So happy when we found this huge place with so many people. Really interesting looking at some of the houses and living conditions. We walked around, then headed back to the strip by our hostel to have a very tasty and expensive dinner.
This was what that old road led to, we started walking down this street and gradually ran into more and more people. Such a great feeling to see other signs of civilization.
Day 6 Thursday, October 25, 2012
Today was one of the most challenging days of the trip. We decided to go to a smaller town outside of Suzhou and see some famous street as well as a garden and museum. We took a bus out to this place, which took about an hour. When we got off the bus, we immediately noticed the difference between the countryside and the city. There were not as many people here, and even though it was still a pretty developed area, the buildings were not in very good condition and many shops looked rundown and out of business. We decided to first have lunch, and settled on some safe-looking place that had noodles. Alexis ordered beef noodles, and I pointed to a picture, assuming it was also a type of beef noodle. The people were very nice, and tried to explain to me what exactly was in the dish but I didn’t fully understand. He kept saying “feichang” and I was just assuming he was saying 非常, which means “extremely”, I thought he was saying the dish was extremely delicious. After a while we got our food, and I noticed that the meat inside my bowl was definitely not beef. It didn’t look good and I was not about to eat it, so I just started eating the noodles. One of the men came over, and asked me if I didn’t like the meat (I had shoved all the meat to one side of the plate). I explained that I had thought it was going to be beef, and I didn’t know what this was. He said he had already told me before what it was, and repeated the word “feichang”. After he left I looked this up in my dictionary and found 肥肠, which means “pig guts”. It is the exact same spelling, “feichang”, but the “fei” is a different tone. I tell you what. When you go to China you need to watch out for those tones. Change one tone and it’s a whole different word. Anyways, I very It was all I could do not to gag. I had never dared to eat chit lens before and I wasn’t going to start today.
After our meal we made the very stupid decision to venture off and try to find this place on our own instead of looking for a bus to get us there. We…how do I explain this in such a way to make you feel my anxiety and pain. First of all we walked around for like an hour in this place. There were hardly any people around, which was the first time I had ever encountered the phenomenon of not many people around in China. It’s a very unsettling feeling. We were trying to find this Laochengqu place, which is an old street that’s supposed to be very famous and has a lot of tourists. We were following my google map on my cell phone(yesterday was the first time I realized I had google map on my cell phone, and we could have used that instead of asking all these people directions and stressing about whether we heard correctly or not…..my bad), and it wasn’t working out. We asked this woman how to get to there, and she said to walk straight and make a left at a road up ahead. When we got to this road we looked down and there was literally nothing but dirt and a few dirty houses…there was no way we were walking down it, we thought maybe the woman misunderstood us. Instead, we went down a long wide road with many trees on either side, which is the way my phone told us to go. We wasted like 40 minutes in that area. There were a bunch of trees and bushes on the side of the road, and lots of clear empty land out behind it. We walked all the way down the street, saw nothing, and decided to give up on this place. Alexis was feeling nervous and paranoid because there were no people around, or any “signs of civilization” (she’s from the city). I just felt really out of place in an unfamiliar area where there were literally no other foreigners and very few other people. We started taking pics of the trees beside us and were like, “We will call this the garden that was supposed to be here and then leave”. This was the only way we could make ourselves feel better about spending a whole day in the middle of nowhere instead of going to Shanghai for an extra day. On the way back we saw these beautiful pictures on billboards talking about this “Old Street” place, so we knew it had to exist. Still bummed about wasting a whole afternoon, we decided to go down that creepy old deserted street and see where it lead us too. On the way we passed a very old run down house with a couple men sitting in front of it, and a bunch of chickens in the front. I couldn’t believe I was actually there walking down this street. After a while we encountered more dirty houses, and the first two people we saw we asked where this road was. They said to keep going. We looked at the beaten down path they had come from and were skeptical…this place was supposed to be a tourist attraction with many people! But we kept on trekking. The whole feel of the place was different than any other place we had been to. The walls were whitewashed, it looked like more of a poor area, buildings and facilities were not the best quality. We kept walking and walking, and started running into more people. We kept walking and walking, and the dirt path surrounded with whitewashed walls soon turned into a nice path by a wide canal, houses (that may or may not have been occupied) and buildings on both sides, with a few people walking up and down the street, and every once in awhile you could see a bridge going to the other side. It was a really neat area and we started snapping pictures. At one point Alexis was snapping pictures of the houses on the other side of the canal (some had chicken cages and other random pets walking around), and at that time a man was washing clothes in the canal. As soon as he saw her taking pictures, he put his hand out in front of his face and yelled something, looking scared to death. It was weird, but Alexis tried reassuring him she wasn’t taking pictures of him, just the scenery behind him. He looked uneasy and was on guard until we walked away.
