Monday, December 20, 2004


[Note: New photo album entitled "Suzhou" for this entry]

Shanghai, Day 3-
The little town of Suzhou (pronouned Soo-Cho) is about and hour and a half from Shanghai and is billed as "The Venice of China", so we picked out a local tour company and signed up for a day-trip. Originally, Suzhou was the Venice of China. Today, it's a dusty hole with one or two canals still flooded. The main "gate" to the town was a waterway and the townsfolk got around on their little boats. There's no real explanation of why this town used canals and waterways, since it's not right on a major river or right on the coast. But anyway...

Our tour began at Tiger Hill, a beautiful monastery/temple on the edge of town. They say it's called Tiger Hill because the shape of the ground looks like a crouching tiger. My recollection is that it's just shaped like a hill, and I even have a pretty vivid imagination. At the top of the hill is the pagoda which has begun to lean, so everyone makes a point to compare it to Piza. I didn't see one single stupid tourist trying to take a picture "holding up" the pagoda, so Piza it ain't.

Next stop, Han Shan Temple, a beautiful but otherwise unremarkable temple built along one of the canals and the first I've seen to include a pond inside the temple grounds.

Lunch, then the Master of the Nets Garden. The approach to this former residence-turned-garden/museum is down an alleyway with no outward markings whatsoever. I pity the tourist not on an organized tour trying to find this place, but if you wait long enough a guide with her little pennant will march past and you can just follow along. One of the nice things about this garden is that they've maintained enough of the furnishings inside the many buildings that you start to get a feel for how someone actually lived here. The water gate and another unnamed pagoda are near here.

Last stop before home is the obligatory silk mill. A lot of silk is manufactured and processed in Suzhou, though I have no idea what quality it is. It is interesting to see the progression from little worms (aside: They're bigger than you think) chewing away at mulberry leaves, to cocoons, and then the processing. The cocoons are boiled to kill the pupae, then they're whisked to get one thread off. The whole cocoon is spun from a single continuous thread, so the trick when spinning it into thread is to keep the strands unbroken. Mid-to-late 1800s technology is alive and well at the silk mills. The silk mill even put on a runway fashion show complete with boney 6 foot completely disinterested models. Please visit the gift shop at the end of tour, we have many and lovely thing for you to buy.

The whole point of a daytrip to Suzhou is not to see the most beautiful gardens in China (they're not here), the oldest temples (not here either), or even to get a great bargain on silk jammies (nope). It's just a nice opportunity to get out of the city and have someone else drive you around pointing out stuff.

And now a few more repressed memories:
  • When we exited the Summer Palace, back in Beijing, we were looking to hail a cab that would take us to a specific restaurant we had read about and knew wasn't very far away. They all wanted a minimum fare, which we hadn't encountered before, but while we were haggling a young (20-ish) Chinese girl came up to us and asked in pretty good English if we spoke French. I've had 2 years of high-school French and Dad grew up in central Louisiana, so we told her "not really". She pointed out an older woman (60-ish) who looked on the verge of tears so we reconsidered. It was obvious that she'd gotten separated from her tour group, so I introduced myself as best I could and she calmed down a bit. Part of the problem was the throng of taxi drivers crowding in, chattering to each other in what must have been Chinese. With the help of the young girl, we got the crowd to back off and quiet down a bit since, even though we weren't lost, the crowd made us a bit nervous too. We asked about her hotel and she gave us a name that the young girl recognized. She never said more than the name though. The young girl asked one of the taxi drivers how much it would cost and we relayed the information in our broken French. She nodded her approval. As the old woman was accepting the arrangements and getting ready to get into a cab, a younger woman (40-ish) probably her daughter, came running up and hugged her, leading her by the hand back to their tour bus. No need to thank us or even acknowledge our existence. Fucking French.
  • The restaurant we wound up going to was supposed to be dinner and a show. It was a fantastically decorated place, with big fish tanks full of menu-items as well as bird-cages near the door full of other menu-items. We ordered the prawns, which we soon discovered doesn't translate into "big shrimp" in Chinese. You and I know Chinese prawns as Sea Monkeys, and it was served in some sort of pale blue goo. No food, that I'm aware of anyway, is or should be pale blue. That, and the show turned out to be some 50s black & white race car movie. Although both the food and the entertainment sucked, we had a couple of beers, and managed to laugh about it anyway.
  • On the way back from Juyonguan/Ming Tombs/Spirit Way instead of stopping at a cloisonne or jade factory we were taken to a Chinese herbal healing center. Not exactly a University, but the closest thing this type of medicine has. We were shown various charts of the body and shown huge jars of herbs, roots, and fungi. Finally, a "doctor" came in and asked if we'd like a check up. Assured that this was completely non-invasive, we agreed. All we really had to do was stick out our tongue and offer both of our bare forearms for "pulse" checks. There are 3 pressure points at each wrist that correspond to the heart, liver, kidneys (one each), stomach and gall-bladder (I think). The doctor read Dad as having a "hot heart and liver". We have a history of heart disease in our family and Dad has already had 1 heart attack and a quadruple bypass. Dad is on medication for that, and it eventually gets processed in the liver. The doctor read me as also having a "hot heart" but not the liver. I've been off the same medication Dad takes for a couple months due to lack of insurance, so it's interesting that my liver wasn't "hot". After the diagnosis, the doctor asked if we want to buy the pills required to correct these situations, but since he wouldn't tell us exactly what herbs were in the pills, we politely declined. He was visibly disturbed and left rather quickly. If you're reading this, sorry Doc, nothing personal.


