a transplanted life in China 


Suzhou, water town

Published on November 17, 2014, by in China, Suzhou.

Suzhou Shantang Lu 1

 Shantang Jie 1





Suzhou Shantang Lu 2

  Shantang Jie 2





Suzhou water town

 Watery view – narrow canal


Suzhou – three months later

Published on November 11, 2014, by in China, Suzhou.

Suzhou SIP park

Suzhou Industrial Park scenery, near where I live


It’s now November, and already we’re in Week 10 of the semester at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou. After the headaches of the visa process, everything since has seemed like a piece of cake. The summer is gone, autumn grows colder, and life is comfortable.

I live in the Lotus Flower residential community, a vast sea of 5-story apartment buildings that are all exactly the same. Fortunately, I haven’t wandered into the wrong building too many times. I am somewhat of a curiosity here, as I seem to be the only foreigner in residence. Other university personnel seem to be clustered in apartment towers nearer to campus or in more expensive locations further afield. Xiao Gou Gou and I have established a rhythm for our morning and evening walks that center mostly around a wonderful food street just across the road. In the morning we can feast on fried dumplings or on the Chinese version of flour tortillas filled with egg; the evening brings such delights as sliced spit-roasted meat sandwiches, fried noodles or rice, roasted chickens, stir-fried vegetables, or other goodies we haven’t tried yet.


Suzhou boat

Tourist boat on the canal, Suzhou


As far as teaching goes, I teach EAP (English for Academic Purposes) to 4 classes of Year 2 Math majors. Our lesson plans are prepared for us by a module coordinator, supplementing the Oxford EAP textbook, greatly lightening the class preparation load. I add my own PowerPoint presentations or additional readings, and manage to make it through my 16 weekly class periods relatively unscathed. Unlike previous teaching jobs, we are expected to be on-site – in the classroom, office, library, or other university facilities – 40 hours a week. Since I have my very first private office, this is not much of an imposition, as I can also work on my University of Nottingham M.A. during office hours.


Suzhou Pingjiang teahouse

Teahouse interior, Pingjiang Road, Suzhou


I spend one day a week in Suzhou; I say “in Suzhou” because the central city is some distance from the greater suburbia I inhabit, a vast swathe of joint China-Singapore development called the Suzhou Industrial Park, or SIP for short. The area is beautifully landscaped (see top photo), but a bit, well, dull, and most shopping is either distant or in big-box stores such as Auchan.


Suzhou ancient 3 courtyard house

Ancient courtyard house, central Suzhou


In Suzhou I have discovered the picturesque areas, parts of town like Pingjiang Lane which have been preserved and done up for tourists, but on weekends these areas are jam-packed. Suzhou is one of the top tourist destinations in China because of its ancient canal system and whitewashed traditional houses, but the crowds are overwhelming at times. Once or twice a month I make it to Shanghai, for a bit of variety. In addition to my teaching job, I also just re-certified as an IELTS speaking examiner for the British Council, which in the future will necessitate travel between Suzhou and Shanghai a couple of times a month.

In my next post, I’ll talk about my new interest, collecting Yixing teapots.



random Chicago image

Logan Square 2 - sm

Logan Square corner


daytrip in Shanghai

Shanghai Pudong skyline - Copy

Shanghai Pudong skyline



Since Shanghai is 25 minutes by express train from Suzhou, it makes a convenient day trip. I’m already starting to think of Shanghai as the Magic Kingdom – the above view across the river toward Pudong is as stunning by day as it is by night. On my most recent trip I got to sample the famous 小笼包 xiaolongbao dumplings at a tiny restaurant that always has a line out the door. I also discovered the Foreign Languages bookstore and an art bookstore. I plan to make the city my destination at least every couple of weeks.


 Shanghai xiaolongbao

小笼包 xiaolongbao Shanghai dumplings




 北寺塔 North Temple Pagoda, Suzhou


I’ve now been living in Suzhou for two and a half weeks. At long last the trials and tribulations of the visa process have come to an end, the car drive across China from Chengdu to the east coast has been done, and I’ve settled into my new apartment. In the midst of all this, three wonderful weeks spent in Chicago passed like a dream. As of this moment, I’ve met all of my EAP (English for Academic Purposes) students, approximately 80 of them divided into four classes. I have each class for four hours a week, which comes to 16 hours of teaching, plus office hours. Between classes I’m in my private office in the Science Building, complete with brand-new large-screen computer and a printer. I keep wanting to pinch myself – did all this really happen, despite my misgivings and uncertainty about ever obtaining a work visa? I guess they did.





 Location of Suzhou in China



A short recap: I was offered a two-year teaching contract as an English Tutor at Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, located in the section of Suzhou known as Higher Education Town, in the southern part of Suzhou Industrial Park. It’s a vast suburban sprawl, but with some stunningly beautiful landscaping; the whole area, so I’ve read, is a joint venture between Singapore and China. Fortunately, the apartment I found is three bus stops away from school. The dog and I have settled in nicely, after surviving the two-day drive scrunched together in the back seat of my hired driver’s car next to my luggage. I’d previously spent two and a half days in Suzhou before departing the country to renew my visa in the US. In between rain storms, I’d spent one afternoon looking at apartments with an agent, settling on the final one I saw, with two bedrooms. After my round-trip flight from Shanghai to Chicago, I returned to Chengdu for three days, made some quick goodbyes, and now here I am.




Gallery and teahouse_opt

 Art gallery and teahouse in Suzhou



I’ll write more about my first week of teaching after I have a chance to sit down and think about all I’ve experienced so far, but for now my feet are so sore from standing in a classroom for up to four hours at a time that I just need a rest. In the meantime, Here are some pictures of Suzhou and of the XJTLU campus.





  留园  Liú Yuán  Lingering Garden, one of Suzhou’s famous classical gardens




Central Building 1_opt

Xian Jiaotong-Liverpool University, Suzhou

Central Building




Central Building 2_opt

Central Building – geometries




Science Buildings 2_opt

 Science Buildings, XJTLU




Science Buildings 1_opt

Science Buildings, XJTLU – with waterfall