Next stop in my Shanghai area trip after Hangzhou (see previous article), Suzhou.
Suzhou also has a very ancient history dating back to 500 BC, it is sometimes known as the “Venice of the East”. God knows how many Venice there are in the world but basically every town with waterways is the Venice of something.
That being said, Suzhou is mostly known for its 234 gardens, that locals can visit once each for the modest price of ¥100 (approx 10 EUR) for a year.
I only visited 3 of these gardens in half a day I had in the city, all identified as UNESCO world heritage sites, and all I can say is it is well deserved.
High Speed Train
First a word on trains: i’ve had the pleasure of being able to travel between Hangzhou, Suzhou and Shanghai using the high speed train – due to arrive Hong Kong in 2017 (?), and travelling at 300km/h. Chinese train stations actually look like airports by their sheer dimensions. Quite luxurious “Sightseeing First Class” cabin.
One of the bigger gardens, this site dates back to about 1100 AD – see wikipedia for more info Now i’ve become a master at knowing Ming vs Qing dynasty furniture styles! The first two are Qing, the last is more Ming style. Note the gardens are always associated with intellectual owners, often high-ranking officials, and therefore have places for reception, teaching for children, and artistic works: calligraphy, painting… the atmosphere of these gardens is of course very well adapted to meditating on the beauty of nature, the quiet atmosphere makes it a perfect place to reflect on the affairs of the province or state, study or paint.
Master of Nets Garden 網師園
There was a time during Mongolian invasions when being a scholar and a state official was not really good for your career path; the intellectuals of this time therefore all declared themselves as fishermen – probably the most quiet and contemplating job that was not threatening to the conqueror’s administration. Wikipedia link here. The owner of this garden therefore ironically called his garden the garden of the “master of nets”. You’re greeted with a jade map of the garden when entering: As well as a 500kg Sedan chair – the rolls-royce of the time, needing no less than 8 bearers (that still makes 62kg each). Anyway, the fine details are worth admiring if not the principle of the sedan chair. These gardens were made for enjoyment of life, and still serve this purpose, people seem to linger around for hours, reading, or just looking. Chiang Kai Shek resided here, not exactly popular in communist China, but not obliterated either. These people are practicing the art of Kunqu Opera, which does actually sound nice (compared to Beijing opera that is barely tolerable to the western ear – and maybe Chinese ears as well actually).
Lingering Gardens 留園
Definitely my favourite of the 3 gardens, Liú Yuán garden is the most scenic of all three: Wikipedia link here. Pen zais 盆栽 are present in many of these gardens, the art was actually invented by Chinese before being more widely known as Bonsais after the Japanese name. Incredible miniature scene, much like traditional Chinese ink paintings: Watch the Hangzhou & Suzhou video here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bx6lOkTyhz4gWWd1VERiMl9XemM/edit?usp=sharing