In heaven they have paradise, on earth...

Trip Start Apr 29, 2006
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Flag of China  ,
Monday, May 15, 2006

Why does every city in this part of the world have to be compared to the West. Like Shanghai - Paris of the East? Paris wishes (apologies to all those who hold Paris dear). Well, Suzhou is apparently Venice of the East. I wonder what Perth would be? I'll leave that one open...

Anyway - Venice of the East. Well, frankly the comparison is inevitable. A couple of geniuses a while ago probably had a conversation like this:
"hey - this place reminds me of somewhere."
"what - you mean Little China?"
"Nah - like that place with those river things"
"Fish?"
"Nah - those canal types things all over the city"
"Oh yeah - you mean like that place in all those movies and shit..."
"Yeah - it's in the Bond where he blows up stuff..."
"Yeah - i know the one you're talking about..."
"Yeah - what's the city's name?"
"New York"
"No - not New York ya idiot (there's always one of the two complete idiots who is still significantly smarter than the other) - the one in Italy. I know. It's Vienna."
"Oh yeah - Vienna."
"Yeah - reminds me of Vienna".

Idiots.

The more and more I consider the Venice v Suzhou comparison, the more and more I think it appropriate. At first, I was going to write - "Venice of the East? Not quite...". However, my final conclusion, after a 3 day deliberation, is that Suzhou lacks that amazing photogenic quality that Venice has, and certainly doesn't have the romance of Venice (but does Venice only have that because it's Venice?) but is every bit as charming and lacks the pretense of Venice, whilst maintain that unmistakable quality that makes a city Chinese. What is it? I don't know - It's not just dirt... Oh - and Suzhou isn't famous for blinds. On Suzhou's side is its relative calm - could you ever imagine strolling along the Venetian canals in virtual solitude? One wonders where the 6 million residents of Suzhou live. On my first day in Suzhou, I spent the majority of the day wandering along the canals and getting lost in the windy back streets, just as one should do in any good canal city. New and interesting finger food appeared here, including fried rice, battered and then deep fried. Brilliant. Vienetta on a stick remains a regular. And surprisingly for China, and even more surprisingly for a Chinese city with so much virtually stagnant water, Suzhou is devoid of any murky Venetian canal smell, which I was slightly concerned about before coming. I am, after all, in China, where those smells exist in the absence of canals.

Do you know what's better than walking along canals? That's right. Cycling along canals. Brilliant. But let's start with my bike. Now, I've had some pretty dodgy bikes in China - from the average average bike that left me stranded in the middle of Beijing to the random pink bike featured in pictures in Yangshuo. Everything, of course, is relative. The bikes just mentioned are now considered fucking masterpieces of the biking universe following the abysmal excuse for a bicycle ("the Piece of Shit") that I hired from the hostel. Colour? Faded pink. Basket? Hole in the bottom. Left brake? Doesn't work. Right brake? Barely works. Wheels? Squeaky. Chair? Rocky. Steering? Rocky. The most amusing part is that it was the best bike on offer, the alternatives seemingly considering that functional brakes are not an essential part of a bike. Hostel bikes? Average. Whilst navigating the Piece of Shit through the extremely narrow and winding back streets of Suzhou, I nearly killed 2 people, 1 dog and 1 australian-chinese-indonesian. Thankfully, all survived.

To be fair, my hostel has been pretty good. Following the silly season in Yangshuo and Shanghai (where my dorms were full on both occasions), it's great to return to the real hostelling experience in CHina where your hostel rooms are entirely empty. I think there's only one other dude in this entire hostel. Anyway, I digress.

So what else does Suzhou have to offer? Well, Lonely Planet suggests that Suzhou is famous for its chinese gardens and lovely women. The gardens are beautiful - and many of them are blessed with brilliant yet plainly ridiculous names. THe Humble Administrator's Garden (he needs to be distinguished from the arrogant administrator - who didn't seem to get a garden) is good, but the name The Garden of the Master of the Nets is better. With names like these, a little bit of me held out hope that there may actually be a garden called The Garden of the Devil of the Death (with or without hell and with or without ice). Helped by the birds chattering, the occasional disturbance in the water by enormous man eating koi fish and the rustle of the wind, the gardens are just so peaceful. Every now and then, a french tour group momentarily detracts from the ambience, but it really is momentary. I've enjoyed the gardens immensely. Great to chill post Shanghai. I only visited 2 gardens, partly in hear of being gardened out, party due to budgetary restrictions (Lonely Planet has got the prices so so wrong), but I'm glad that I've just had the time to sit and, y'know, chill...

So, Suzhou. Well, I don't know if I can say that it's a must see city in China. Yes, the gardens and the canals are beautiful, but China has so much to offer. Definitely worth some time if it can be spared, but I can't honestly say that it's been a highlight of my trip in China. I must admit that I do miss Shanghai - perhaps Suzhou is suffering from this hangover. Suzhou has taught me that there are certainly advantages to not speaking chinese - after constant giggling and smiling from 2 girls across a restaurant, endlessly amused by my inability to speak chinese, they ended up paying for lunch without me even knowing. Brilliant - free lunch/ Perhaps I should play this card more often.

Anyway, due to the inescapable comparisons to Venice, I started to think about the things that Venice is famous for, which led me to art and ultimately film. So I started thinking about movies that were set in Venice - which made me think - I wonder what films could be set in Suzhou (for those at SSO, this was a very survey-like formulation of the Top 5). So, anyway, the topic is "Top 5 films that could have been (or perhaps should be) set in Suzhou:

5. The Talented Mr Ripley
4. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Officially the world's worst movie ever)
3. National Lampoon's Chinese Vacation
2. Any upcoming film starring Zhang Ziyi - I would be the leading man
1. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Now I'm off to the second limb of paradise on earth - Hangzhou...
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Comments

mariac
mariac on

i llove the bike!
hey mark, i love the pink bike, its just your colour!
pics look amazing, hoping to get to beijing next month. get in touch when you get to hong kong! maria (the brit)

silvajoe
silvajoe on

if a picture could paint a thousand words ......
Does not have photographic quality or is not as romantic as Venice did I hear you say?! My grandma would certainly have disagreed and also your pictures have proven you wrong. It looks as romantic and more exotic in those pictures of yours. Should think we have to start calling Venice 'Suzhou of the West' from now on.

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