Suzhou--August 28, 2004--Canal Cruise, Pan Men Gate, Auspicious Light Pagoda, Silk Mill and Embroidery Institute, Garden of the Master of Fishing Net
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Today, we were off on a day trip to Suzhou. About 50 miles northwest of Shanghai, Suzhou is known as the Venice of the East for its many canals, which are linked to the Grand Canal, which some consider the water-equivalent of the Great Wall. About 1,000 miles in length, the Grand Canal is the longest man-made waterway in the world. Although at one time it linked Hangzhou to Beijing, much of the canal today north of Suzhou is unusable due to silt. Suzhou is known too for silk and for its beautiful gardens. Its population is about 6 million.
On the morning bus ride to Suzhou, we made a rest stop at a roadside facility to discover an elaborate assortment of fruits and vegetables and some fried snacks (243-245).
Once in Suzhou, we boarded a small boat and went for a short boat ride on a few of the canals (246-257). Unlike Venice, occupants of the homes are likely to have road access to their dwellings on the other side so it is not necessary to be completely boat dependent.
Once back on land, we visited the gardens at Pan Men Gate, the only city gate remaining (258, 260-261), and were also able to see the Auspicious Light Pagoda (259, 262). Pan Men was operated as a water gate and fortress when the canal was at its zenith.
After lunch, we were off to a silk mill (265-272) where we saw the silk-making process. During our tour, several of the tour group pulled a sheet of silk fiber to expand it to a larger size. The group was surprised that, even though they pulled with all their strength, the fabric was remarkably strong and resilient (271-272). During the day, we also visited the Embroidery Research Institute where we saw beautiful silk embroidery, some of the best in China (279-283).
Our final garden stop of the day was at the Garden of the Master of Fishing Net, considered the best of Suzhou's gardens (273-277). One of its halls, Dianchun Cottage, served as the model for the Astor Chinese Garden Court and Ming Furniture Room built in 1980 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.
While traveling around town, we encountered the ever-present bicycles which blend effortlessly into traffic in China (278). We saw large numbers of bicycles throughout China, although with economic gains, motor scooters are becoming increasingly popular.
For the two hour trek back to Shanghai, some of the tour members convinced one of our guides to stop at a local store and pick up a supply of Dynasty Wine (a Chinese-French joint venture table wine) for imbibing on the bus--it made the ride seem remarkably shorter.
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