At 2:29 AM, Blogger Zelda said...

Fucking French indeed. This is all fascinating. I would have taken the herbs at least just to have them analyzed back home. But then again, they may not have let you through customs.

At 7:10 AM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

teeny - i really think you need to consider pulling all this together and submitting it to a travel magazine ... it's really good stuff.

At 8:51 AM, Blogger se7en said...

again, fascinating to read, and you do such a great job!

i have never been anywhere in the east, but always wished i could i am the one thats jealous!

Hi Bitchcakes!!

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Badaunt said...

I agree with #3ga. You should be publishing this stuff.

Also, I think pulse diagnosis should be taught to western doctors. It's astonishing what they can tell from the pulse, and I've never known it to be inaccurate. It has taken me a long time, but I now trust my acupuncturist when he listens to my pulse and tells me something is not serious. Quite recently (well, last year actually) I was having horrible symptoms and thought I must be dying of something. He told me it was nothing serious, just 'something physical' - go to the doctor, he said. I went. I had to wait two weeks for the results of the tests, from which I learned that it was nothing serious, just a little malfunction (with nasty symptoms), a very common problem that would clear itself up in time. And it did.

That's when I learned that 'something physical' meant 'not something organic and horribly wrong' - like the difference between a sprained finger and a cancerous growth. And when he says "Don't worry," I don't, now.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger Tasty said...

A.) You rock, mister Tex.
B.) Seven, when I try to read your blog it locks up my computer. Am I alone in this?

At 12:08 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Zelda- The whole thing was made all the more unsettling by the fact that the doctor himself didn't speak English. Everything was being translated by a "nurse" and our tour guide, who would sometimes consult with each other before agreeing on a translation. Makes you wonder what they're really saying.

Allie/Theic- So how does one actually publish something in print? You're thinking an unsolicited submission to something like Travel+Leisure or CondeNast?

At 12:09 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Lucky 7- Save your pennies and GO! You speak enough English to get by. ;)

Stacey- Just you.

At 2:08 PM, Blogger Tasty said...

I'm not surprised. I'm so unique.

At 4:02 PM, Blogger Allie#3ga said...

tiny - i actually know some people - talk to long as i get a finders fee ..... =)

At 5:45 PM, Blogger me said...

Shen tan jie kuai le. Hsin Nien Kuaile.

At 10:34 PM, Blogger tinyhands said...

Allie- I'm sure we can work something out.

BourbonBabe (and Jethro!)- Chuc mung nam moi va Giang Sinh vui ve.

While I'm at it...
Gary & SiƓn- Nadolig Llawen a Blwyddyn Newydd Da.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger The Tart said...

Many bread crumbs for the hearts & livers!!

; )


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