Suzhou, China – “The Venice of the East”
Suzhou, known as the “Venice of the East” is, says Insights Guide: China, “built around a latticework of 24 canals, home to small intimate garden spots tucked away behind houses and hidden between narrow streets. Even when it rains, as it often does, the narrow streets and cobblestone walks exude a softened, misty aura that make Suzhou such a relaxing romantic diversion” (219). After reading this description and being encouraged by Melinda, Barry and I knew we wanted to venture out to see this city of now almost six million people, but one that still retains pockets of old-world China: canals, pagodas, beautiful gardens, and humpbacked bridges. Melinda came in fromShanghai to meet us since she wanted to see more of China before she leaves the country as her teaching commitment is almost completed. So the three of us met up at the Mingtown Youth Hostel to explore Suzhou.
Many couples go to Suzhou for their wedding.
Besides the canals, Suzhou is also famous for its gardens, some over a thousand years old. These parks combine rocks, water, trees, and traditional buildings to reflect the Chinese appreciation of balance and harmony.
We went to Suzhou’s largest garden, Zhuozheng Yuan (The Humble Administrator’s Garden). Wang Xiancheng, a disgraced court official, had the garden built in 1513 on the spot where the poet Lu Guimeng had lived during the Tang period. Although Wang was humbled by being sent to Suzhou, his beautiful garden lives on.
Food, of course, is another important pastime when traveling.
Chinese instruments include the two-string fiddle (erhu). Four-string banjo (yui qui), two-string viola (huqin), vertical flute (donxiao), horizontal flute (dizi), piccolo (bangdi), four-stringed lute (pipa), zither (guzheng), and ceremonial trumpet (suona). We saw and heard many of those instruments during our Suzhou weekend.
Suzhou is also a good shopping town. At least, Melinda and I shopped, and Barry got the best bargain with his hat (10 yuan, about $1.25). Melinda and I wanted to get silks and pearls. What we learned, however, is that if the price is good, what you think you are buying may not be what you expect. I still don’t know if the lovely pearl earrings I bought are real. My students say it doesn’t matter. If you like what you buy, that is good enough. My silk bathrobe turned out not to be silk. I do like my new jade and silver earrings although the shop didn’t allow bargaining.
Besides the shopping, beautiful canals, gardens, and people, we also enjoyed, you may be surprised to learn, Chinese opera. Developing out of China’s long ballad tradition, says Lonely Planet China, Chinese opera has been formally in existence since the Northern Song dynasty. There are over 300 types of opera inChina. Beijing opera is the most familiar to Westerners. “The traditional Chinese music scale differs from its Western equivalent. . . . Tone is considered more important than melody. Music to the Chinese was once believed to have cosmological significance and in early times, if a musician played in the wrong tone, it could indicate the fall of a dynasty “(79).
We heard our lovely Chinese opera performed one evening in a teahouse where people, old and young, stopped in to listen and drink tea.
Melinda, Barry, and I had a wonderful weekend in Suzhou. Think about adding it to your list of places to visit.
Zài jiàn! Renée