Today, me and my group of friends went to a town on the outskirts of Shanghai called Suzhou (Pronounced Sue Joe, like a couple obsessed with nicknames). Suzhou is in the next province over, and is in the Jiangsu Province and it borders the Taihu Lake – the 3rd largest lake in China! The first thing Suzhou is known for is its unique canal system. It seems similar to Venice, but is nonetheless charming. Suzhou is also known for its spectacular gardens, which were frequented by Song Dynasty poets and artists for inspiration. And I can see why! These gardens were quite stunning.
After taking a pretty fast train to Suzhou (only 45 minutes) we went to 留园Liuyuan or The Lingering Garden. This garden seemed very small at first, with just a small lake and some trees, but it continued for quite some time! This charming little park wasn’t the most popular of the Suzhou parks and the serenity truly showed. In a space that could only be described as lush and tranquil, it is said that this park is so beautiful that it lingers between Heaven and Earth, thus the name.
Suzhou is also famous for its embroidery. We found our way to the Suzhou Embroidery Institute. The way in was hidden and well guarded, but we forced our way past any security and pretended we were a tour group of 5 poor college students. It actually worked! We first saw the women (and one man) at work. According to them, it takes one of them 7 months to complete a 2 ft x 1 ft picture. And the effort shows. From afar, many of these look like paintings, or even photographs – certainly not silk embroideries. The gallery downstairs was where all of the impressive ones where. For instance, all of the embroideries are double sided, so they are frequently displayed on rotating frames. Also, a lot of times, the one on the other side looks different. It’s mind-blowingly expensive. But the cool ones all cost about $10,000 so we passed.
We then moved on to our second garden, The Humble Administrator’s Garden, or 拙政园 Zhuozhengyuan… I think. But this is the bigger, badder, better garden. It’s more famous and I guess more poets wrote there. This garden, along with the others, are responsible for the Suzhou gardens being a collective World Heritage Site and a saying that goes, “Above there’s Heaven, On Earth there’s Suzhou.” This one was even more beautiful. The pagodas, rivers, trees, and tiny lakes seemed to sprawl forever. Each of the pavilions had been named for poems written there. My favorites were the Listening to the Rain Pavilion, or perhaps the With Whom Shall I Sit? Pavilion. But I’ll let a couple of pictures speak for themselves. The first picture has my friends Kat and Stephanie and the second picture is of the “With Whom Shall I Sit Pavilion”.
As we left Suzhou, it started to rain. And by rain, I mean pour. But we had a lovely, if not tiring day touring the majestic and tranquil gardens of Suzhou. P.S. All of that grey sky? That’s half overcast, half pollution.