Imagine my surprise when as the bus was arriving to the beautiful city of Suzhou when I saw this billboard the city uses to attract foreign visitors. It was quite a shock but I heard they are having great results with it.
Friday morning we left for Suzhou (pronounced Sue-Joe) and the bus driver let us off someplace he said wasn’t far from the hotel and that we should get a taxi. Weird. He told Shujie that the bus station didn’t like to have his bus go there. Weird. He told Shujie that he would pick us up at the same place on Sunday at 1:20 in the afternoon. Weird. I admit I’m slow sometimes and it took me about 24 hours to figure it out.
The bus driver is stealing from the bus company. He picks up all these people without tickets who pay him a reduced rate and he pockets the money. Welcome to China, the home of greed and avarice. There are many fine people here but there are also loads of not so fine people. Like the 2 vans who ran over the kid and the 18 people who passed by without helping the kid who later died. This is one strange place.
We got to our hotel which was a good deal as it wasn’t too expensive and it was spotless. We could check in early (about 11AM) and we took off to see some sights. Suzhou is supposed to be one of the prettiest cities in China and one that the communists didn’t wreck to badly with their build and their desire to destroy a lot of “old China”.
First we headed to the Suzhou museum. I’ve seen what feels like thousands of museums in my lifetime and after a while they all start to look the same. This museum was a treat not because of what was in it, but the building itself. It was designed by I.M. Pei (who even I’ve heard of but know nothing about). It was incredibly beautiful. We enjoyed our time there immensely. Everything we saw felt nicer just because of the atmosphere. My lousy pictures cannot do it justice but here’s just one view from an area outside.
From there we hired a bicycle puller (he rides his bike and pulls the carriage) to take us to the silk museum. Suzhou is the number one spot for silk in China. The museum was supposed to be quite good. But the driver doesn’t take us to the silk museum. He takes us to the Number 2 Silk Factory store. Why? Because he gets a commission for every tourist he brings in. Everybody wants to make a buck. We looked in the store but there wasn’t much so we walked the few steps to the museum. What a letdown. Boring. We asked at the museum where the best store to buy silk products was and surprise, surprise, it was next door. So we went to have a look.
Shujie saw a scarf that was very pretty and tempted her. I told her it was nice and if she liked it, she should get it. The price was 598RMB (a little less than $100). She asked for a discount so they told her 568RMB. She countered with 550RMB and they said yes. So Shujie thought because they said yes so easily she had made too high an offer. She told them she wanted to think about it. Then they had me try on a silk shirt, which I kind of liked. The silk was different and I was told it was the “old style” of silk. The price tag on that baby was 898RMB, which is over $140. I didn’t like it that much. Shujie really liked it on me so that made me like it a little better.
Shujie said she was going to offer them 1,000RMB for the scarf and the shirt. I told her that if they said yes (and no way they would), that she should buy them. I come out of the dressing room and I’m the proud owner of a new silk shirt. So the price tags for the 2 items totaled 1,496RMB and they took 1,000RMB. Did we get a deal? Who knows. The only thing known for sure is that the store made money.
From there it was time to eat and I was dying for a good cheeseburger so we went to Friday’s. They didn’t have a bloody Mary for me to drink but I had vodka and lemonade along with a Fuzzy Navel while Shujie had a martini. We ate, relaxed, and it was very nice. From there we found out we were very close to our hotel so we walked through this huge area that is a pedestrian mall area. It was nice to walk without being bothered by cars and bicycles.
We went into a bookstore and Shujie got “The Secret Daughter” in Chinese. She doesn’t read books and I’d love to recommend books to her. This one had the title shown in English while the rest was Chinese. So she got that book and we also got her “The Kite Runner”. Who knows? Perhaps she’ll develop a taste for reading.
Here’s a picture of a tower I thought I’d throw in.
Suzhou is a city of many gardens. We went to the “Humble Administrator’s Garden” which is the largest and supposedly the nicest of them. There were too many people. These gardens with their little pavilions are only nice when there are few people around and you can sit and relax and contemplate your life and your navel. We didn’t like it.
