Our taxi driver from the train station in Suzhou was just gorgeous. He didn’t know exactly where our hotel was, so when we were near he just stopped the taxi right on a corner, jumped out of the car and ran down the street and out of view. He came back a few minutes later chuckling away and took us straight to the door.

Old Suzhou where we are staying is a very historic city which has a canal around the old part of the city and although there are 10 million inhabitants and we were staying in a busy shopping area it was very quiet at night. The canals around the city were built before the Vencie canals and the buildings surrounding them are all low rise and a lot of the area is pedestrian so it also has a nice atmosphere. The excellent hotel that we stayed in “the hotel Soul” was really funky with really amazing lifts. There was a spaceship design with moving views of earth, moon etc. Another lift had a TV showing Chairman mao’s speeches and the third one had terracotta warriors in picture form and etched in glass. The restaurant in which had breakfast could have been in Paris with its decor and photographs.

We had a lovely stroll around the pedestrian areas which were lit up at night like “times square” with thousands of people strolling around. You have to watch the traffic all the time as the bicycles, motorbikes, electric bikes and scooters come from all directions even if you are in the pedestrian area or on the footpath. We walked along the road a lot of the time in single file as many othersw did as the footpaths were covered by all of the bikes and motorbikes and scooters.

The next day we went to the “Humble Administrator’s garden” which is now a museum and is definatley not humble! He was a very wealthy person and the garden consists of his house and pavillions from which to view the lovely gardens and it covers over 5 hectares. There is also a beautiful large bonsai garden at theh back of the property.

We have only seen a handful of foreign tourists but many Chinese tourists in groups with a tour leader complete with flag and loud hailer which they don’t need. My old Italian friend told me that I didn’t need to learn Mandarin – I only needed to shout! True in many cases. What we think is a fully blown argument by a couple of a few people is just a normal conversation which in most cases is extremely loud. We have only witnessed a couple of domestics – one in Laos in front of a dwelling to which all of the neighbours looked on and one in Suzhou in the middle of the pedestrian area which attracted a large crowd. In both instances the husbands were being balled out by their wives and we got the feeling that they were saying they were lazy good for nothings by the shouting and arm waving!

We planned our tourist location visits around lunch time when a lot of the Chinese tourists were in restaurants or as we were on our own we could get ahead of any group we found. In the brochure about Suzhou it stated that over 2.5 million foreigners visit Suzhou a year and over 70 million Chinese tourists visit the city! It is a very affluent city with an enormous number of jewellery shops and gold shops. Some of the diamond rings in the window were worth over $500,000! The women wear the strangest mixtures of fashions during the day. Lots of tulle and chiffon dresses, long and short, and very mismatched clothing and footwear! There were also a huge number of boutiques (with western like prices )and mobile phone shops by the dozen but most of the restaurants were very reasonably priced. We splurged the other night and went to an upmarket restaurant and had four dishes, a large beer and a pot of tea for $17.

The manager was very helpful and helped us with the menu as there were no pictures only a menu in characters.

We also visited the Suzhou Museum which was very modern architecturally but housed beautiful old artifacts, porcelain, calligraphy and paintings. The pictures show a couple of very small glass bottles which were painted in minute detail from the inside! Amazing.

It was a very interesting museum. The porcelain child on all fours was a pillow and a very hard one at that. We then headed to the North Temple Pagoda which dates from the 1100’s. We climbed up to the third level as our feet which had been walking for 6 1/2 hours couldn’t take much more. The view showed us the low rise old town and then the thousands of high rise buildings on the outskirts of the old town. We then walked back via the Suzhou park which is very large and on the Sunday there were thousands of people dancing, singing and listening to performers of every kind. Some were good and some were terrible but they all drew a large crowd.

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It was about 25 degrees but quite humid and no rain for our whole stay.