Suze goes to Suzhou

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May 14th 2009
Published: May 15th 2009
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On Monday morning, I took the train with Mark to Suzhou. For the record, Suzhou is pronounced "sue-jo". He was going there for work, so we said goodbye at the train station and he went to his meeting and I got in line for a taxi. I had copied the pages from our travel book to avoid carrying the whole big book, and had a tiny map of the city and the highlights for tourists. I decided to go to the furthest spot and work my way back toward the train station.

Another city that claims to being the Venice of the East, it also has a history of being a water town. I only had a few hours, so I did a couple of sights from the guidebooks. I picked a famous garden called Wangshi Yuan (Master of the Nets Garden in English) that the book described as the best garden in Suzhou. Gardens in China tend to have a formula as far as their characteristics go. While there are plants, flowers and trees, and often a pond with fish, it also had a lot of stone work and rocks. This garden had several buildings with displays of antique furniture.

The problem with picking this place was that I found it was a stop on the guided tours. I ran into many a foreigner following a guide with a colorful flag. I couldn't take advantage and hear their tour guides for free because none of them were English guides. I pulled out my iPod and wandered around with my own background music and that helped make it more pleasant. I also noticed that the big draw was the water and the fish, but as I walked around into the property, the crowds lessened.

Before leaving the garden, I stopped for a coffee. I sat outside on the gift shop/cafe's patio and enjoyed the shade. I forgot to mention the temperature was already about 90 by the time we got off the train. Sunny too.

I left the garden and walked outside. While consulting my mini-map, a man on a bike taxi, offered me a ride. At first I said no; but then I thought it sounded kind of nice. He offered to show me around for 30 minutes and it was only RMB20. About $3. I said sure, hopped in and off we went. I had just settled into my seat when I looked out and saw a restaurant called "Don't Worry". It had to be a sign that I'd made a good choice.

The guy was great. He took me down various streets and pointed out scenic spots. He stopped several times and urged me to get out and take a picture. He also took me to the Twin Pagodas and told me to buy a ticket, go in, take picture and have a look around and then meet him back outside. The communication was Chinese/mime combo. Worked fine. I followed all of his instructions and suggestions and I was not disappointed.

I loved seeing the Twin Pagodas. I read in my book that twin pagodas are rarely found in China and are more common in India. These were orginally built in AD 982. They were 30-m high and used to be part of a temple. There was only one other man on the grounds when I went through and he was off in a corner doing Tai Chi. I did a timer picture of myself--took me about 5 tries. I took some other cool shots and then it was back to the bike.

Next, we rode along a river and I took some pictures when we stopped at a bridge. When I got back into my seat this time, my driver asked me if I wanted to pay RMB50 for a full hour. I said no. He kept pushing and finally I said I didn't have an hour to spend with him and that seemed to work. He delivered me back to the starting point and I paid him and said goodbye.

Just as I was thinking I might be dining alone, Mark called and said he was done and we could meet for a quick lunch before heading back. We picked an intersection and met there--each taking taxis. Mark and I walked around a bit and were losing hope and getting really hot, when we spotted an oasis of interesting looking restaurants. We picked an Indian place--haven't had Indian in a while and it's a favorite of ours. We ate well and then headed back to the train and to Shanghai.

I had fun exploring on my own and hopefully we'll go back to Suzhou and see even more of the sights. It's only a 30 minute fast-train ride away.

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