From there we went on a short boat ride of the canals (about 40 minutes). There is an oarsman and once you’ve seen one stretch of the water, you’ve seen them all. Some say Suzhou is the “Venice of the Orient”, but I’ve been to Venice and this place is not Venice. Shujie enjoyed the ride but she thought it would be circular and not something where you go for 20 minutes one way, and then turn around to go back. She complained (as she loves to do) to the driver and he said only the foreigners go further. That annoyed her but didn’t surprise me. Foreigners tip, Chinese don’t. She got what they advertised which was a 40-minute boat ride. I think she finally got it and stopped being annoyed.
Here is a canal picture.
From there we headed back to the hotel for a break. Shujie bought some dates (Chinese dates which she loves) on the street from a woman who gave her one to taste. Shujie said it was delicious but she fought with the woman over the price (she loves to fight). She thinks everyone is trying to cheat her and a lot of them are so deal with it. She also didn’t like the dates because she said the woman gave her the sample from the pile of “good” dates and the dates she bought were from the bad pile. She never throws anything out but these were so bad she threw them out.
We had a nap and then headed out for a river cruise at night. She loved that. I thought it was okay. There was a guide who spoke the whole way in Chinese and even some entertainment. There was a woman who played a string instrument and sang some high-pitched Chinese songs. But I was pleased that Shujie liked it. I was in Suzhou back in 2004 for several hours seeing the canals and the Number one silk factory. It is a pretty city.
After the boat ride we were going to check out this street that supposedly had a lot of western restaurants. It wasn’t easy to get a taxi so Shujie hired a “gypsy” cab. There are quite a few of these around. They agreed on a price and he was to take us to this street. Soon she’s yelling at him and he’s yelling at her. I can’t take the fighting. I’ve asked her several times to stop fighting with people and she says she won’t be quiet when people are trying to cheat her. Okay, say something. Just don’t yell. It makes me nervous and anxious. It seems this guy offered to take us somewhere else that was better and she agreed. Then he wanted more money, which she didn’t agree to. So that was the reason for the fight. So Shujie and I fought about her yelling and I told her that if you are doing business with dishonest people (like gypsy cab drivers), don’t be surprised when they try to cheat you. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.
We ended up at a very nice Italian restaurant in bad moods but the food was quite excellent. We kind of made up but she was upset with me for not supporting her and I was upset because of the yelling. I told her I do support her but speak in a normal voice. If the driver isn’t going where you want tell him to stop the car and get out. Tell me to pull his hair from the back seat. I’m game for that. I just can’t tolerate the yelling.
Today we came back to Jurong. We had shao-cao for dinner (finally I’m spelling it right). It was delicious as always. It seems that all the street stands had to close down for 4 days last week because the governor of the province came to town so they wanted to clean up a bit. That’s ridiculous. These people work hard and pay money to put their stands where they are. They shouldn’t have to close down. This country is in no way, shape, or form, a communist country.
I’m starting to get more students asking me for help. This is good. Perhaps I’ll be able to be of some use here. On Thursday I talked a little about homosexuality, which is not something that is talked about here. I told them that this was probably the only time they’d ever get to discuss this in class. I did an informal survey to see who was against it and I was pleased that the majority thought there was nothing wrong with it. This country is changing in some good ways, but it’s still too money driven. I wanted to argue with those who were against homosexuality but I didn’t think I should say anything. They’re just homophobes anyhow. One boy gave the best answer. He didn’t say yes, and he didn’t say no. He said, “whatever”, which to me is the right answer. Why should I care if someone else is doing something that doesn’t hurt anyone?
While in Suzhou we went into some DVD stores and bought some DVD’s. They cost between $1 and $2 each. Tonight we watched “Con Air”. I haven’t seen that since it came out in theatres years ago and I thought Shujie would like it. I was right. We laughed. And I just love Steve Buschemi (in a manly way).
Finally let me leave you with some footage of the new tactics the Chinese are working on when they decide to go to war and take over the world. These people are sneaky.