Here Be Dragons

Travelling in China and Vietnam one cannot miss a beast of myth the countries share. Dragons lurk above, rear up from fountains, wind along stairwells. Dragons control rainfall, typhoons and floods. They symbolize power and good luck. In ancient China the dragon symbolized the sovereignty of the emperor. Images of dragon decoration in architecture, furnishings, monuments, musical instruments, tools or war and clothing were common. Look closely at the number of claws when visiting royal palaces – five claws were for the sole use of Emperors. The dragon is one of the twelve symbols in the Chinese and the Vietnamese zodiac. Dragons in Vietnam generally have similar symbolism to China. They bring rain to feed the fields, but can also cause destruction through typhoons and floods. A dragon symbolizes power, intelligence and luck and symbolized supreme power to the King. The country of Vietnam is shaped like a dragon.

Here be dragons. Major equipment issues and a resulting blogger breakdown resulted in a few having little information. However, these choices are more for how artists perceived the dragons of imagination.

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Ba Then Hau Temple, Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam 
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Temple built and dedicated to President Ho Chi Minh, Vinh Loc, Long Duc village
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I never could decide if this dragon looked shocked after biting its tongue or that mere mortals have dared to cross the steps.
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However, it is a wonderful carving that catches the breath 
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vehicle used in funeral procession for deceased followers of Caodaism; Tay Ninh, Vietnam
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Now this a dragon! Dragon Bridge, opened to traffic 2013 on the 38th anniversary of the liberation of Da Nang, Vietnam
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Dragons adorn the corners this quiet Buddhist temple’s eaves
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Made out of chipped pottery, these dragons look a little friendly; Quang Trieu (Cantonese) Assembly Hall, Hoi An, Vietnam
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Jade dragon at the Confucius Temple, Nanjing China
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Luoyang: Longmen Grottoes

It was fortunate I had enough sense to record some of how awestruck I was by these magnificent, ancient carvings as, even after going through my very few photos and my notes, I cannot adequately describe what was coursing through my senses. As for pictures, they barely do justice to the majesty of the workmanship – I put my phone and camera away to just enjoy the legacy left behind after the carvers, monks, adherents, royalty and commoners had turned to dust. I spent seven hours marvelling, discussing, pondering, searching, with a young man from the Netherlands I had met at my hostel. It was nice to spend time with someone just as inquisitive as I am about the history of a place. A bonus was how quickly he could look up the meaning of a character – sometimes writing it on his phone with his finger (I need an app for that).

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My very first glimpse – I was smitten

Longmen Grottoes (pinyin: longmen shiku – Dragon’s Gate Grottoes. a.k.a. Longmen Caves) were added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2000. The majority of the 1400 caves with 100,000 statues, plus steles and pagodas, are along the western bank of the Yi River. By the time we had finished the western bank my new friend and I were worn out. An excellent excuse to return another year.

My first glimpse of the Longmen Grottoes and I knew I was in for at least a few hours of viewing marvellous carvings, with their mystery and magic, there was a feel to the air of just how ancient the area is and how revered it once was. The care, the belief, the fortitude of the craftsmen who carved these astonishing statues in their manmade caves out of the sandstone cliffs vibrates. (I am not prone to sensations of a mystical, religious or ghosts of the ancestors nature)

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Many of the carvings are so massive it is impossible to photograph them as a whole 
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Boddhivistas in the Central Binyang Cave (508-523 C.E.)