Walking further down the street we started seeing more and more people, and words could not express the joy we felt when we saw another foreigner. Suddenly everything wasn’t so scary, and we were excited because we knew we had almost arrived at this so called famous street. We started seeing nicer buildings, hearing the familiar sound of bustling activity, and saw many cool boats lined up along the canal. Finally the small streets opened up into one really big street with lots of shops and buildings and stands, and tons of foreigners! We almost cried with joy. There was so much stuff around, and we saw the signs for the garden and museum and temple and much more. Unfortunately, the time was late in the afternoon and we had already prepaid for a bus ticket that left around 5. We wanted to check out the garden but you couldn’t buy a separate ticket…if you wanted a ticket you had to buy the whole package, which included the gardens, museum, temple, and some other cool places that we just did not have time to go see. We decided just to walk around. It was a very interesting place, people were everywhere. This was the most unexpected surprise of the whole trip! I just remember looking at some of these buildings, in a lot of them the bottom part was a shop and then the top was a living space. They were built on either sides of the canals, probably used the canal water to wash clothes and dishes, it made me really grateful for all the things I have that I take for granted.
After a while of looking around, it was time to go back to the station and catch the bus back to Suzhou. We were very pleased with the way things had turned out, and after a long and very stressful day, we both fell asleep on the way back. We got back sometime in the evening and wanted to get some food, so went to that big strip across the street from our hostel and scoured the many different restaurants before settling on one that looked pretty decent and inexpensive. It turned out to be pretty expensive, but the food was really good!
Walking around some of the streets later that day.
The whole atmosphere inside this garden is just peaceful, still, and calming. I love it.
Pictures of the Humble Administrator’s Garden
Some more photos inside the Suzhou Museum.
Day 5 Wednesday, October 24, 2012
We were looking forward to being able to just stay in one city, in one location, and just chill. And when I say chill, of course I don’t mean just sit around and do nothing, we actually went to a bazillion places, but at least it was going to be nice to be just stay in one city. We got started really late after eating a nice American-style breakfast of eggs and toast in the café next door. After that, we were off on our daily adventure! I had gotten a few recommendations from friends on places we should go, which included the Suzhou Museum, the Humble Administrator’s Garden, and some famous streets. I took lots of pictures today, so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking; it’s hard to describe the unique style and atmosphere China has at these kinds of places.
We had another mini adventure finding which bus to take, but soon we were on our way to the Humble Administrator’s Garden. We got off the bus and found ourselves at the entrance of a pretty street lined with trees and small shop stands on either side. There were all kinds of people there, many of them were foreigners. The Suzhou Museum was located close to the entrance of the strip, so we hit that up first. It had the usual museum things: ancient pottery, scripts, works of art, articles of clothing, decorations, and much more. While we were inside, a couple women asked to take their pictures with me. I swear not a day went by that we didn’t take a picture with someone! It didn’t take much time to go through the museum, and soon we were out and on our way to the garden. This place was absolutely beautiful, gorgeous, breathtaking, quiet, relaxing, and even with no background music there was a soothing feeling that lingered wherever you went. I found that Chinese gardens are a bit different than what I’m used to. When I think of gardens, I think of bright, colorful flowers planted in creative designs with flowery trees, some fountains and statues here and there. I wouldn’t exactly call a Chinese garden colorful, there are basically a lot of greens, green trees, green plants, green flowers and bushes. But it’s still absolutely stunning with the beautiful flora and very impressive Chinese gazebos. There are also streams and small lakes throughout the gardens, and the water is always very dark, reflecting the buildings and trees around it, which gives the atmosphere a peaceful and still vibe.
