China's garden city

Trip Start Dec 14, 2007
Trip End Mar 16, 2009

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Where I stayed
Traveler Inn Suzhou

Flag of China  , Jiangsu,
Thursday, May 29, 2008

IMH: Suzhou is a 40 minute express train ride (where a speed of over 350km per hour is reached by the new improved trains) from Shanghai and is also referred to as the "Garden City" or "Venice of the |East". Dating back some 2500 years, Suzhou is one of the oldest towns in the Yanzi basin.
In 1949 most part of the city, including the city walls, has largely been demolished and we did not expect much as it sounded like it was rebuilt to be another big city with mayor industries which has lost most of former beauty to accommodate progress.
We were, however, very surprised at the lovely relaxed atmosphere and greenery which is Suzhou. We were so sorry we only planned one night in Suzhou, but made sure we used our time there to its full potential.
We visited two of the most famous gardens (both World Heritage Sites), namely the Garden of the Master of the Nets which was laid out in the 12th century and reckoned to be one of the best preserved gardens in the city, and the Humble Administrators Garden which is the largest and apparently the most impressive. This garden dates back to the early 1500's; it's a luxuriant five hectares of zigzagging bridges, pavilions, interesting rockery, bamboo groves and fragrant lotus ponds. The two gardens has some similarities to the Yuyuan Garden visited in Shanghai. Our guide was excellent and we learnt that each aspect of these gardens are thoroughly planned and thought through by the architect who designed it so many years ago. Each stone or window was carefully considered to maximise viewing pleasure. Many symbols of good luck or good fortune can also be found upon closer inspection of the details.
We now understand the Chinese gardens and art so much better as some of the concepts were better explained such as the moon doors, borrowing scenery and opposite scenery, the good luck signs which includes coins, bats, dragons, happiness clouds, the role of the four seasons represented by plants such as bamboo, lotus, plumb tree and cypress, as well as how good feng shui is considered to ensure the garden is a comfortable place.
I fell in love with China, because of visiting Suzhou and understanding the garden's and their culture better.
Tiger Hill is an artificial hill and the final resting place of He Lu, the founder of Suzhou and is surrounded by a beautiful garden enjoyed by local Chinese people and many myths. The leaning Cloud Rock Pagoda on top of the hill is a seven story pagoda built in the 10th century and started tilting over 400 years ago. Today, it's highest point is displaced by more than 2meters from the original position.
In the 14th century Suzhou had established itself as China's leading silk-producing city currently producing a sixth of China's silk consumption locally and contributes a third of all silk exported from China. We visited a logical silk factory and  got up close and personal to the wiggling worms. We also visited the Suzhou Arts and Crafts Museum where the intricate processes of making sandalwood fans, ivory and rosewood carving, silk embroidery is explained.
Local delicacies include sweet and sour madarin fish, which was absolutely delicious and drunk shrimp - where live shrimp is placed in alcohol until they are "drunk" and then eaten alive in their intoxicated state... needless to say, we didn't feel too comfortable to try it.
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