March 23, 2017 – Today, my parents were going to show me the best of the city they’ve called home for the last 5 years.
Suzhou is a waterside city built in 514 BC (that’s 2531 years ago!) located by the Yangtze River and divided by the Beijing-Hangzhou Grand Canal. 42% of the city is covered by water. It’s known for its classical gardens, four of which are now on the UNESCO heritage list. Many of these gardens were built by wealthy aristocrats and businessmen for their families and some date back to as early as the 6th Century BC. They were typically split into a living area and garden area and built as a mini representation of the surrounding, natural environment. The artists’ designs reflect their interest and ideals in Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, and Chinese philosophies. The gardens were peaceful havens as an escape from the world.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden 拙政園
The biggest and one of the most beautiful is The Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Yuan 拙政園). The garden was originally built by a former government servant named Wang Xian Chen in 1509 during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). After a long, frustrating career, he wanted retire as a simple, humble man. Hence, the name of the garden.
Suzhou Old Town 蘇州老城區 (Sūzhōu lǎo chéng qū)
The gardens are all located within the Suzhou Old Town walls where the wealthy live and lived (apparently this hasn’t changed). We wandered the narrow streets of this ancient city, appreciating the historic architecture and witnessing the interesting driving situation. These old roads weren’t intended for today’s vehicles so the roads are messier than other cities.
We walked around and found a decent looking restaurant. Eating in China makes me nervous. I’ve heard so many stories from my parents and read so many articles online about fake food, fake oil like gutter oil, extreme lack of food safety, etc. This seemed like a fairly nice restaurant but they served hot water in plastic cups and the cooks definitely didn’t wash their hands when they came out of the bathroom. Oh well, at least the food tasted good and it was well presented!
We left the old town through the Changmen Gate to check out the Shangtang Street. Our taxi driver pulled over at a corner and when my mom got out, she doored a scooter rider with two child passengers. The rider looked like he was about to punch my mom but she apologized profusely. By the time my mom and I fully got out of the car, there were a dozen people surrounding us. My dad and the taxi driver were still settling the bill in the front seat. One old lady was screaming it was my mom’s fault and she had to pay. The scooter rider was yelling about how my mom didn’t look. The two little girls who fell just sat on the curb, scared and surrounded by all these people. My mom asked them if they were okay and checked their hands and arms for any injuries. They were fine except maybe a minor scratch. In fact, everyone was fine. No one was hurt. The car had no scratch. The scooter wasn’t broken. Nothing was wrong. The taxi driver (he seemed very relaxed) came out to calm the scooter driver down. He apologized for not warning his passengers he pulled over at a corner, etc etc. But the scooter rider kept screaming and yelling. During all this, people kept coming by to check out the commotion. After maybe 10 minutes of people yelling, my mom started getting annoyed by the guy’s anger and said he shouldn’t have taken an illegal turn so quickly. And then a little more yelling. Then just standing… Eventually the scooter fell off the car door. People were still standing there! Then just chatting about the same thing over and over again. Eventually my mom stepped out of the circle of spectators and this Suzhou lady came by and said “Just give him a 50 Yuan. These people from 安徽 Ānhuī are very rude and greedy. That’s all they want.“ Good thing she said that because my mom was going to pull out 100 Yuan. So we handed the scooter man 50 Yuan (that’s $7 USD!), he seemed satisfied, and we left. This was one of the strangest incidents I’d ever witnessed in my life. There were so many spectators and so much standing around! In the US, you either do or don’t report to your insurance company.
Shantang Street 山塘街
After this interesting experience, we headed toward Shangtang Street. This street was built during the construction of the Shangtang Canal in 825 AD. It’s cited as the “First Street in Suzhou” and considered a great representation of local streets and alleys. There was a variety of shops here for snacks, art, souvenirs, shops, wood carvings, art shops, and souvenir shops. were lots of a silk shops as Suzhou is also considered the silk capital of China. “During the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, it was the silk producing center; in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties most of the high-grade silk produced for the royal families was made by silk weavers here.” (I realize I have no photos of silks here.)
We headed back toward my parent’s apartment, grabbed their car, and went to dinner nearby at a restaurant called Spicy Memory, Enjoy the Spicy Life. Amazing service and food. Their specialty fish was unavailable though so I didn’t get to have it but everything we got as delicious!