The Magic of Suzhuo
Of all the destinations in China that I paid a visit to; in fact, of all the destinations in Asia, Suzhuo was near the top of the list. This small city, considered the “backyard of Shanghai”, has been rightfully dubbed the “Venice of the East”. With the town’s beautiful little canals, combined with colourful twinkling lights, rustic barge boats and ancient architecture, you can certainly understand why. Pretty in the daytime and stunning during the evening, it will forever live on in my mind as a true highlight of my time in China.
However, all this beauty that I am describing to you, was not the first impression or experience that I gained when my group and I first arrived in Suzhuo. As we waited for our night train from Xian to pull into the Suzhuo station, the moody grey landscapes on the other side of the trains window pains were accented with small droplets of water running across the glass. It had become quite apparent to us, that upon arrival we may be greeted by some somewhat moody weather. You could call this an under exaggeration. When we exited the station, the roaring thunder met our ears and the rivers of rain water met our feet. The entire group pulled out rain macs and waterproof coverings for their backpacks before beginning the climb up the slippery wet stairway, leading us out into the streets of the city.
Suzhuo was virtually flooded. The rain water was ankle deep on the pathways and the rain was unrelenting. Rain drops the size of slugs cascaded against buildings and traffic. Our tour guide rushed us across the road, shouting above the clapping of rain drops hitting the pavement that our hotel was only “a few minutes away!”. Most of us sprinted in an attempt to keep up with him, as well as reach the hotel as quickly as possible. Others gave up and tried to stop taxis in the street, as they couldn’t seem to handle the torrential weather.
Whether by taxi or foot, we all eventually made it to our hotel. Funnily enough, the horrible weather made our hotel look even more beautiful than you would imagine it would look on a warm sunny day. Leading us into the hotels entrance was a gorgeous, traditional Chinese garden. Made up of water lilies; small trees; ponds containing large colourful fish and a small archway in the centre, the moody backdrop of grey clouds extenuated the gardens beauty.
Once we had settled into our hotel and dried our selves off, we were ready to explore the city. The rain had eased quite off a bit, making it possible to at least venture outside and have a wander. However, some us weren’t so prepared to leave the hotel, causing an argument with our tour guide, who was particularly proud of his country. “Why come to China if you’re not going to experience it?” he frustratingly proclaimed, to a member of our group who seemed particularly putt off by the damp weather. None the less, the rest of us were soon out the door with Richard leading us into the wet streets of Suzhuo.
As he guided us to our first location, Richard gave us a little more information on the city. Suzhuo is a major economic centre and focal point of trade and commerce. Although titled “the backyard of Shanghai”, the city still contains over 4 million residents! (Shanghai has over 30 million residents, so in perspective, it’s understandable). Founded in 514 BC, Suzhou contains over 2,500 years of history, with various display of relics and sites of historical interest. Suzhuo is also one of the fastest growing cities in the world, as well as one of the world’s largest non-capital cities.
After our history lesson, we had arrived at the “Classic Gardens of Suzhuo”. This delicate maze of gardens, architecture and ancient tapestries, had an extremely relaxing and calm vibe in the air. It was also quite relieving to get out of the rain and temporarily dry off again, as Richard guided us through the gardens and buildings.
Of all the intellectual and interesting information that Richard provided us with, the quote of the day was without a doubt “Here, we have…some rocks”. It sent the group into a fit of giggles. The picture below is what Richard was referring to.
Once our giggling fits had passed, we were led back outside into the rain to pass through one of the many gardens. As we walked outside, we were met with the beautiful soft sounds of a man playing the flute. The delicate musical notes seemed to float gently through the air and rest upon your soul, calming and relaxing us as the rain pattered upon our faces. It only last for minute or so, but it was one of those beautiful moments that I will always cherish.
Once Richard had finished our tour of the Classic Gardens, our next stop was a short walk along one of the cities small canals to the marketplace. We didn’t spend too long browsing the various food and souvenir stalls, as the rain was starting to become rather disheartening. We did try a few different Chinese treats, including moon cakes and rice cakes dipped in chocolate (these were delicious). Shortly afterwards, we had walked the full length of one of the canals and decided it was time to head back to the hotel. We all hopped in a taxi and (with great difficulty) gave our driver directions back to our humble abode. All I could think as I looked out the window of the taxi was how Suzhuo looked nothing like what I had seen in the pictures. I would later realise just how wrong I was.
A Traditional Chinese Meal
It wasn’t long before the evening had arrived, and the group were preparing themselves for dinner and our promised evening of a Karaoke session! The rain had finally stopped, and the colourful lights of the city had begun to spring to life. The hotels water garden looked completely different in the evening, illuminated by bright green and yellow lights that bounced gracefully off the plants and water.