These are artifacts that deserve, and must, to be retained for as long as time can make it possible. There are many, many defaced figures, missing limbs; however, perhaps, in the 21st C. it gives pause for us to understand how fortunate we are to be where we are and how much we have advanced. These figures were chiselled by hand with great care. No electricity, nothing motorized. The smooth cheeks on many of the figures made me want to reach out to touch them. How was this accomplished? My young friend and I discussed this and came up with, from our very limited knowledge of art, the possibility that sand may have been used as the medium – much like sand paper – to rub the cheeks, smooth the brow, encourage the slight curve of a smile, or enhance the intense draw of the eye to the future unfolding before each statue. It is amazing what those stone eyes can make us ponder. From a distance one of the extremely tall, intimidating, powerful, stone guards watches over the area, and yes, his eyes do seem to follow you. Once we made it up the stairs and were at his feet, looking up – you know you will never be at his level – physically or spiritually – I remain still unable to adequately put into writing how the realm of gods can affect the realm of disbelief. As always, and it was absolutely necessary here, I looked up, way up. To my delight and curiosity I discovered a small opening close to the ceiling – with its own, bricked ceiling. Definitely put there for a reason although anywhere close to what we bantered back and forth. My friend and I were so curious (ah, to be young) that he did a search on his phone. It was a resting place, or hideaway for the immortals who embodied the statues! So much better than a place for the tools of the trade that carved the magnificent figures.

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The majority of the carvings have lost their colour

Tourists are encouraged to get up close, up the concrete stairs, with railings, along wide, easy to maneuver to appreciate the craftsmanship of over 1500 years ago, with the relics far enough out of reach of accidental, or sadly, purposeful damage.

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Even this Peony Stone overwhelmed the pandas!
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The majority of carvings range from the tallest at 57 feet in height to tiny, barely one inch square that hold exquisite, single carvings

 

 

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We must have spent 15-20 minutes just studying this ceiling lotus flower!  I could not find information about its diameter
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The detail of the carvings in this grotto, despite the destruction, are stunning
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These grottoes within a larger one shows the influence of Buddhist carvings from India
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Bared to the elements it is amazing any of these lesser carvings have survived so long. This is one of the last photos I took – barely one quarter of the way through.

Visiting the caves is fairly easy – unless provided with a bus number to one of the least numbers of trips. While waiting for  probably 40 minutes, on a somewhat chilly morning – I had been in the south until now – I introduced tea eggs and ‘oil’ drum baked sweet potatoes to Tristan. These kept us going until lunchtime when I finally succumbed to hunger and ate both of the granola bars I had packed for emergencies. As for the bus, we decided to walk to the nearby train station, found a bus idling by with its driver looking for passengers. I think once we boarded others were encouraged to also hop on as it soon filled and we were off. Only a 15 minute ride away.

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Tristan. Not only did we go to the Longmen Grottoes together, we took a very rushed tour the following day to the Shaolin Kung Fu Temple Academy and the White Horse Temple

The tour the next day reminded me, once again, how much I do not enjoy tours. We were picked up across from the hostel, and stopped to pick up other passengers also going on the tour. Our guide seemed horrified she would have to be in charge of two foreigners and eventually asked if there was anyone on the bus who could look after us. Or something along those lines. The poor fellow had his work cut out because we tended to not follow the group like sheep. I do not know why he volunteered, his English was worse than my Chinese!

First stop, Shaolin Temple and Kungfu School of China, 1 1/2 hours out of Luoyang. Yikes! As we scurried after our guide, once we had arrived, I felt like I should start to Baa – I think I managed to refrain. It was difficult to enjoy anything because we kept being rushed hither and thither. One of the supposed highlights is to watch a performance put on by students. A rather slick operation getting everyone inside and seated for the short show then out again for the next crush. I tried to be impressed.

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One of the many steles erected in memory of great masters, this one was draped with silk to commemorate (I think this is correct) the anniversary of the death of one master
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A quick fix to stop monuments from toppling over
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The gate to the temple and school

 

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I finally captured one student not moving

For some reason I took very few photos of the White Horse Temple. I can only think it was most likely due to all the driving to get anywhere. A lunch stop in the middle of nowhere provided a chance for a quiet, cobbled together picnic – those granola bars do come in handy – before heading for the last stop of the day. It was quite busy and once again less seeing anything of significance (much the same happened at the Wu She School) and standing around waiting.

We did not get back to Luoyang until dark – descends early and suddenly – and were then hustled into a smaller van before finally getting into a car and eventually a public bus to the train station. We were tired, hungry and happy.

