Posted by: daradoodle | January 19, 2009

Suzhou (苏州)

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Bonsai Garden at Tiger Hill

There’s a little saying that goes, the most beautiful women in China are found in Suzhou (苏州). This isn’t a surprise since my best Chinese gal pal, Jue, is from Suzhou and quite the looker I must say. However, the ladies aren’t the only aesthetic that this silk-producing old town has to offer. Romantic canals, ancient gardens and a kinky museum will wrangle anyone to Suzhou for a few days. With exams and the holidays quickly approaching, one final weekend trip before Poppy and Charlie headed back to the U.K. was necessary.

The temperature in Suzhou the first weekend of December was beyond freezing. The last time I experienced cold like this was when I lived in New York City nearly six years ago. Even though the timing wasn’t ideal for a visit to Suzhou, we made the two-hour train ride from Shanghai on a Friday evening.

Our accommodation was a six-person dorm in the Mingtown Suzhou International Youth Hostel. The hostel has traditional Chinese yet hip décor and the friendly staff is a bonus. We made the mistake of not asking for the air con remote control when we checked in, so we spent the first night without heat. The shared bathroom is in an open-air foyer down the hall from the room. I’m surprised that I didn’t acquire hypothermia or frost bite because every time I washed my hands it was similar to sticking them in a bucket of ice. Not the place to stay during the winter.

Mingtown Suzhou International Youth Hostel

Mingtown Suzhou International Youth Hostel

The first night, we ate at the hostel’s hip café before crossing the street to have a cocktail in a warm hotel lounge. We wanted to check out Suzhou’s nightlife, so we dipped into a hole in the wall called Back Street Bar where anyone could bring sheet music and a band would play the tunes while the contributor sang along.

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Back Street Bar

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Paul taught us how to play the popular Chinese dice game seen in almost every club and bar I’ve been to in China. After a few games, we ventured down the street to a rowdy “expat” (buzz word!) bar where someone had brought their laptop for karaoke. With the majority of the crowd belligerent, I felt the need to step in and sing a Madonna song.

NOTE: I’ll sing any Madonna song in public if given the opportunity.

‘Like A Virgin’ was my choice, while on the contrary, Charlie selected ‘She Bangs’ by Ricky Martin. We wrapped up the evening across the street at another establishment where we watched two ladies and guy entertain the thin crowd by singing KTV. Apparently everyone hearts KTV in Suzhou.

We woke up early the next morning and took a leisurely walk along the canal in front of our hostel.

Venice style canal in front of the hostel

Venice style canal in front of the hostel

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We made our way to the railway station where we took a bus to Tiger Hill (虎丘山). Located in the northwest area of Suzhou, this large park is said to be Suzhou’s #1 sight. The Cloud Rock Pagoda (云烟塔) was especially interesting. The seven-story pagoda built of rock has been leaning for the past 400 years and for this reason, we weren’t able to go inside. We did catch a close-up glimpse of the worn and distressed rock on the exterior though. We also stumbled upon an amazing bonsai garden called Wanjing Villa (晚景山庄). Aside from the bitter cold, the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Perfect for some nice outdoor photos.

Tiger Hill

Tiger Hill

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Cloud Rock Pagoda (Yunyan Ta)

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Wanjing Villa (晚景)

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Paul & Charlie having a funny moment

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Poppy on the bus

We found a warm coffee shop called Sabai Sabai down the ally from our hostel and spent the rest of the afternoon sipping some mediocre beverages and munching on too small-portioned sweet treats.

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Me, being the ultimate tourist, picked up a What’s ON in Suzhou guide book earlier at a Visitor’s Center. The booklet told us where to find some of the best Mexican food I’ve eaten (or at least the best Mexican I’ve had in the past four months). Casa Zoë Tex-Mex Restaurant offered a December special of buy-1-get-1 margaritas and draft beer. The mango margarita was divine as were the chicken fajitas. The service was efficient and fast! For a second, I felt like I was in Southern California. Incredible. After dinner we took a cab over to ZZ8 Loft where we found a cozy lounge with no patrons. This boggled us because the drinks were affordable and the atmosphere was mellow sprinkled with bit of Christmas cheer due to the table runners and Santa hat wearing staff. We ordered a pitcher of homemade Glühwein, the German mulled wine. This was a nice reminder that Christmas was right around the corner because there aren’t too many reminders in China (except for Startbucks and Walmart). We were there nearly three hours and no one ever walked through the door. Really sad for such a nice place.

The next morning we woke up and headed back to the railway station to catch a bus to a neighboring city, Tongli (同理). The bus we needed wasn’t exactly where Lonely Planet: China suggested, but with help from a lady pushing her bike, she showed us the way. Mobs of street food vendors were next to the bus stop, so we grabbed a few Shandong jianbing (山东煎饼) or Shandong style fried pancakes, before setting off. This is one of my favorite street foods, especially for breakfast. Check out how it’s made.


While walking Tongli’s cobblestone streets, we managed to dip into a few gardens and stumbled upon a Kunqu (昆曲) Opera performance. Some people find Chinese opera a bit annoying and repetative, but you have to see at least one in your lifetime. This made number two for me. You be the judge.

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Pets for sale on a cart

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After donating a few kuai to a temple, I was given a ribbon to tie on a rope behind the statues.

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I left some cookies for Buddha too.

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Poppy looks like an empress

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All of the sidewalks in Tongli are fancy

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The main reason we ventured to this small waterside town with many low humpbacked footbridges was to experience the controversial China Sex Museum. It’s first of its kind in China and boasts more than 4000 pieces covering subjects including sex in primitive society, marriage and woman, sex in daily life, and sex in “special cases”… not too sure what means. Shortly after our Suzhou trip, the popular foreigner website and magazine, City Weekend, suggested the China Sex Museum as a place to visit. Looks like we were trendsetters!

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Although we spent most of the weekend trying to stay warm, the final China hoorah with my University of Birmingham buddies was awesome. When the temperature heats up, I definitely want to go back to Suzhou for a boat tour down a canal and an evening strolling through a garden.

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Responses

  1. Looks like a fantastic trip! Glad you had a good time with your friends Daradoodle! Love Mom

  2. I am SO enjoying your chronicle of China! Look forward to every adventure. Love You, Elyse

  3. Now, I understand why your blog is ranked one of the best 10 English blogs in China! It’s awesome!


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