Once the whole group was ready, we began our walk along the canals and over bridges to where we would be eating our dinner. As we arrived at the first bridge that required crossing, it was in this moment that I experienced the stunning beauty of Suzhuo that I mentioned earlier. As we climbed up the steps, what met my eyes over the edge of the bridges wall was purely mesmerising.
I had never seen anything quite as gorgeous as these views in my life. The water from the days heavy rain was still laying on the pavement, creating lovely reflections of the various colours sprinkled across the city. The walk to our restaurant was, in a word, magical. With such amazing, colourful architecture at every turn, it was like walking through a kaleidoscope of vibrance. It was a real shame I had decided not to take my camera out with me. The pictures I could have taken would have been incredible!
Once we reached our restaurant, we were welcomed by a short Chinese lady, who guided us up some narrow steps to a large room with two circular tables and a balcony over looking one of the canals. The group separated into two and sat around the tables together. It wasnt long before various plates of food were being delivered from the kitchen to the “Lazy Susan” on our tables. The food (as always, it seems in China) was delicious. There were a variety or meat dishes, eggplant dishes, noodles and dumplings (to name a few) and it was all devoured with delight by everyone at the table. Even some who claimed to be vegetarians couldn’t resist the pork dishes!
Once the all the food was finished and washed down with a refreshing beer, it was time to head to our private Karaoke session! This was probably my most enjoyable evening of the trip so far. With plenty of beer and enjoyable sing-a-longs, the evening was filled with laughter and bonding of friendships.
The walk to the Karaoke booths took us the centre of Suzhuo, which looked very different to the surrounding canals. The centre was considerably more modern, reminding me of cities like Liverpool or Manchester. The centre of the city contained many high risers and modern structures; one of which was a large shopping centre that also hosted our Karaoke centre.
Once inside, we were escorted to our private booth, which has long leather sofas running around the edge of the room and a huge plasma screen on the adjacent wall. The Karaoke was controlled by touch pad screens installed on the walls, were you could choose from a large selection of songs. First and foremost, a few of us agreed to stock up on plenty of beer. A nearby supermarket in the shopping centre, allowed us to purchase alcohol and transport it in baskets back to the private booth! What more could you possibly ask for?
Everyone was a bit shy to begin with, so Richard started us off with his rendition of “Hey Jude”, which apparently is a big favourite in China! After that, the songs slowly started to roll out. My first song, although not my choice, was a duet of “Uptown Girl” with David. That certainly seemed to break the ice, as after that everyone was jumping on the microphone! From “Wrecking Ball” to Oasis; from my rendition of “The Real Slim Shady” to “Waka Waka” (which was oddly turned off before we managed to get to “this time for Africa!”) the evening slipped into a tipsy barrage of averagely sung melodies. Some of the group decided to call it a night, while the rest of us were asking if we could pay to rent to room out for longer! This didn’t seem to fly with Richard on the other hand, who slowly tried to usher us out of the door, claiming it was “time for us to go home.”
We weren’t happy with Richards negative vibes however and insisted that he tell us where we could continue to drink! Once back at the hotel, he did kindly inform us of a club that we could walk to that would still be open. So, we did! We walked around the corner from our hotel, straight in through the entrance of the club and headed towards the music. We opened a large door on the inside of the entrance corridor, to reveal a dark room with flashing lights and the vague shapes of people stood around inside. This didn’t seem like your regular party. I don’t know what was happening inside that room, but I certainly don’t want to try and remember. It was only a matter of seconds before we were being escorted out of the building by security. This trail of recent events led us to believe that maybe we were better off just heading back inside the hotel.
On the other hand, this did not deter us from continuing to drink! We grabbed a few bottles of beer on our walk back, sat in the lobby and just chatted for a few hours. It was the first night I had spent sharing a few drinks with some of the group and I felt like I was really begun to bond with them and develop some wonderful friendships.
Our experience of Suzhuo fell right into middle of our fortnight tour of China and it had dawned on me that in a weeks’ time I would be moving on from this wonderful group of people. It made me feel quite sad in fact, considering I had become so close with some of the group. Although I knew I may not see some of them for quite some time, I knew that I had already made friendships that I would cherish for the rest of my life.
The Magic of Suzhuo
All in all, only spending one night in Suzhuo certainly wasn’t enough. I could have stayed there for days on end, gazing into the beautiful colours and reflections cast across the gentle lapping of the canals water. It was definitely my favourite location in China so far and hade rightfully earned its name “Venice if the East”. If you are reading this with the anticipation of visiting China in the future, make sure Suzhuo is on your list of locations. I can promise you that you will not regret it.