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More lotuses, this time at the White Horse Temple. The leaves are from a gingko tree

Of course the highlight of my time in Luoyang was the Longmen Grottoes; however, meeting a new friend, sharing meals and hanging out at yet another apartment turned into a hostel were all part of why I enjoyed my time there. In all I spent three nights, the first simply a matter of having arrived too late to do any exploring, and the only item on my list that I missed seeing was the Luoyang Museum after spending a whole day at the grottoes. A quick calculation indicated I had spent barely 1000CNY = under 200CAD including half the train fare from Guilin. Somehow I was managing to stay on budget! My next destination was Xi’an – home of the Terracotta Warriors.

 

Nanjing

This portion of my trip was the first of a few very difficult ones to write about. I anguished over how to provide adequate words for why I was there and where I visited. To assist me I recorded snips to remind me of the immediate impact of the heartwrenching Museum of the Nanjing Massacre. Despite having a very firm grasp of the history of that era, particularly the horrid attacks by the Japanese on Nanjing, Shanghai and the surrounding areas, I was not prepared. Which brought me up short when I finally sat down to write.

I finally decided to keep my visit to Nanjing in chronological order, it made no sense to jump back and forth even though the museum is what stood out. My whole visit to Nanjing in one ugly lump. As with my visit to Suzhou, it was one of the reasons I decided to return to Nanjing. However, I shall begin with my departure from Suzhou and my arrival in Nanjing – another early morning and a hunt for my hostel. I was beginning to think this would plague me with each new city in China and Vietnam.

Despite all the problems with not knowing if I was legally staying at a now un-named Hostel in Suzhou I actually slept and was up by 5:30. Unfortunately, due to the nature of backpacking and the lack of hot water I did not have a shower. Coupled with wearing the same outerwear as the previous day I felt yucky from the start of my day. Bleh. Then as if that were not enough, for good measure, I bashed my head with my coffee press that I had finally managed to pack in its usual top pocket of my bag. So, there was no knowing if my feelings of further bleh were a result of the head bash, no shower, or carrying everything about to taxi, station and train, or all of the above. Wheels were beginning to look like an excellent alternative to a backpack by the time I was on the train.

My first stop once I arrived at the train station – as usual far too early – was to head for whichever fast food place I could find. This time it was KFC, where I ordered a large coffee and watched the day unfold below me. Like watching Geand Central Station in fast motion. (I have only seen this on film) Then it was my turn to join the madness, coffee unfinished. I never like this part of travelling by train in China. A mad dash for the gates, stuff your ticket in, yet another mad dash up, down, over (depending on which train) and find the right car. I still have not figured out how to tell where I am supposed to go despite the colour coding on the platform – the board inside is, of course, in Chinese so I never know the colour I should head for.  Once in my seat I relax. Until my arrival.

Another short train trip, another early morning, another bad taxi driver, and I was very hungry. (One day I need to tell the tale of the driver from hell in Shanghai.) It was easy to get a taxi, not so easy showing him the address – written in Chinese – with the phone number and GPS. When I discovered later that the area is a major spot for tourists all I could do was wonder why some people choose to be taxi drivers. Once he had figured out where I was going he kept muttering to himself – this seems to be something drivers must learn at taxi school – and asking me where the place was, or possibly he meant did I, the foreign visitor, recognize it or see it – this is another common query from drivers. Once we did arrive I was nearly thrown out the door after paying the 22.00CNY in exact change; a demand for extra money was made with all sorts of gestures as to why, along with the driver insisting I hurry up. The result was I dropped my money, which slowed down the process even more, all the while he was yelling st me. I hoped I had not lost 100CNY! If he had not been in such an angry rush our transaction would have gone more smoothly as well as much faster. It was not until the following day that I found out there is a 2.00CNY surcharge.

the hostel kitty – he did not seem too pleased to share his space with a dog and a rabbit.

