Gardens Green and Grounds for Optimism (Part One)

UPDATE: Author is reminded how to work his wife’s electronic mystery machine; photographs are added.

On a recent escape from Dalian – where lie wage-earning, grocery-getting and stale routine – my little nucleus explored choice cuts of Suzhou and Beijing. I dwelt on some of the unpleasant things of life in the Venice of the Orient here and here, but there was a great deal to like, especially when we were free to wander in parts of the old city less infested with tourist buses.

Photo opping the photo op: a view from Pingjiang Street.

Photo opping the photo op: a view from Pingjiang Street.

My bride and I strolled narrow Pingjiang Lu, and sure, it was meant for tourists, but it wasn’t garish, and it wasn’t wide enough for cars (let alone buses), and there were genuinely pleasant sights: bits of canal-watching, a pottery shop stocked with original pieces, Jiangsu street foods we hadn’t sampled before, and frequent tableaus of young Chinese women dressed in, I guessed, early 20th-century costume in the Chinese bride’s eternal quest — well, eternal for the last few years, anyway — for the perfect pre-marital backdrop. (I first thought the young women in sundresses and parasols lounging by the canal for a smoke, which is rather risqué and newly fashionable in China, might be “working girls”, but they were likely just waiting to turn a photographic trick.)

We’d heard about the “Humble Administrator’s Garden”, purported to be a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and had walked near it on the slightly nightmarish previous day.

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Suzhou 2: Trapping, Snapping, and Talking With the Dead

This is the second part of an account of a day in the “Venice of the East”, Suzhou. (Read the first here.) I left off at the point where we were getting off the tourist boat, with me thinking we were nearly done but with the worst to come. Toward the end (spoiler alert!), we take a slight detour between my ears. I hope it’s a pleasant place to visit, though you wouldn’t want to live there.

“There’s a silk museum? We’re going there now? I thought –“

It's scenic, and has lots of evident history, and I often liked the older part of Suzhou. Really!

It’s scenic, and has lots of evident history, and I often liked the older part of Suzhou. Really!

We disembarked and climbed up the banks, and there again were the street vendors, and buses lined up to enter through the same narrow gates that we were. (Did I mention that the aggressively employed air horns on Chinese trucks and buses make me vaguely homicidal? I don’t think I mentioned this.) The ultra-amplified guide brought up the rear, and now even I understand his message: kuai yi dianr. (“Hurry up!”) Even if my Chinese hadn’t been up to that minimal speed, I’d have understood. Move along, folks. There’s stuff to buy, commissions to be earned. That’s where bemusement began to turn to anger. The museum was chintzy, but could’ve been diverting, at least briefly; I don’t know much about how we get from tree worms to gorgeous outfits and bedding. However, the museum was a false front, and once the guide had hurried us into the duvets-to-go area, I’d had enough. I signalled my son toward the exit. He didn’t resist.

“Dad, why are we taking an escalator up to the exit? We came in on the main floor.” Right. I have a bad feeling about this. We got to the top. Oh, no.

Oh, yes. Silk shirts. Silk bedding. Silk pyjamas. Silk ties. Silk showrooms, one after the other after the one after the first.

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