The Retirees Invade China – Day Six – Wuxi to Suzhou

Up early and on the road to Suzhou and the Lingering Garden. It is a renowned classical Chinese garden located in Suzhou, Jiangsu province, China. It is recognized with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was commissioned by Xu Taishi an official in 1593 and it was initially called The East Garden.

The garden was reconstructed in 1876, and the garden was renamed to Liu Yuan. It was abandoned in 1911 and it fell into disrepair. After establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Suzhou government took over and renovated the garden. It was reopened to the public in 1954. In 2001 the garden was added to the UNESCO Word Heritage list, and remains a major tourist destination.

We parked in the adjoining car and bus park where I spotted a flowering magnolia – my first for Spring. Inside the entrance was a variegated azalea – very beautiful. As we moved through the garden it was clear the designer had used simple arrangements against a white wall to give a serenity to each setting. The central feature is a lake with the four seasons able to be viewed from various vantage points. The pavilions were designed to take advantage of all aspects of the garden which used bonsai plants extensively. The big feature is the rocks and the placement of these rocks which are brought in from Lake Tai. The dining pavilion is decorated with hand painted silk panels over 500 years old and the men’s and women’s lounge rooms are each fitted out with mahogany furniture. Such a small space for so many different faces – truly magnificent. Then there was the bonzai garden – turly unbelieveable what trees they have grown in a shallow bonzai dish.

Suzhou, is a major city located in south eastern Jiangsu Province of East China, about 100 km northwest of Shanghai. It is a major economic centre and focal point of trade and commerce, and the second largest city in the province after the capital Nanjing. The city is situated on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the shores of Lake Tai and belongs to the Yangtze River Delta region. Suzhou is a prefecture-level city with a population of 4.33 million in its city proper, and a total resident population of 10.58 million in its administrative area.

Founded in 514 BC, Suzhou has over 2,500 years of history, with an abundant display of relics and sites of historical interest. The city’s canals, stone bridges, pagodas, and meticulously designed gardens have contributed to its status as one of the top tourist attractions in China. Suzhou is often dubbed the “Venice of the East” or “Venice of China”.

Part of our tour included a ferry ride along the Grand Canal. This was a step back in time to see a different China which will soon be all gone. It started with boarding the ferry – not what I pictured. Then off along the canal, passed temples house and most of all houses perched on the canal and looking rather shabby. Our guide told us that they had all the mod cons inside – TV, kitchen appliances toilet and shower. Many small bridges led to even smaller canals. And it was busy with many other ferries. Once we reached the basin where the canal joined the old city wall moat it was time to turn around. Suzhou is famous for maintaining the old moat even though the city wall and imperial buildings have long since gone.

The next day on our way to Hangzhou we stopped at a silk embroidery factory which was created after the unification of China in 1949 bringing together all the talents of many villages and towns in this ancient skill. I had never given this much thought and had dismissed it as an old woman’s hobby. Not so. To see the embroidery is amazing – no photos were allowed as they consider their skills protected intellectual property and when you see silk screens that have been embroidered on both sides in different colours and different patterns done at the same time you gain an understanding of the skill of the masters. Chinese room screens to art to hang on your wall – it is truly remarkable. I can only show you a photo of the front door.

After a busy day, we retired to our hotel which seemed more than ever to be out in the boonies but there were some surprises in store – like the bath tub in the room not the bathroom and the toilet having a button for every conceivable function as well as being on show to the bedroom and a glorious light show on the adjacent buildings. Unfortunately, the innovation was not matched by attention to detail and it was damned difficult to work out how to turn on the lights. The buffet dinner was very average except for the ice cream for dessert.