I was so happy my hostel was just across the street from where I was dropped off – until I was informed there was no power, which also meant no internet, for the whole block. It was not expected to be on until mid afternoon. By this time I was more than a little shaky, and in dire need of food. Although I had not intended to break into my emergency granola bars I was happy I had taken the foresight to buy them before leaving Canada for moments like these. Fortunately my bags could be left in a secured room on the main floor. I was not favouring the idea of climbing to the 4th floor with them! I headed out in search of food and happily discovered a restaurant two doors down that serves food already prepared – breakfast often being a rushed meal – prior to the power being cut. I made my selections, grabbed a set of chopsticks, and headed back to the hostel where I could make coffee – thermoses of hot water are still a major item found in hotels and restaurants in China – to add to my picnic on the large deck. Coffee, breakfast and a book – I was happily unplugged for several hours.

Naturally, after I did finally have a bunk to call my own, I was also ready to explore. My first stop was to the Fuzimiao (Confucian Temple) down the street. I rather liked the apples and ribbons hung on trees by couples – either for good luck or progeny, probably the latter considering the importance of family according to Confucius. No clear explanation as to how Confucius (b. 551 BCE) would be where many Chinese choose to show their devotion. However, his philosophy on moral standards and filial piety were, and remain, the base of Chinese culture. I have always wondered why temples were built to venerate Confucius – temples were generally erected for religious reasons. Confucius never considered himself a god, not even a messenger of God. I spent some time making friends with the few Temple cats sunning themselves. I also had to don my sunglasses to hide my tears for Mozzy. (This would happen pretty well every time I visited a place that also had cats in residence)

I could not resist this very cranky looking kitty with his brush and stand – not that I was going to try to pet him!

After the truncated visit to the temple I visited Nanjing’s very busy, pedestrians only, Fuzimiao (Confucian Temple) Street and surrounding area where the hostel is handily located. In addition to the Confucian Temple and the Imperial Examination Hall there is a lot to see. I did not make it to the latter – too worn out. In hindsight I wondered just how much I missed of the Confucian Temple though, the time I was there, and what I saw, certainly did not cover what I have since read about it. (The Temple and site were undergoing extensive renovations which did explain why some areas were not accessible) Next time I visit a place I will have to be better prepared! I The various wares and food did not draw my attention nearly as much as what I consider a new trend – mainly with young men – tattoos. A cross on the throat of one young man, others with various neck tattoos. Young women seem to keep their inkings to shoulder blades or arms – perhaps easier to cover up or be discreet. I blame my lack of enthusiasm for trying out the many delectable selections to the morning head bash, no electricity and a cranky driver. My mantra at the end of each day was rapidly becoming – I was worn out! I was in my bunk by 8:00pm.

This funny fellow seemed to belong to a wax museum.

My plan for the following day was to visit the Museum to the Massacre of Nanjing. Even two months on I remain unable to adequately put into words what I felt and saw. This became palpable throughout my trip each time I visited a recent (20th Century) historic site of conflict.

I did not take any photos from inside. However, the monuments and statues outside tell the story far better than I can.

What I first saw once inside, formally called The Memorial Hall of the Victims in Nanjing Massacre by Japanese Invader, was a mass grave, with many of the skeletons laid out relatively straight. It was an eerie sight; who took the time? It is important to know that the anthropologists, the forensic scientists, anyone involved with the discovery of this mass grave, pulled no punches when describing the atrocities against these victims – they were all brutally murdered. I wish I had known the importance of the flags the majority of the visitors were carrying, and just how much the tragedy of the massacres (as with earlier and, sadly, later mass ‘war losses’, worldwide, I doubt there is no knowing how many more mass graves remain undiscovered) to this day has an affect on the citizens of Nanjing as well as the whole country. As we solemnly passed by, and around the grave site, then – in mute harmony – matched numbers to photographs, visitors left a flag next to a name, a picture, a story, a memory.

A question came to mind while a few visitors were taking photos of the bared bones. (As visitors came closer to the exit they appeared to lose the shroud of quiet respect with a need for the air of modernity – death, particularly of such magnitude – is easier to leave behind from behind a lens). I should remark here that 10,000 bodies are not under scrutiny at the memorial, I did not make a note of how many – one being too many when considering why they are there – skeletons are displayed at the memorial, although I think fewer than 150 based on the numbers laid beside each remains. The question was were we, who are visiting, collectively guilty of ghoulishness, or was it an attempt to keep the memory, or a reminder to never let it happen again? Not that it has not happened since.

