CHINA JOURNALSunday, May 5 and Monday, May 6th
We got up in Wuxi at 6:30, had a full hot Chinese breakfast at 7:00, and were in the bus at 7:15! Fast eaters! We went to Yuan Tou Chu, which means land and water. What a charming extended garden. Beautiful flowers, little bridges, very Chinese looking scenery and atmosphere. After a boat ride on Tai Lake, we were back on Yuan Tou Chu with free time. Cui Hua says, ``Let's go play.'' This translates as, ``Let's go shop.'' She is a compulsive shopper like my mother but without Mother's sense of what is practical and can be easily transported so we kept getting more and more packages to load up each day. We walked up to the top of the hill to the Buddhist shrine which is in a very tall pagoda and houses the tallest Buddha in the world. (Seems to me I've heard that phrase before.) It is in big 3D and bright colors. You look up into his nostrils many stories up. There are three very tall floors and, at the very top, the Buddha looks out a window. Every inch of all of the wall is covered with colorful figures. It is a remarkable sensory explosion. (I'm delighted by the fact that almost every Sunday I happen to visit a Buddhist temple. Nice.)
Near the dock waiting for the boat was a fun ``ride.'' It was a sedan chair rigged up so that it was suspended. The four dressed carriers picked it up to music and started a step which bounced the chair up and down quite a ways as they walked it around in a circle. There again was our flexible, strong bamboo. The Tank paid for a ride and even he got a good bounce, though I expect the carriers' shoulders felt his extra weight.
We stopped at a ceramic sales shop which makes the famous Wuxi pottery. It doesn't break (even when they had the Tank stand on a teapot to demonstrate.) It also floats. They make them with a lid that seals tightly just by its good fit and with one air hole. You can stop and start the flow of tea just by covering or uncovering the air hole. (Cui Hua bought two sets of teapot and cups.)
Other scenes along the way. Public toilets that were simply built over a long, lined trough. I hung my raincoat on the only hook that was right over the trough, fearful that I would knock it in. It was rather a surprise when someone in a cubicle down the way flushed and everything came rushing by under you! We passed a very large modern Islamic temple and one small Christian church that was isolated from the village on its own plot of land. There were sampans in the back waterways. And there was one huge pig sitting in three wheeled bike carrier (like we rode in to the bus in Tianjin). I saw several truckloads of pigs, but never a pig on the ground. There were men fishing on Tai Lake, a major source of fish, with six poles lined up next to each other.
Suzhou is having major road construction, so much so that it took a half dozen false tries down dead-ends before we could find a road that let us into the city. The 1500 year old Han Shan Temple there had a four sided Buddha. The fruit that is called the pipa (same name as the instrument) is a very large loquat, larger than I've ever seen before but it tastes the same.
The gem of Suzhou gardens, of which there are apparently many, is Tiger Hill. Its history goes back 2500 years and the flowers are every bit as stunning as Butchart (sp?) Gardens. They even have figure sculptures of fresh flowers, like in the Rose Parade, and flower plaques hanging on the trees. The Chinese were having a wonderful time posing for pictures here. Up a hill (all good things are at the top of a hill) was the leaning pagoda. It is five stories high and leans like the Tower of Pisa.
The names of hotels are fun in the neon sign translations. We passed the Picturesque Hotel, the Flawless Hotel, and the Lying GardensŠand the Best Eastern Hotel chain. We stayed at the Jin Yang Grand Hotel. This translates as the China Oil Grand Hotel. Several of the hotels had a small size toilet paper roll with no back ups, as if they were rationing you. One more trip at two of the spots and we would have been in to our Kleenex packets. At this hotel there was a western style mattress which was directly on the floor. There are two ways the beds could be made. In some there was just a sheet over the bed and then the comforter, which was on a shelf, had a sheet covering. There was always a comforter available even if the bed was made up western style. I'm finding that each person in a household has his own comforter to snuggle into.
