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Published: October 9th 2006
Tongli 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
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!
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