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It seems nearly an insult to write of the more pleasant visit I made to the city wall of Nanjing. Similar to the Great Wall outside of Beijing, and across the country, the ancient cities of China had fortifications built to keep enemies out. Nanjing, as well as Xi’an, had built a wall to surround the city. For a fee, senior discount for me, it is possible to climb the stairs to the top of the wall and go for a very pleasant walk. The sections that are open to the public stretch to six kilometres – I walked only 3. It is also much easier than the often arduous climbing of the sections of the Great Wall. I spent a couple of hours walking, taking in the view of the city on one side and a park on the other. Birds chirping, a slight breeze, and trees shimmering below were a balm after the museum. As this was a Sunday there were people cycling, walking, classical singing, tai chi, playing instruments were only some of what I heard and saw A photo shoot was happening on the wall – how the woman managed to climb the stairs in the long, flowing gown, was beyond me. I have noticed that women often carry, or have them carried, a pair of heels when heading to have photos done. Once again I was not sure if this was an wedding party or a fashion shoot. This time the dress was red – making it even more difficult to figure out. Unfortunately, by the time the Japanese attacked Nanjing on Dec. 13, 1937, the wall was useless against the bombings. It made me wonder if the Japanese were laughing at the ancient fortifications once considered strong enough to push back any invading army.

the inscriptions in the bricks are many, many centuries old, with some dating back to when the wall was first built. Although some histories say it was the builders who wrote them that seems unlikely as they were labourers and unlikely to have had any formal education.

After walking down from the wall I walked about 100metres before encountering the strangest sight – people had crossed over the low fence across from the lake and were kicking the trees before stooping down to gather up whatever had fallen to the ground. There were gingko trees and some trees I did not recognize which seemed to indicate this was a rather nifty, relieve your stress at the same time, way to harvest the fruit that would otherwise just fall and rot. It was quite funny to first hear the whack, whack of foot against trunk and more so when I saw it! Life carries on.

This lovely tearoom was built within the Nanjing Wall during extensive renovations during which time some internal modifications were necessary in order to keep the exterior as close to its original look as possible. I chose a less expensive repast.

Wedding Wednesday

I managed to get a few of these two who did appear to newly wed. Or just about to be.
Someone needs to tell her it is supposed to be a happy day!
It seems that my daughter said yes to the dress recently. She found it at a pop up wedding dress sale. Upon receiving one exclamation from a friend s explained it something along these lines: I could not help it, it fell off the hangar and leapt into my heart. Although I may have the exact wording wrong it certainly describes just how important the selection of a wedding dress can be. I remember when her younger sister and I were dress shopping, now over nine years ago, we both thought we would no be overtaken by emotion simply because we were not wired that way. Then she came out wearing one dress in particular and I had tears. She was s little teary also. As it turned out she did not buy that dress after deciding it would only suit one venue, which had been knocked out of the running. So, like her older sister now, we headed for a trunk sale and found the perfect dress, one that she had first found, tried on, and fallen head over heels in love with. Except it was the first dress and who buys the first one?

I never could decide if this was just a photo shoot with models or an actual wedding shoot.

For now I only have pictures because I am in China, my daughter is in Ontario, and I go home to British Columbia. A dress shopping date in Toronto was set for January that we will still keep. After all, there are accessories, and i still need a dress. Or, although not Chinese, perhaps my daughter can have two dresses! Her sister did, one for the wedding and dinner, then a fun little purple dress for heading out for a night of dancing.

Try as I could I was not able to capture her white sneakers.

Meanwhile, I did find some interesting dresses on the streets of Hanoi, Vietnam and Yangshuo, China. I hope to add more next Wednesday!

Suzhou: Two nights

Day One

The most frustrating part about travelling is trying to capture the trip by carefully writing down highlights, along with the not so pleasant aspects, with everything still fresh in the memory bank. Of course with pictures. Which I may have deleted. Imagine, after using up several hours overnight at an airport finishing a piece to share with anyone interested, discovering that it is not there! Seems I forgot to save my draft about my visit to Suzhou. Which is why I have always take notes! 

