The plan of our guide, the estimable Dragon Lady Pooh, is to use Shanghai as a base to explore other cities and still have a couple of days in Shanghai itself. But the combination of the illness delay and the flight delay caused us to lose two of our day. Today we are going to Suzhou.
Suzhou is a prime example of the size and scope of China. It’s just one of many, many cities of a similar size around China with a population of over 4 million in the city proper. It has a long history going back to 514 BC. In 100 AD it was one of the 10 largest cities in the world. Throughout it’s history it has been an important commercial center.
We started off trying to buy railroad tickets from a office in the city to avoid the crush of the train station. Unfortunately that office is now closed but it did get us to People’s Square which had a number of cool things to see. Shanghai, as much of China, has had massive development done over the last 20 years. A lot of the high rise buildings are very interesting architecturally and because of the separation you can really see them.
We take the Metro to the train station (we also learn that you will get trapped in the Metro if you don’t have your card to present to a machine in order to get out). Most of the time when we travel we don’t carry our passports with us for their safety but you can’t buy tickets or get on a train without positive identification. It takes checking a few places before we finally figure out where and which line to go to get our tickets.
(Note: There is a lot of English on signage here which Pooh tells us was not the case 20 years ago. But for verbal communication, except in the large hotels and airlines, it is not of any value. Having Pooh who speaks Mandarin was essential for us to go off on our own.)
The China we are visiting is so First World as to be a shock. The roads are big, with lots of cars. Big clean mass transit systems prevail. The trains we took are fast and clean with assigned seating. It is nothing like the image one might have from seeing films of China from the 1970’s. In fact Pooh said she was totally amazed by the changes since she was last here 20 years ago.
In Suzhou we visit a number of fortresses and gardens. We have adventures in hailing down taxis to get around. For the most part we luck out. When I can post pictures, I will show and talk more about what we saw. We are visiting Suzhou during the off-season. It is mercifully light on tourists (comparatively). One can only imagine what it is like in peak season.
We didn’t really eat at all during the day because of some miscalculations and ended up just grabbing some snacks at various times so we were pretty hungry by the time we got back to Shanghai. As it was late and we were tired, we just ate at the hotel, which had this kind of funky fusion Chinese food.