Suzhou & Discussions About Everyday Life in China

Trip Start Mar 18, 2011
Trip End Apr 15, 2011

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Flag of China  , Shanghai,
Thursday, March 24, 2011

This was a long day.We got up very early and went to Suzhou (SueJoe) a 5th century town with canals and beautiful parks and gardens.It took us about 2 hours to drive to Suzhou.It seemed to take forever to get out of Shanghai.The sky was hazy and had a chemical tinge smell to it. There are something like 4000 skyscrapers in Shanghai and the density is something that I have never experienced and can't describe.I am not sure how you live this way, but 23 million people do. Suzhou is a city of 6 million people. The outskirts of the town are industrial, made up in large part of a joint venture between the country of Singapore and China. Singapore is running out of space and apparently is leasing land from China for industrial expansion. Many common things are produced in Suzhou; computer mice, computers, Nabisco has a big plant here as does 3M. We drove through all of this to a place called the Silk Embroudery Reasearch Institute. I thought this would be more junk I wasn't interested in, but it  was the most incredible handwork I have ever seen. The large works done by the master embroiderers cost thousands of dollars. They embroider two sided which I still don't understand. We then went on a boat ride through the canals. One of those ancient emperors - I can't keep them straight- built a very long canal in China. The longest in the world.  This canal runs through the town of Suzhou.   The canals are bordered by very old houses that people still live in. They appear to be crumbling but have been there for centuries, so I guess they aren't going anywhere. We saw people doing laundry in the dirty canal, washing vegetables, one guy was brushing his teeth at his window and waived at us. People were holding babies on the bridges and waving to us.  Everyone is extremely friendly.  I did find out they they call us 'big noses", which seems insulting until you find out that many of the women want to have plastic surgery to get European eyes and noses.

One of the more curious things is that apparently there is quite a wedding industry in this town. There are many stores selling wedding gowns and brides and grooms put on their wedding clothing and get there pictures taken on the sides of the canal, weeks before their weddings.We saw several of them. Our tour guide had pictures of her own weeding for us to look at. She had on a traditional white, western gown, her husband to be was wearing a tuxedo and the attendants were wearing very ordinary street clothes.After our boat ride we walked through a park and then went to lunch. Lunch was must better than dinner last night. Everything tasted wonderful, all served family style on a lazy Susan. The food just keeps coming, and we just kept eating. ;Many vegetables, sweet dates, seaweed salad, jellyfish (yes I ate it and it wasn't bad) chicken, beef, a whole fried fish, egg drop soup, fried rice and watermelon for dessert.

After lunch we went to the Humble Administrator's Garden.This garden is a UNESCO World Heritage site. It was very beautiful, with small buildings, which they called rooms, water features, big pieces of limestone and lots of Chinese tourists. I am learning to push they way they do. We then returned back to the ship and had a very interesting conversation with our tour guide who was about Nate's age. She explained many things about China from her point of view. She went to college and majored in tourism management. She hadn't wanted to do this, she had wanted to be a biologist, but her test scores weren't high enough, so her college told her what she was going to major in. She was not forced to work in this area though. She said in the past the government would have found her a job and she would have had no choice in what she was going to do, but now she did have a choice. The government does not provide health care for the citizens, although I think they run the insurance company. She and her employer must buy the insurance and it didn't sound very good. They may purchase their condominiums but only for 70 years, as the government owns the land. She said know one knows what is going to happen when the 70 years are up. The government limits the number of auto license plates that are issued each year, and they are auctioned off, going for $6,000-$7,000. She said before the economy took a downturn, they would go for as much as $10,000. The cars on the road are large and new. All the high rise apartments have clothng drying on racks outside the windows, they have washing machines but no dryers. Although it getts pretty cold in Shanghai in the winter, they don't have central heating in the high rise apartments and condos, or central air (They have extremely hot and humid summers). She said they rarely use their heat, just putting on more clothing. It has been pretty cold here and the lack of heat in the buildings was obvious to me.  I assume that utilities are not cheap. We didn't see many dogs and asked of people had dogs. She said it is very expensive as the licenses cost $1,000 a piece. Then there are the vet bills. So the picture I am getting is not of Communism or socialism as I picture it. It is Chinese style socialism which has morphed into something that is very different than Chairman Mao ever envisaged. There are a growing number of wealthy people and a burgeoning middle class. There is a lot of investment going into spectacular buildings and it is al quite lovely.. No one seemed to be complaining though. They say they can discuss whatever they like without fear of retribution. All very interesting.  
 Tomorrow we will take a short tour of Shanghai before we leave in the evening for a day at sea and then a day in Xiamen. We were supposed to meet with some college students there, but that was cancelled. We speculate that the government doesn't want the students causing trouble, but that is sheer speculation.

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Bonnie J. Niemi on

Thanks for taking us on your journey. I am thoroughly enjoying traveling through the Orient with you. Stay Warm!

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