I started out with good intentions to take the subway to the train station. Once I carried my pack down the first set of stairs I quickly changed my mind and walked back up to find a taxi. It was here I decided that saving money should never mean sacrificing my back. It also meant less likelihood of falling over and landing on my back like a turtle – sometimes that fine balance between remaining upright and tipping is wobbly.

‘Darkened forbidding hallway – Doorbell unanswered – Modern technology call’

I have no idea why I am wanting to think in a simplified haiku form – perhaps a need for less chaos? The above had me momentarily rethinking my choices for accommodation. I had the number for the hostel, I had my new Chinese number, I was at   the door and it was still relatively early – no real need to panic. Once I connected with the owner I was able to go up to drop off my bags but had to wait a few hours before checking in. That seemed reasonable at the time. Divested of my bags I walked, in a drizzle, to the Suzhou Museum. I had forgotten how grossly people here underestimate distance – plus the fact I thought the man at the hostel was stressing blocks, not km. However, although it felt like 5km a look at my tracker showed it was indeed about 3km. So this time it was not out of range. It is also far too common to be given the wrong directions rather than be told ” buzhidao” – I don’t know. The best way to avoid being incorrect but still helpful is the hand wave in whichever direction is thought to be correct.

Suzhou, China’s Vienna, the city where Marco Polo is said to have spent much of his time. Like where I am from, Victoria Canada, a city of gardens. It is in the setting of gardens that the museum was built. I had wanted to see the Suzou Museum after watching the documentary, “I.M. Pei: Building China Modern” about the architect and his dream for the museum. It is a simple design, fits into the area and invites the outdoor & indoor environments to be enjoyed. Designed by I.M. Pei, who was well into his seventies during the construction,  this was like a gift from him to Suzhou. He is perhaps best known for designing the Louvre Pyramide. However, the Suzhou Museum was also a work of love.


Pei incorporated elements of light, air, water, and fauna to create spaces that invite visitors to linger. The entrance looks onto Lotus Pond and has two wings for exhibits. Yes, it did seem the standard artifacts were in abundance in addition to local finds, but, the lack of a mish-mash of items thrown in to fill space shows care in what is included – and what was not. I was quite taken by the simplicity of the scholar’s study, it was not just crowded into a corner like so many other displays I have seen. This was s room of its own, just as a scholar would have had – albeit most likely a relatively well to do scholar. The choices of calligraphy and scrolls of art were selected with care, and everything is displayed for visitors to really look at the items as a whole and as individual pieces. The small windows in several rooms draws in the outdoor without causing damage to artifacts. A small courtyard to one side with a single pomegranate tree; another with with a stand of narrow bamboo; the Wisteria Garden and of course the stunningly simple Lotus Pond provide a calm, reflective space.


By the time I made it to the thatched Song Pavilion, that duplicates a scholar’s studio from the Song Dynasty, (960 – 1279) it was raining quite heavily. This made the effect of entering the pavilion magical. I doubt it would have been cozy during chilly days in December of January – it does snow, although rarely – when the only warmth would have been most likely from a brazier. The scholar’s room I mentioned was not displayed here. The quiet, the rain tapping of the thatch and simple garden had me wishing I could either hide out there for a while or have something built at home. Not likely to ever happen, I do not even have a garden.
It was a nice way to spend a rainy late morning to early afternoon despite many others having the same idea. Of course, being free and adjacent to one section of the famous Administrator Garden makes this a popular spot. It was not exactly a walk in the park sort of day so the buildings in this section of garden were appreciated. These were where the owner of the gardens resided. When I visited there was a lovely exhibit of fans by an artist who still uses the methods from hundreds of years ago.  I had no idea that the craft of fans was so intensive. 


