Suzhou, the Chinese Venice

I will always regret  not riding a gondola in Venice. We were only there for one night and it was cold, pouring rain, and it stunk to high heavens. The last thing I wanted to do was get closer to the stinky water.

Good thing I got a redo on the much cleaner waters of the Suzhou canals, nicknamed the Venice of China.

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Notice the leaning pagoda in the distance

We took an hour long boat ride through the man-made canals. Built over a thousand years ago, this used to be a major thruway for industry. The houses along the sides of the canal have no running water or sewer system, but everyone pays a price for water-front property.

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The foundation of this house is over 600 years old.

Once we got off the boat we landed in the crowded market place that was not meant for tourists. This is always my favorite part of a trip.

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Shantang street runs for 2 miles.

I have a thing for baby shoes.

I have a thing for baby shoes.

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The peeking duck are the white ones in front of the cage.

As we were getting back in the boat, we watched a guy trying to fish his car keys out of the canal. Someone with a stick with a magnet taped to the end came to help. It must happen pretty frequently.

We had to come back and see Shangtang St. with the lights on.

We had to come back and see Shangtang St. with the lights on.

Getting lost in the Lingering garden

If you don’t know where to go on a vacation I always recommend UNESCO World Heritage sites. These sites are internationally protected zones that represent the ingenuity  and creativity of human creation or the outstanding biological miracles of nature. The Lingering garden in Suzhou is no exception.

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The main lake in the middle of the compound.

The Lingering garden was the private home and garden for Xu Taishi, a rich government official in the 16th century. An elaborate maze of black and white rooms with sudden gardens popping up everywhere, the Lingering garden is almost 6 acres. There used to be hundreds of gardens like this in the Suzhou province (about 2 hours from Shanghai), but most were destroyed during the Japanese invasion and the Cultural revolution. My tour guide warned us to stay close because it’s very easy to get lost, but I got distracted by the bonsai trees and fell behind.

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They are so intricate and unique

I’ve never understood the mystique behind bonsai trees until Suzhou. They really allow you to take in all the amazing, beautiful details of a tree that you would normally overlook because of their scale. Any tree can become a bonsai tree; it’s not a breed of tree but a process of binding. The process requires keeping a sapling in a small pot, wrapping wires around the branches so they don’t grow too tall, and trimming the leaves.

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The crazy root structure – the actually plant part of the trees is that little bit of green on the top left.

Bonsai is actually a Japanese artform, but it comes from the Chinese art called Penjing. Since most people aren’t familiar with penjing, I’ll keep using the term bonsai.

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I fell in love with all the variety

There were hundred of these trees! I’m only sharing just a few. I loved the ones that mimic  famous landscapes in China:

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Made to look like the mountains in the west. This is only a foot wide.

When I finally looked up from my camera I noticed that the group was gone. Mike went for  some coffee so there was no chance of finding him either. While I tried to find my ride home I stumbled on some beautiful scenes.

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A quiet moment of solitude

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So many colors!

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After I crossed this bridge three times I accepted that I was lost.

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I know what I want my future garden to look like 🙂

Eventually I found my group and all was well. I’m glad I got some quiet moments in the garden. It’s truly a special place. One of the reasons why it is so peaceful is that they have signs everywhere begging tourists to be polite. There were some questionable English translations but they got their message across.

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I’ll leave you with this image of their beautiful trash cans:

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Porcelain garbage bins!

The best hotels ever

Before I left for China I told you I booked the trip through Living Social and I wasn’t sure how that would go. I have to say that we got more than our money’s worth on this trip. Actually I have no idea how they can afford to have a trip like this for the price we paid. The total cost was $1,300 a person including airfare,  5 star hotels, ground transportation and food. The flight alone usually costs that amount. Mike and I kept joking that the Chinese government probably subsidized our trip just so that we’d go back to America and tell people all about the luxury hotels and fine dining. Their plan worked. Actually, I must admit the sketchy Chinese restaurant on my block has better Chinese food than what we ate there, but the hotels were incredible:

The Oriental Bay International Hotel in Beijing

You’ll notice a reoccurring theme of giant windows in the bathroom. I’m sure the designers thought this was sexy, but there’s nothing like waking up in the morning and seeing your loved one on the toilet.

You can watch a movie from the bathtub!

And they gave us matching robes!

This is how we roll

Moving on to The Grand Metro Park Hotel in Suzhou

Mike is actually spinning around singing, “the hills are alive with music.’

This hotel room was bigger than our apartment, but sadly there was no window overlooking the bathroom. Instead, the bathroom was encased in frosted glass.

The view from our room. You can’t see it from the smog but there are thousands of identical houses stretching for miles. These were provided by the government to farmers who agreed to sell their land and move to the city.

Next up, The Sanli New Century  Grand Hotel in Hangzhou:

The incredible lobby

This lobby was colder than outside. Thank heavens for Eda, writer of Tokyo Tales, who warned me that it would be cold indoors. I wore my coat, hat, scarf and gloves inside every restaurant, bus ride and lobby. Heating is not common.

In Hangzhou we got a night off from the group and found a great little restaurant. They didn’t speak a word of Enlgish and we had to mime and point to other people’s food to order. At one point I rubbed my belly to ask if something was tasty. The woman gave me a stern look. Mike said, “I think you just ordered an abortion.” We did end up getting an amazing beef dish with a very light tempura and pistachio nut batter.

Now on to the final hotel. Courtyard by Marriot  in Shanghai:

Had to use the panoramic feature on my camera to show you all the elegance of this room in one picture.

This one came complete with a binder for the remote:

The strange view from the room: Skyscrapers, a slum, and an abandoned field. I’m pretty sure there will be ten skyscrapers in that space by next year.

We’re going to China!

It was an impulsive purchase on Living Social months ago, and I almost completely forgot about it, but on Monday we’re leaving for China. We hear so much about China in the news, but I really don’t know much about it at all so when I saw the great deal online I had to take a leap. I’ve taken lots of trips with Living Social (I love this company), but I’ve never done such an extensive, oversees trip with them. We’ll be touring all the major cities for two weeks (BeijingHangzhouShanghaiSuzhou and Xian) I’m not sure if I’ll be able to post while I’m there, so I send everyone a big kiss goodbye, and I hope you all have fantastic Thanksgivings. I’ll make sure to post a ton of pictures when I get back.

Close up of a cute baby 7-month old panda cub ...

Photo by Sheila Lau. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)