Hospitality and Gardens in Suzhou
Trip Start Jan 28, 2011
51Trip End May 23, 2011
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The word that comes to my mind when I think of Suzhou is hospitality. This is in large part a result of the kind, simple acts I was the recipient of during my approximate 36 hours there. Additionally, this is because the area I stayed in was touristy, catering to travelers like me; and further I felt this way due to my time in the stunning, historic gardens that have provided a place of solitude and beauty for hundreds of years.
I arrived to Suzhou in early April, when the flowers were beginning to blossom, showing the first signs of Spring. The city is known for its lovely gardens, a number of them having recently been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. While touring several of the main gardens, I had a feeling of hope as I watched the sprouting of 'new life'. I loved the mazes/playgrounds made from stone structures in the Lion Forest Garden, and the immense amount of scenery in the Humble Administrator's Garden. However, I arrived to these popular tourist attractions at the start of a National holiday, so I was visiting the main gardens with crowds of Chinese citizens. Given the immense number of tourists, I kept my time in the gardens relatively short.
My first night in Suzhou, I went to a local stand that was selling really interesting-looking street food. Using limited English and non-verbal communication, I managed to ask a young local which food she recommended. She proceeded to order for me her favorite snack, pay for it, and walk me and my tasty gift to my hostel. Our encounter was very brief, yet her small act of kindness left a lasting impression.
The following day, I passed a long line of locals waiting for dumplings from a restaurant. Given the excitement of the locals for this snack, I decided to join them in the line. I engaged in brief conversation with several young Chinese students (in English) who were also visiting and who reported that these were the best dumplings in the city. After the approximate 30 minute wait, I left the restaurant with some more delicious food in my hand and another nice interaction to remember.
Then in the late afternoon, I used public transportation to get to the train station. As I was trying to communicate that I wanted to go to the train station, a middle-aged man also riding the bus smiled and offered to take me there since he was also going. His hospitality extended to helping me get a train ticket, taking me to the main seating area, purchasing me a drink while we sat in silence (his English skills were extremely minimal... only slightly better than my nearly non-existent Mandarin skills), and then buying me a bracelet from a passing vendor to take on my journey. I ended up feeling uncomfortable from all that he wanted to share and give to me.
When I left Suzhou after my 36 hour stay there, I was ready to go. The area felt like a big city with many nice charms within. I said goodbye to Suzhou with many warm thoughts of my time there.