I even found sustenance, if a thick slice of sweetened cheese ‘toast’ can be called a good choice. Weird stuff served in China. The coffee was decent. I was also able to recharge my phone battery to 40% – it seems to be sapped far too rapidly. It was time to head back to the Hostel to officially check in. Except I couldn’t – or certainly not officially. When I had called the owner she had been at the Public Security Bureau where she and other similar owners of hostels in a specific area were being told they could not have foreigners staying for about a month. Was I willing to take a chance, hang out until evening and maybe have to be moved to another hostel. I figured why not? My belongings were put in the room where I hoped I would be staying and I waited. By 9:00pm rolled up I was ready to sleep and the PSB had not come knocking. Or ringing.

Suzhou: Day Two – Chinese tour

The tour booked was going to be in terestng was all I could think. However, it was also s lot less expensive than anything I would find for foreigners with a translator. I was the first to be picked up. I also had little idea of where we would visiting after not really paying attention, it sounded like I would enjoy it. I believe one garden, a canal cruise , Tiger Hill. The cruise goes to Shanghai Taxi to train station 21; Breakfast 25; Tour 198; Room (eventually) 100; Xiao bao 10;Water 2; Lunch 30; random tour fee 20; Taxi 22 (I was irritated to discover the tour bus would not be dropping me off where I was picked up)the hill from what I understood. For the equivalent of about 20CAD. However, I do know the pace of Chinese tours and can only hope I can keep up!
So where did we go, one garden in the morning before we parted ways to do our own thing according to what we had paid for. I opted for a return to the museum. That took up about two hours, visiting gardens in Suzhou, and many parts of China is serious business and are not simply a plot of land planted with flowers and shrubbery. They are carefully planned, often over many years, places for reflection, creativity and meditation. Rockery, water, plants and walkways play an important part in making the gardens accessible at all times of the year. Dwellings were always considered when the gardens were built, and I use built because they certainly needed some manipulation of materials to fit into the space available. There were many sections to each garden, all with lovely names to suit the space. If only I had thought to take photos of some of them!

Bats bring good luck in China and stepping on the stone plus the centre where there was a coin means lucky in wealth.

We also visited the Beisi Pagoda, also known as the Bao’en Temple, which was wonderful to see for its pink and brown colouring alone! Unfortunately for us it is undergoing massive restoration so we could only manage to walk some of the grounds and attempt to get some pictures. What I found fascinating is the colours are exactly the same as a house I lived in for a couple of years as a teenager! I could not find any reason for the colour scheme.


Lunch was a matter of pay or starve unless, as some did, smart enough to prepare a picnic. However, I thought it friendlier to join everyone even if few of them spoke English. Wo bao.le! (I’m full) Noodles in broth, cabbage/mushroom/tofu mix (like a small salad or soup garnish), one boiled egg (should have saved it) & glutinous steamed rice something – ate two, sampled the other two. This after four xiao bao. Thank goodness we would have plenty more walking to do! And my first squat toilet this trip.


Funny story: on the bus waiting. Tour guide tells me to follow her. No idea why. We go into a store so my immediate thought is that I am expected to buy something. Silk. No, I was given a gift of a scarf – as were the other ladies. Incentive to spend money. I did not. Not even 1:00 and I was exhausted – the humidity remained high throughout the morning and part way through our afternoon activities.

Thank goodness for some cooling rain by the time we headed to our canal boat ride. Our group ended up being split up, leaving four of us, including the guide, behind. As often happens in China it was s matter of hurry up and go nowhere. By the time we were aboard I think we were all wondering if maybe there had been a jam upriver. Nice respite though. We were headed to Tiger Hill where there is an ancient Pagoda. Well worth the trip. There were a few precious seconds of awed silence as we rounded the corner, we were on open air carts, to have our first close up view of the pagoda. The Pagoda leans, has done so for several years. 


I was tired but happy by the time I was dropped off and caught a taxi to my hostel. Still no PSB. I packed everything – bed around 10:00, and slept relatively well.


Shanghai Taxi to train station 21; Breakfast 25; Tour 198; Room (eventually) 100; Xiao bao 10;Water 2; Lunch 30; random tour fee 20; Taxi 22 (I was irritated to discover the tour bus would not be dropping me off where I was picked up)