One of many bridges in Tongli ancient water town, Jiangsu Province
I’ve taken advantage of the winter academic break to start exploring some of the ancient towns around Suzhou. One of these, Tongli, is about 45 minutes by bus to the southeast of the city, located in what is now a seemingly endless expanse of suburban development along China’s densely-populated east coast.
The day trip offered a tranquil opportunity on a warm, sunny day in January to escape somewhere different. To be absolutely honest, my main reason for making this the first of many “water towns” to explore was to visit the Museum of Ancient Chinese Sex Culture. It was on all the tourist maps, yet after an hour of wandering around trying to find it, it wasn’t there. My discrete inquiries to local businesspeople resulted in nothing but mei you – it isn’t there. Only after returning home did I learn that, after its initial founding in Shanghai, the museum had moved to Tongli for 10 years, and only last year had been relocated to Hainan, off of China’s southeast coast. Pity. It would have been my first sex museum.
ancient lane – undisturbed quiet
What I liked about Tongli was that its ancient core hadn’t been completely tarted up for tourism or Disneyfied, as so many other Chinese ancient towns have. It is still a lived-in town, and if you want to escape the tourist crowds, a simple detour into a side street leads you into a quiet residential area with no shops, only tranquility and a pleasant opportunity to wander down narrow lanes.
busy shopping street
The town is arranged along canals – as is Suzhou – offering opportunities for boat rides, or sitting at outdoor tables of restaurants or tea houses. You can make the visit as touristy as you like, or ignore the historical attractions and just wander, which is pretty much what I did.
At the university, we have just finished marking final essay exams, and the new semester doesn’t start until March 2. I doubt that I will do nay extensive travel, but I do plan several more weekend excursions to nearby scenic or historic spots.