My trip to Suzhou, near Shanghai ~ April 2013

Very early during my stay in China, in fact it was round about the time I expressed slight disappointment with the backward state of Donghai, the town I was sent to live and work in, my colleagues mentioned Suzhou to me. I figured out how developed Suzhou is, based on the advanced electronics industry and their connections with the West and how English is one of the most crucial subjects for students at all levels, from kindergarten to university. Plenty of work potential over there, I thought.

There's no comparison between Donghai and Suzhou. I even called it Little Amsterdam, given its picturesque canals and rivers meandering through both sleepy residential alleys and alongside main roads where people would only find a few minutes to enjoy the view from a bridge, during rush hour.

Further reading about it opened my eyes onto the silk production in Suzhou and I was bought right in! I knew this was going to be my next place to live and work in, for as long as it will take me to learn everything I can about it and improve my Chinese over there.

You've got to see it, to believe it!

My recent trip confirmed just that - there was no doubt about it. I found that everything I was told and I read about it was true. I also made extra discoveries: that the production of fresh water pearls was another traditional source of income, where the little markets were just as full with sheer pearls as the markets of Donghai were full of crystals. In fact, let me show you what I found, that won my heart.

Accommodation to suit your budget

I stayed at the Mingtown Youth Hostel and I made 2 friends in the process, whom I'm happily keeping in touch with... in English! There was Internet access, a clean bed and hot water in the mornings/evenings.

Located in the ancient town, one of the best tourist attractions in Suzhou, very similar to Kensington Church Garden, or Portobello Road in London, with its narrow cobbled mews and green spots, also comparable to the aristocratic laid back Barrio Palermo in Buenos Aires. This hostel is overlooking the canal and the frenzy crowds rushing to and fro, while offering a quiet corner in its yard (below), for those who'd rather have a cuppa and a chat, or read a good book in the afternoon. This is very similar to the house that another friend of mine rented in San Telmo, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

The view from the tiny bridge in front of Mingtown. I felt quite inspired, having a morning coffee, on the terrace by the canal, in bird-chirping weather.

In fact, I wouldn't mind being able to have my morning writing sessions in similar surroundings every day.

I shall live here, sooner or later!

This is Leon, my guide in Suzhou on this quiet Monday. Leon is preparing to go to University to study German and English, so we had a lot in common, including an open imagination that kept us inspired for the best part of the day.

We visited a few private English Schools, as well as Soochow University, at about 800m away from this charming spot. Enhorabuena! as they say in Spain.

How do the locals live in such a touristic spot and not get carried away with the rush in the height of the season? Oh, well... by simply following their daily routines during the week. Carry on with sitting in the back yard, by the canal, chatting with guests, preparing their next meal at the back of your house, or even hanging out their washing in the sunshine, on the street. You've got to see it, to believe it!

The Humble Administrator's Garden

I stayed an extra day, for a little bit of sightseeing, in a quiet spot, like the best private garden in Suzhou.

Built on 5.2 ha. in the fourth year of Zhengde Period of Ming Dynasty (1509A.D.), this is one of the four most famous gardens in China. It is divided into eastern, middle and western parts and it delights the visitors with its poetic and picturesque garden landscapes and waterscapes with exquisite buildings, luxuriant vegetation and romantic bridges. In 1997 it was inscribed in the World Heritage List and in 2007 it was listed as a National Tourist Attraction of Grade AAAAA, being also part of the Cultural Relics of National Importance under the Protection of the State.

One can't help but being romantic  during the Azalea Blossom Festival.

I do feel humble only thinking that all this was actually somebody's home in the past!

The Ming Dynasty was described once as "one of the greatest eras of orderly government and social stability in human history" - it does show in this garden. The entrace is only £7 per head!

One can immortalise flowers, by using the Suzhou embroidery special craft dating back 2,000 years, famous for its beautiful patterns, and elegant natural colours. Suzhou artists are able to use more than 40 needlework and a 1,000 different types of threads to make embroidery, typically with nature and environment themes such as flowers, birds, animals and even complete gardens on a piece of silk.

... or, one can be less crafty and eat the things in delicious flower cakes, prepared by consummate local cooks.

One can choose from cherry blossoms, to lotus, sweet osmanthus, bamboo, kumquat, chom mon plant, known for its calming effects, to plum blossom, narcissus, gingseng, goji berries, wolfberry, peony and many others.

Architecture is another breathtaking attraction: The Celestial Spring Pavilion, The Listening to the Sound of Rain Pavilion, The Good for Both Families Pavilion, The Small Flying Rainbow Bridge, The Tower of Reflection, The Keep and Listen Pavilion, The House of Sweet-Smelling Rice, the "With Whom Shall I Sit" Pavilion, The Floating Green Tower, The Mountain-in-View Tower, The Fragrant Isle, are only a few elegant buildings...

This is another story altogether - in The Bonsai Garden one needs at least a week, if one is to thoroughly visit each exhibit of each specimen on display.

This craft originated in the Chinese tradition of penjing, but it is mainly a Japanese art of using miniature trees grown in containers. A similar practice can be witnessed in Vietnam, in what they call hòn non bộ, meaning miniature living landscapes.

How can one leave such a beautiful place on Earth?

Only with the thought of returning in mind! How can one keep away for any length of time? Only by busying oneself with plans and preparations for a successful return, to live long-term in peace and joy.