Now the owner of our private school has just bought herself a new apartment there, and so we were all invited to a "come-see-my-new-apartment-and-farewell-peter-and-ruth-and-welcome-christian-and-leo-(who-has-been-here-for-a-while-anyway)-party. Yes, really.
We went by train, and when we got out at the station in Suzhou we were pounced on by a (some) English-speaking lady and her husband who wanted to offer themselves as our guides for the day. Well, it was a very hot day (42degrees and muggy) and they had an air-conditioned van, so we accepted the offer to be chauffeured around all day rather than try to find a map and catch buses or taxis - we weren't even sure what we wanted to see anyway.
First they took us to one of the parks - Calming Garden, I think it was. We paid our way in (parks are not free in China) and wandered around in the heat, looking for shady spots and breeze.
And trying to avoid the tour groups with the MEGAphones ... Hmmm, "Calming garden ..."
At the end of the park there was a larger section of water, and - to our surprise - we realised our tickets entitled us to a short boat trip back down the waterway.
Then our guides took us to the "Number One Tourist Spot in Suzhou - Tiger Hill." It was, of course another park with an entry fee, and a hill to climb with a tower on it. It claims to be 2 500 years old - yeah, whatever. The tower looked very old and definitely had a slight lean. The opening time for climbing said tower apparently ended moments before we arrived. Another guide offered us a ride to the top of the hill in an electric cart - we decided it was worth the price, and we all got the definite impression the ride down the hill was include ... but as soon a we dismounted the cart abandoned us and took off back down the hill.
The heat was intense and the humidity oppressive. We sat in the shade for a while, and then wandered back down the hill.
Oh, and the tiger? Something about the chap who was buried here (2 500 years ago), when he died someone saw a tiger here ...
In this park and the previous one there were some signs that offered some special interest:
And the always curious bins:
Our giudes told us that number three tourist spot would be the canal, but first we went for some lunch. They took us a to nice little restaurant where we ordered five dishes - including a Suzhou special "boneless" fish for 100 kuai. Well, the fish was nicely done in a sweet and sour sauce with all the bones removed (except head and tail), but considering the whole meal (for five of us) only cost 200 kuai it was a very expensive dish. (Soon be back in Oz, real fish and chips!)
Time for the canal - "number 3, canal", they kept saying - and then they stopped and told us to get out. "Canal?" we asked - because it certainly didn't look like it. "No, that's next. This is a silk factory ..."
Well, it may be a while before we see yet another silk factory - do they have silk factories in Turkey?
The bit that always interests me is not this part (above) where they spin 6-8 strands together, but where they make doonas (quilts) out of the "double" cocoons - the ones that have a male and female insect inside.
She starts with this tiny cocoon and stretches it over a frame, and then a bigger frame - its incredibly strong.
And then four people get hold of this scrap of silk and stretch it to double bed size.
After several layers of that, you have an amazing doona.
We escaped without buying any. Then it was time to go to the canal! We drove down some incredibly narrow alleys to get to the canal, but the little man our guides were supposed to be meeting wasn't where he should have been, so we went back and drove across to the other side of town to find a canal ride.
Not the sort of problem to expect in "Venice" ...
By now we were very tired, and tired of the hot weather, and pretty much out of cash. And so the offer of a ride in a canal boat (not a gondola) for 68 kuai each lost its appeal. It was time to go to the party in
The apartment is in the Suzhou new Singapore Industrial District, the fifteenth floor of serviced apartments belonging to the Crowne Plaza, right on the edge of the lake with views of the (man-made) islands.
The Crowne Plaza itself is in the process of being knocked down and rebuilt - a little thing they seem to like doing here in China - so there was a lot of construction equipment and noise nearby, after all the place is brand new.
There are fountains built in to the edge of the lake, and we were looking forward to the show in the evening - as were many others who gathered - but apparently they heard we were coming and decided not to do the show.
Still the view is specky. Don't think I'd like to live here - nice to visit and see.
And a good time was had by all. (At the party ...)