beautiful! happy yo know you have a wonderful trip!

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