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
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
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. 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
Bell Tower, Xian I’ve been sick for about 3 weeks, ever since i got back from Xian. The air quality in Xian seemed to be particularly nasty, resulting in breathing problems and an allergy attack. After my return to Chengdu and a week around students with colds and winter coughs, my allergies turned into a chest cold. I’m starting to recover now, but I’ve pretty much spent my free time in bed, when not working. crowned head, Muslim quarter, Xian In Xian, I missed the attraction that the whole world flocks there to see, namely, the Terracotta Warriors. A colleague told me that it was, indeed, a stupefying sight, thousands upon thousands of silent sentinels, unearthed after a couple of millenia, guarding the tomb of of the Qin emperor who unified China. Next time, for sure. Muslim restaurant I stayed at the Hantang Inn Hostel my first night – a comfortable and friendly place in an alley near the city center. After walking through the Muslim Quarter and then visiting the Wild Goose Pagoda, I was exhausted. On the way back to the hostel I stopped at a small noodle restaurant and ate the best chicken soup with dumplings of my life. It was a bowl of soup to celebrate and to rhapsodize over, but sadly I never made it back for a second bowl. Another Muslim restaurant Getting to the Wild Goose Pagoda was an effort, involving a subway ride
I just returned from three days in Xian, the ancient capital of China and the eastern terminus of the Silk Road. It was a quick visit, just enough time to sample some of the local food and see a couple of monuments. I’ll post more photos in the days to come.