Being a Tourist

Trip Start Jun 15, 2007
Trip End Jun 24, 2007

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Flag of China  ,
Wednesday, June 20, 2007

We begin Tuesday morning early in downtown Suzhou. We eat a breakfast of a variety of dumplings at two different restaurants. (It's like we are on the dumpling tour, but hey, I am not complaining.) Ben, Carolyn and I spend much of the day touring three of the biggest attractions - the North  Pagoda and Temple, Humble Administrator's Garden and Suzhou Museum. I remember seeing the North Pagoda ten years ago, but Suzhou has two pagodas, so I cannot remember which one I actually went in 10 years ago.
The North Pagoda is perhaps the most famous symbol of Suzhou as it sits in the heart of the city. This nine-story structure is a Buddhist temple that dates back 1,500 years. The Pagoda, one of the tallest in the southern half of China, was built much later. We climb up the pagoda and receive some nice views of the city. But smog prevents us from seeing very far. (As China produces more and more cars, electricity and other modern conveniences, it has also created some of the most polluted cities in the world.)
The Humble Administrator's Garden is breathtaking. It makes me think of a famous Chinese saying: "In heaven there is paradise, on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou." Suzhou's largest garden is really a park as it takes hours to stroll through. Photos and video do not do it justice. One area of the garden features a long waterway and in the distance you can see the North Pagoda.
Right next to the Garden is the newly opened Suzhou Museum. The building is a western like structure designed by I.M. Pei, the world famous architect, who originally hailed from the Suzhou area. The museum contains interesting artifacts from the Ming and Qing Dynasties and has numerous other exhibits. This museum has a relatively cheap admission price (less than three U.S. dollars), so many Chinese could visit it. But the Gift shop is beyond reach for not only most Chinese, but many Westerners, too. The museum sells expensive replicas and furniture. There are some books, which are priced similar to a Barnes and Noble, but nothing piques my interest enough. And I know I would  have a difficult time justifying the replica Qing chair on my travel voucher to Juan Castillo so I don't buy anything -- LOL.

We only see about half of the museum before heading back to the hotel and a banquet with the officials from Soochow University. Chinese are perhaps the world's greatest hosts and nobody throws a banquet better. The food keeps coming and coming over a several hour period. Every taste bud is tantalized with sweet, salty, sour and even a dish that is bitter. There is pork, chicken, duck and several kinds of fish (some Suzhou specialties that I've never had). I especially enjoy a celery dish that contains petals from a lily. When cooked, the petals have the texture of an onion. Also, quite good is a stewed pumpkin. I am not a big fan of pumpkin pie, but the Chinese pumpkin is different. The texture is similar to a well cooked boiled potato. This is easily one of the best meals and banquets that I have been to in China.

We feel fortunate to be visiting Suzhou and their university because they are such gracious hosts.
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