Tiger Hill, Suzhou


Canal and bridge, part of the idyllic surroundings in Tiger Hill park, Suzhou.





Tiger Hill Pagoda or  云岩寺塔; the tower was completed in 961 CE during the Song Dynasty. It is 7 stories tall and leans slightly toward the north, making it one of China’s “Leaning Towers.”





 The tower leans over 2 meters toward the north; repairs in the 1980s inserted a ring of concrete foundations which stabilized the structure. The tower is a stone and brick version of similar wooden towers. Original curved roofs at each story have disappeared.





One of the most tranquil spots at the top of the hill is this pavilion, sited to catch the passing breezes.




I took advantage of a slightly warmer afternoon to make my first trip to Tiger Hill, just northwest of central Suzhou. Surrounded by a landscaped park, it is the most popular tourist destination in Suzhou. I planned my outing the week before Spring Festival, when the place will be overrun with visitors. The tranquility of the spot was very relaxing, and afterward I decided to walk the length of ancient Shantang Street, itself a famous tourist destination, from Tiger Hill toward the street’s beginning at the edge of town, a little over 2 miles. It’s a quite relaxing hike, except for the insanely crowded street market at the street’s southern end, and the crowded touristy stretch of restored buildings and shops and restaurants. My feet were killing me, so I took the nearby subway back to the center of Suzhou and then did some shopping.

Tongli water town

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 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.



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 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.




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 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.



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 canal-side houses



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.



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Saturday in Shanghai

Yesterday, to celebrate the end of classes for the semester and the completion of a week of speaking exams, I spent Saturday in Shanghai, taking the 8:14 am train from Suzhou and returning the same evening. It makes a nice day trip; the express train only takes 25 minutes. The weather was cold, but the sun was out, but I still spent the whole day coughing from pollution. I just call it my “China cough.” When I returned to the USA last summer for 3 weeks, the cough disappeared after about 7 days.

I explored parts of the French Concession, a section of the city filled with old villas and many older buildings ranging in style from classical to art deco. I visited a French cafe and bakery, Farine, I’d just read about online. I had my first Kouign Amann, a Breton pastry, as well as a croque monsieur and a an espresso. The sunlight streaming through the front window took away the chill, as did the atmosphere and smells of the bakery. The breads looked tempting, but were quite expensive. Nearby was a Marseille wood-fired pizza restaurant that I’ll try next time I’m in town.

I next took the subway to the disappointing Tianzifang area, a traditional enclave of narrow alleys re-colonized by artists and craftspeople, but now tarted up as a tourist destination with upscale eateries, Hard Rock T-shirts, and quasi-artsy vibe. Then it was back to the central city, to walk along Fuzhou Road, one of my favorite areas, with bookstores, a shop specializing in Yixing teapots, and a pretty good foot massage place I frequent when I’ve been walking too much. Lunch was a Reuben sandwich at Tock’s Montreal smoked meat deli. The meat was delicious, but the sandwich couldn’t compare to my memory of Miller’s Pub on Wabash in Chicago. Now that was a Reuben. Oh yes, I visited V Coffee Roasters for a bag of almost-freshly-roasted beans. The coffee was a delicious way to start my day this morning.



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 Curls and shadows, Shanghai French Concession




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 Farine cafe and bakery, French Concession home of authentic French baked goods. I read online that they import their flour from France. The espresso isn’t bad either.




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 Kouign Amann, Farine cafe and bakery, French Concession. Pastry was delightful but the caramelized sugar coating was a bit difficult to bite off.





 fancyfruit, in a deco building



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 Normandie Apartments (Wukang Mansion), French Concession



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 jewelry display window


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 December strawberries, street market, Shanghai



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“1927,” old buildings in central Shanghai