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Published: April 12th 2010
My mantra should be I’ll sleep when I’m dead. I left shanghai early Saturday morning after the party and made my way to Suzhou. Suzhou was described as Venice of the orient by Marco Polo, it is also known for its gardens. I thought I was in for a treat ...Wrong! my plans were completely FUBAR, when I got there it was chucking it down from the heavens, it was like being at home on a particularly dull and rainy day in Scotland. Thank god I had a decent jacket and again the waterproofs came in handy, without them id have been truly miserable. It was my intention to see Suzhou and then take the 15hr sleeper train to Beijing but this didn’t quite work out, I had tried to get all necessary tickets for my trip the day before but this wasn’t possible. When I got there it turned out that the only tickets left were standing, no thank you. I decided to check my luggage in and see the town before heading back to shanghai. As soon as you exit the station the tour touts swarm around you, as do the opportunist umbrella and poncho sellers. One of the touts showed me a card of the destinations included on the tour, normally I wouldn’t do these things because you’re rushed on and off and it’s not a very good experience but as the number would only be 15 on the minibus and the weather being as it was I decided to make an exception. I explained to the woman I would go for lunch and then come back to her. This was pointless; she was over me like a shadow. The station had a KFC which was the only thing nearby I could make out so I went in, again the queuing system in full swing, forget lines, just cut everyone else off and get to the front. When I got my lunch the place was packed so I took it outside and stood under an awning where I ate. I turned to my shadow woman pointing in the direction of the tour booth. She wouldn’t leave me alone; I eventually barked at her to go away and leave me alone, this gave me an extra 6m space. Better than a poke in the eye. I went to pay for the tour and did the haggled as you have to do for most things, I got the price down but when two Chinese paid for the tour next to me I used this to my advantage as offered what they paid, when this wasn’t taken I walked away to have them shout me back, were only talking a few pounds difference to what I haggled for but at the end of the day everything’s is relative and a few pounds is a night in a hostel. The tour was actually pretty decent, I didn’t see the gardens but let’s face it they wouldn’t have been that great in the conditions anyway. We went a cruise in a little boat along some of the canals stopped at ... bridge where a famous poet is commemorated, a couple of pagodas and later we went to two workshop/stores the first a pottery workshop specialising in tea sets and I have to admit it was quite interesting. One of the teapots caught my interest, when you touch your thumb on a certain part of the handle the flow stops. I’m not talking about any real pressure, just touching it, there's no valve either, and this was ancient style pottery. The other workshop was a silk specialist; they had an exhibit on the stages of silkworm life. In one room four women would stretch out a silk cocoon over four corners of a table to layer the material. The shop had delicately embroidered bed linens and a clothing section which had I just been on holiday I would have jumped at, £70 for a stunning high quality silk duvet and bedspread, a bargain. When the tour ended I was soaked through my jacket sodden wet, it was cold and getting dark and I had 3 hours to kill, “KFC it is then” I thought to myself, its dry, warm and I can kill half an hour. I collected my luggage and found the waiting room, almost every inch being used. I kept an eye out for a seat and playing by the Chinese rules got a seat. I was very aware after a few minutes that several sets of eyes followed my every move, I checked, I hadn’t grown a tail or horns, they were simply fascinated by me. It was off putting, feeling like a caged animal in a zoo or a part of a travelling freak show; step right up see the Whiteman! Some of them came over and read my luggage tags, when they finally walked away I hunched over my pack and pretended to be asleep.
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