#14 Teaching at Taizhou Teachers College-Tongli - Ancient Water Town

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June 20th 2006
Published: October 9th 2006
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Tongli Water ViewTongli Water ViewTongli Water View

Due to the network of canals, rivers, lakes and bridges, many of the buildings are "prime" waterfront properties
It’s the end of term and I decided to take a few days off and slip away to Suzhou again. However, Suzhou City itself was not the main reason for this visit. Instead, I wanted to visit a small town only 18km away perched on the Eastern shores of Tai Hu (Tai Lake), the town of Tongli.

Tongli is a very well preserved water township with a history of over 1000years. I had been told it was well worth exploring here rather than its bigger cousin Zhouzhuang, as it has a similar history and natural scenery but is much less crowded. That’s all I needed to hear!

Tongli is divided into seven (7) islands, intersected with about fifteen (15) canals and five (5) lakes. Consequently, almost all of the buildings in town are located along the waterfront. It also means there are a lot of bridges, in fact 49 of them! All of them are made of stone in varying styles. They each have rather poetic names, one of my favourites being Peace and Tranquillity Bridge. They are known as Ternate Bridges, as they cross three rivers and are considered propitious symbols for the local inhabitants. Thus, many people
Gone Potty!Gone Potty!Gone Potty!

I think this business needs someone to talk to them about presentation!
walk over these bridges for good luck during weddings and birthday parties. Not to mention use them as a vital link between different parts of town!

Tongli has a long connection with Chinese culture, as it was a playground and retreat for painters, poets, Confucian scholars and government officials. It is also known as a “museum of ancient architectures” as there are a large proportion (about 40%, I think) of houses and temples in the town dating back to the Ming (14th-17th C) and Qing Dynasties. Consequently, a number of beautiful residences and gardens are open to visitors to explore. The most famous of these is Tuisi (Retreat and Meditation) Garden and it was listed as a World Heritage Site in 2000. In fact the whole town was listed for protection as a town of cultural interest as far back as 1982!

However, this visit, I just felt like wandering the streets and waterways and observing the everyday life of the people. It was extremely hot, so I retreated to the cool of the shaded alleyways along some of the quieter canals where not many tourists go. I was interested to see how local people from this small

One of the main streets where shops have been renovated in the old style. As with many of the tourist sites in China, most of the old buildings have been converted into shops selling goods of doubtful quality and origin! Still makes for interesting browsing and gives the shopkeepers an opportunity to practise their English. "Just looka, looka, no money!" is a familiar cry!
community have adapted to the changes brought about by the “fame and fortune” of the mass tourism machine.

I had a wonderful day. Friendly locals, virtually no tourists and a fascinating look back into time. Not to mention, so relaxing and tranquil. I guess I miss living near the water!

Additional photos below
Photos: 25, Displayed: 23


Unusually QuietUnusually Quiet
Unusually Quiet

The weather is hot and it's the middle of the day, so the streets are almost devoid of people, locals or visitors. I've heard the saying about mad dogs and Englishmen. What about a curious Aussie?
Opening CelebrationsOpening Celebrations
Opening Celebrations

New bakery stands forlornly without any customers. They were very eager for me to enter and sample their wares.
Cake DecoratingCake Decorating
Cake Decorating

I was encouraged to watch the skillful process of cake decorating. Cakes are decorated in a very lavish way, using huge amounts of a white substance that is a bit like what our bakers would call "butter cream". Not really to my taste. Give me Pete's mudcake anytime!
Bakery StaffBakery Staff
Bakery Staff

This terrific trio were great sales people and were very excited to practice their English and have a foreigner buy something from them.
Bridge Over Calm WatersBridge Over Calm Waters
Bridge Over Calm Waters

One of the 49 stone bridges linking various parts of the town.
Cormorants Waiting To Go FishingCormorants Waiting To Go Fishing
Cormorants Waiting To Go Fishing

Cormorants are still used for fishing, mainly at night. These birds are fitted with a ring around their throat to stop them from swallowing their prey. Make for good tourist attractions as well!
Freshwater PearlsFreshwater Pearls
Freshwater Pearls

The Suzhou area is famous as a good place to buy freshwater pearls. Here they are in their natural state.

Husband & wife team deliver goods
Mama Preparing For SupperMama Preparing For Supper
Mama Preparing For Supper

One of my favourite things to do when I visit a new place is just to wander the small streets and alley ways to experience first hand the everyday activities of the local inhabitants. Here is "Mama" shelling peas for supper.
Follow the Cobblestone RoadFollow the Cobblestone Road
Follow the Cobblestone Road

The cobblestone streets wind in and around the canal system. This one leads to the newer section of town.
Pedicab ConvoyPedicab Convoy
Pedicab Convoy

As with many other tourist areas of China, there are always plenty of pedicabs to ply their trade, touring you around the main alleyways and to major sites of interest.At a premium price, of course.
Pride & JoyPride & Joy
Pride & Joy

The old and the new. Motor bikes are increasingly popular with young Chinese people, despite the relatively high cost. Apparently Harley Davidson are starting to make important inroads into this emerging market. This model of course is a little less prestigious than a Harley, but judging by the immaculate condition, definately someone's pride and joy! By the way, notice no locks or alarms in evidence here!
River ChoresRiver Chores
River Chores

With the close proximity to water of many of the town's residences, access is made somewhat easier by numerous sets of stairs leading into the water. Here a local woman catches up on her washing.
Siesta TimeSiesta Time
Siesta Time

Nothing much happening today, so why not take a long siesta break?! The snoring pedicab driver could be heard clearly from the other side of the canal!

Despite the insistent pedicab drivers who make out the town is "huge", Tongli is easily navigable on foot. The "historic" section of town is well signposted in English and Chinese, the streets are immaculate and the cobblestones in good order and kind on your feet and ankles. Easy Peasy!
Water CleanupWater Cleanup
Water Cleanup

Despite the recognition for the need to do something about rubbish, it is still an ongoing struggle to keep the water free of solid garbage and other sources of pollution. These older gentlemen ply the waters around town doing their best to clean up. Sadly, there is still a long way to go before people realize that having clean waterways is essential, not just a bonus and that it is something everyone needs to participate in and take responsibility for.
Work RugulationsWork Rugulations
Work Rugulations

Despite the "Chinglish" sign, I was interested to see that such a policy was in place. It related to the workplace expectations of a boating company.It included specific statements for staff about requirements, instructions for passengers and also outlining what the passengers could expect in the way of service and safety from the boating staff. All in Chinese and English. In my limited experience this is most unusual for China.
Historical ResidencesHistorical Residences
Historical Residences

I was impressed with the amount of bilingual information available for visitors to Tongli. Here a large pictureboard displays a range of photos and explanations of the main historic sites around town and a map of where you could find them. Most are now museums of some sort and some require a separate entrance fee to the 60Y (A$11)required on entering the "Old Town".
World Heritage RecognitionWorld Heritage Recognition
World Heritage Recognition

Tongli was given World Heritage Recognition by the UN in 2000 and is acknowledged as part of the Suzhou Classical Gardens group, along with its bigger cousin down the road, Zhouzhuang (1998). "To be preserved for the benefit of all humanity"

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