Thursday, December 15, 2011

It Only Takes a Moment

I am in love. Suzhou is one of the most beautiful cities I have ever visited. It's the city I wanted to be placed in when I applied for DisneyEnglish. Plus, it's small by China standards. I went there this weekend and saw 2 gardens, 2 museums, and 2 pagodas. I will definitely be going back to see the rest of the city and enjoy it in the future. I would still like to live there for a bit, but I also think that might take some of the wonder away.

My new keychain
Before the weekend, I was very productive at work, and we started our language exchange, so I might actually learn some Chinese before my contract is up. We also got a new trainer at work, as did the other center. We had a gift exchange, and I got a cute little sparrow-whistle keychain. The gift that I bought (SwissMiss with marshmallows) was highly coveted by the rest of the staff, so it was fun to watch them fight over it. I start a new class on Friday and another one on Christmas. Yes, I work on Christmas. But we have New Year's Day off, which is especially exciting since it's a Sunday.

Tuesday I left in the morning for Suzhou, but my train was delayed, which in this instance turned out to be a good thing. Tuesday was the anniversary of the Nanjing massacre and every year on that day there is an air-raid siren that goes off in the morning to commemorate the event. Because of my train delay, I got to hear the siren when it went off - well, sort of. I had to strain my ears to hear it since I was in the train station, but it was still cool. Nothing else really happened; people kept doing whatever they were doing during the siren.

When I finally got to Suzhou, I dropped my stuff off at the local DisneyEnglish center and went to the Suzhou Museum to learn some history. It was one of the noisiest, most crowded museums I have ever visited.
Suzhou Museum
There were lots of people pushing to see everything, but there were flyers in English explaining all the exhibits which was very helpful and let me get away from the crowds a bit sometimes. They also had a special exhibition on British contemporary art (so I now have a pin that says "Made in Britain") and a little garden courtyard. More importantly, it's next to the Humble Administrator's Garden, the biggest, most popular garden in Suzhou, where I went next.
Part of the Humble Administrator's Garden
Beautiful is an understatement. It had a great view of the Beisi Ta Pagoda (which I visited the next day); the water was clear; the trees were colorful; the rockeries were awesome; and the pavilions offered great views. I realized that even though it's December, many of the trees were still green and leafy. I was there until it closed and then met up for dinner with the girl with whom I was staying.

The next day, I took the bus to the western edge of the city center to see Tiger Hill "The number one tourist spot in Suzhou". The advertisements say it's a pity if you don't visit it, and I have to agree. Tiger Hill consists of a series of pavilions on the side of a mountain - trees everywhere - and an ancient pagoda (Cloud Rock Pagoda) that actually looks ancient and leans to the side. It's where the founder of Suzhou is buried and is called Tiger Hill because legend has it that 3 days after he died, a tiger appeared at the pagoda as if to guard it.
Tiger Hill Cloud Rock Pagoda

Yard of Rocks at the Lingering Gardens
From there, I walked to Liu Yuan (Lingering Gardens), which was very nice, but not as impressive as the Humble Administrator's Garden, though I really liked the Yard of Rocks.

Then, as it was getting toward the end of the afternoon, I took a cab back to the city center and went to Beisi Ta Pagoda, which is a 1000 year old pagoda next to a temple and with a Buddha statue in front. You can climb to the top of the pagoda and you're supposed to be able to see to the south side of the city, but I think that depends on smog levels. The view was nice anyway, although the walls of the pagoda itself were covered in graffiti from previous visitors, and there was a mural of the city and sights on the wall next to the temple which was interesting. I walked around the temple, which had another smaller garden, and listened to a bit of the service that was going on.
Beisi Ta
View of Suzhou from Beisi Ta

Finally, I went to the Suzhou Silk Museum, which was half under construction, so I only saw half of it, but it's pretty cool. I went to the silk store and was saddened by the cost of silk products. Then I stopped by the goodbye dinner for Kelly (the girl I stayed with - she's heading back to the States next week) before taking the train back to Nanjing. It's good to be traveling again.

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