It is fun to travel with a person from another culture to see how they react to things. Cui Hua has not done much, if any, overnight traveling. She always went for the comforter, even on the hot humid nights. One hotel had the bed made up tightly in western style with a blanket, topped by a quilted bed spread. After I had removed the bed spread, Cui Hua said, ``Granma, you shouldn't sleep on that blanket. It is dirty.'' I said that I wasn't going to sleep on the blanket but between the sheets. I climbed into bed and didn't think anymore about it until morning when I saw her asleep on top of the bedspread with the comforter tucked around her. I asked her about it and she said she didn't have two sheets. Because they were tucked in tightly, very unChinese, she didn't realize they were there. After a day of a very wet bathroom floor, I realized that Cui Hua didn't know that if you put the shower curtain inside the tub, you wouldn't get all the water on the floor. She had never heard that. We still ended up with quite a bit of water on the floor. She splashes water on her face (no washcloths) and the bathroom looks as if a seal has been playing in the water. She carries along with her the little face towel that they all use. It stays wet the whole time and gets packed in a plastic bag. I noticed on the train that others do the same. The wash-basin room on the train also looks as if the seals have visited.
Quite awhile ago I took a picture of a broom at school. They remind me of the marching brooms in Fantasia. They are obviously a broom with a natural tree limb for a handle, but they all look as if they are having a bad hair day. I learned that they are made from a small bush appropriately called broom corn. Each one has its own personality and shape with more or less of the seeds that are on the twiggy corn. Apparently the broom corn is extremely strong because it takes a long time to wear off the frizzy edges. You wonder in what century this crop was first used for brooms.
After a drizzly day on Sunday, Monday was quite foggy. Breakfast was at 6:30 and by 7:15 we were at the Taki Suzhou Garden homes (also known as Jiagnan Garden or Liu Garden, depending on which previous owner you liked the best.) Each of the garden homes has the wonderful indoor/outdoor views through carefully placed windows, lattices, and moongates, large round passages in garden walls which frame the view to the next garden. The inside featured the very dark woods. At one time this was a popular resort for the ``aged elite, the good people.''
Our bus ride through the water town area drove past lots of light industry, such as electronics, coats, fabrics, and cleaning equipment. Next to most houses we saw small straw huts where they apparently store their dirty tools and equipment. There were several bridges with a guillotine style divider which may be used in controlling water flow. One had a little house perched right on top. There were duck farms and fresh water aquiculture.
We arrived at the ancient water town of Zhouzhuang. There are quite a few water towns where canals and water passageways are everywhere, rather like Venice. This one was packed with people making their ways in the narrow streets lined with little shops. They open up to the canals and the famous double walking bridges arched over the canals. The canals were filled, Venice style, with boats being rowed with a single long paddle in back handled by a standing rower, only two of which were men. Some of the women sang as they worked their boats around. The traffic was constant and crowded. At one time, looking in three directions, I counted thirty-three boats. It was a very hot, humid day. Zhouzhuang had a lineup of thirty bicycle taxis just as regular taxis were lined up in Beijing, and motorcycle three wheeled taxis were lined up in Nanjing.
The bus trip to Hangzhou passed orchards of tall bare trees, the kind supplied to be placed in parks like at our apartment complex in Tianjin. There were also orchards of trees which had been wrapped in burlap from the trunk up into the second branching. I wondered if that was to discourage growth sprouts. (It might be worth trying that on my African sumac in Bakersfield which is constantly sprouting from all over.) And I also saw on small plots controlled bamboo growing. Each pole coming up was held in place by rigid pattern of bracing, probably to get straight poles. There were lots of rice paddies in various stages of growth. There were never large groups of workers in fields, just one or two. I have not seen a single one of the wonderful old style, sturdily made coolie hat with the curved down brim, which I so admired in Hong Kong almost fifty years ago. Now they are wearing a hat that is a cross between a Japanese conical hat and a Mexican bracero hat. There were many boats in the side canals and stone laundry scrubbing stands built at the edge of the canals where water could easily be brought up. People were out frogging in some obviously favorite spots. A hundred ducks were feeding in a recently harvested rice paddy. There were some toll roads.
We stopped at a tea selling shop. Outside there were some country women selling berries they had picked. The owner of the tea shop shooed them away, and the women spoke back quite forcefully but still retreated.
We arrived at Hangzhou in the drizzles but went for a visit to Tiger Pawing Spring park, which was actually more beautiful because of the drizzles. The charming story of the name centers around a special monk who was hunting for the perfect place to live in peace and quiet and beauty where he could meditate. He found this spot which was perfectŠexcept that he soon realized that there was no good long term source of water. He prepared himself to move from this paradise, but he had a dream in which he was told not to leave because two tigers would paw the ground and bring over the water from the neighboring mountain. Soon after he found a wonderful spring and, when there, saw two tigers.
That night we stayed in the Hangzhou Yidu Hotel, the most upscale of the hotels where we stayed. It had stationery and beautiful heavy wood classic Chinese furniture.