We spent a good hour and a half in there, and took tons of pictures. Afterwards we walked down the street a little bit farther, but all there was in the distance were more small shops selling souvenirs and food, so we decided to head over to the next location, which was a well known street that supposedly attracts a lot of tourists called Shangtang Street. It was very…interesting trying to find that street. We asked around for directions and finally hopped on a bus. On the bus, there were a couple little kids that were probably around 10 or 12 years old. They were looking at us full of curiosity and I heard one of them say “Can they understand Chinese?” I turned around and replied that we knew a little bit, and we soon found ourselves in a nice little conversation. We told them who we were, where we were from, and answered their many questions. Once again we received compliments on our Chinese (even though it was completely not okay), and the kids were very sweet. We also met an awesome woman who struck up a conversation with us, asking us about our school, what we were doing in China, how much experience we had with the Chinese language, and a bunch of random things. She was really cool, and when she asked us where we were going we told her the name of the street and asked if she knew how to get there. Bless her heart, she tried so hard to make us understand what she was saying, but she was just talking so fast, and she was using some words and grammar structures that we just were not too familiar with. As we stepped off the bus and it started pulling away, the woman stuck her head out the window, continuing to point and shout out the direction we needed to go. Great lady! However, we were still very unsure of ourselves as we started down a dirty sidewalk lined with shabby looking shops and a few people walking up and down the street. It was about a 15 minute walk before we finally ran into an area that had more people and higher quality stores.
Finally we were at the entrance of this Shangtang Street. There were people EVERYWHERE. The architecture there was so cool, two story buildings and the bottom floor was various different little shops that people were flowing in and out of. Like I said before, Suzhou is a town built around many different wide canals, and in this area there was a river that parted into little canals going through the whole place, with cute passenger boats slowly floating back and forth. We walked up and down many cool walkways with bridges over the canals leading to another side full of more shops and stores and restaurants. Big red lanterns hung from shop roofs and several little passenger boats rested up against the side of the canal walls. The scene was bustling and exciting. There were streets that led to more streets, and it was hard not to get lost. At one point we had gone down this extraordinarily busy street that you barely had enough space to walk in. There were people literally everywhere in every direction. Alexis and I were getting the usual stares and people whispering as they looked at us curiously. We stopped by a stand selling jewelry and other items, and Alexis started checking out some of the necklaces. There were two friendly, smiling women working there, and they asked the usual questions: where are you from, why did you come to China, how long have you been studying Chinese, etc. They complimented us on our Chinese and we were there for a long time just chatting. I noticed a couple young girls beside us, probably high school age, looking at the items there but obviously weren’t looking to buy anything. They, along with a few other people, just stopped to check us out and listen to the conversation we were having with the two shopkeepers, amused smiles on their faces. After a few minutes I turned to the girls beside me and said, “Hello!” in Chinese. They smiled and turned to each other, saying, “Her Chinese is so good!” I laughed, it seems that as long as you can say one word in Chinese they will genuinely compliment you, great feeling. Several minutes went by and we finally headed farther down the road. There were some very interesting foods and food stands on either side. Some sold fruit, meat, nuts, vegetables, sweets, and of course a billion small souvenir stands. And there were SO many people. After coming to what seemed like the end of the road, we made the trek back, walking a little faster this time, past the dirt path with small stands on either side, going through the bridge, and walked past the nice small paved street with little shops on either side, heading back out to the main street. Next we went to another famous street, got dinner at a nice little restaurant, and then walked around to shed off some of the pounds we had just gained from eating so much. By this time it was dark, lights were everywhere, we walked into a few shops, but mostly just looked. It was pretty late by the time we got back to the hostel, but we were satisfied after spending a nice, intriguing day in Suzhou. We first stopped in to the café to get a piece of really good chocolate cake and some hot chocolate, and then went to bed.