SUZHOU HIGHLIGHTS

10 Irresistible Features of China's "Garden City"

            China's "Venice of the East," has been a center of high culture and wealth throughout history attracting officials, scholars, wealthy merchants to its graceful greenery and waterways.  Now an emerging center of commerce and industrial parks, Suzhou's ancient core retains a microcosm of the country's history and culture.         

 Suzhou is a city of greenery and canals
Suzhou is a city of greenery and canals

WATERWAYS

            Situated near the southern end of China's monumental Grand Canal linking Beijing and the South China Sea, Suzhou is crossed by picturesque canals.  Lined with shops and cafes, historic Pingjiang Lu  is one of the popular pedestrian streets running parallel to waterways crossed by high stone bridges.  Cruises along the Grand Canal and paddle boat rentals offer a floating perspective on lush greenery lining the banks.

 Canals wind through Suzhou
Canals wind through Suzhou
Stone bridges span the canals
Stone bridges span the canals
Dragon boats cruise the Grand Canal
Dragon boats cruise the Grand Canal
 Cruise boats are enclosed and tea is served
Cruise boats are enclosed and tea is served
Views of the landscape from afloat
Views of the landscape from afloat

GARDENS

            Throughout the centuries, wealthy owners have created natural works of art, employing rocks, water, pavilions, trees, plantings, to create elaborate private gardens as places to meditate and appreciate nature.  Of several hundred designed over the years, 60 remain, 19 open to the public revealing perspectives of harmony and proportion to those wandering through.  The Humble Administrator's Garden  and the Lingering Garden are among nine "Classical Gardens of Suhou" recognized as UNESCO Heritage Sites.

            Landscape in the Humble Administrator's Garden
Landscape in the Humble Administrator's Garden
Water is a centerpiece of the Humble Administrator's Garden
Water is a centerpiece of the Humble Administrator's Garden
  Rockery evokes mountains in Chinese gardens
Rockery evokes mountains in Chinese gardens
Pavilions are spots for reflection
Pavilions are spots for reflection
Bonsai in the Humble Administrator's Garden
Bonsai in the Humble Administrator's Garden

MUSEUM

            Before becoming an internationally recognized architect,  I.M. Pei spent part of his childhood in Suzhou.  His former family home, the UNESCO Heritage Lion Grove Garden can be visited, and one of his greatest contributions is the graceful, informative Suzhou Museum.  A modern update of Suzhou's traditional white wall/black roof architecture, it surrounds a graceful central pond, with galleries showcasing important jade, porcelain, garments, bamboo carvings in rooms with waterfalls and views outside to nature.

 I.M. Pei designed the Suzhou Museum to reflect the local black and white architecture
I.M. Pei designed the Suzhou Museum to reflect the local black and white architecture
Nature is viewed through the gallery windows
Nature is viewed through the gallery windows
An indoor waterfall creates serenity
An indoor waterfall creates serenity
 Galleries are designed to complement the artifacts
Galleries are designed to complement the artifacts
There are vistas within the museum courtyard
There are vistas within the museum courtyard

SILK

           With an ideal climate for mulberry leaves, Suzhou emerged early as a center of fine silk production. Standing beside trays of silkworms munching away on trays of leaves, visitors to the eighty-year old No.1 Silk Factory can view exhibits illustrating every step of how the worms mate, molt, and spin cocoons, which are sorted, soaked, boiled, and then spun into skeins with 3000-4500 feet of silk thread per cocoon.

Silk worms feed on mulberry leaves
Silk worms feed on mulberry leaves
Glass jar exhibits show the stages of silk production
Glass jar exhibits show the stages of silk production
Workers sort the cocoons by size
Workers sort the cocoons by size
Quilt makers stretch each skein forming layers
Quilt makers stretch each skein forming layers

EMBROIDERY

            Separated into thread so fine it can barely be perceived with the human eye, silk is converted by master embroiderers into textile art works of astounding sophistication.  At the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute visitors can observe master embroiderers creating pictures, many so skillfully crafted that separate images are produced on both sides of the cloth.  A portrait in silk may take over a year and a half to create. 

Fine embroidery is an art form in Suzhou
Fine embroidery is an art form in Suzhou
Masters create pictures from fine silk threads
Masters create pictures from fine silk threads
Animals and pets are popular embroidery subjects
Animals and pets are popular embroidery subjects
 Large pictures and portraits can take months to create
Large pictures and portraits can take months to create

PARKS

            Throughout the city, pathways lead through parks showcasing plantings which vary through the seasons.  Spring peonies lead to lotus in summer which gives way to autumn's fragrant mimosa.  The Panmen Scenic Area Park surrounding the historic two-story, red Panmen Gate, includes a 1000-foot section of the original city wall and its high arched Wumen Qiao Bridge is a great vantage point to watch boats floating by on the Grand Canal.

 The Wumen Qiao Bridge spans the Grand Canal
The Wumen Qiao Bridge spans the Grand Canal

INDUSTRIAL 

            East and west of the city, giant industrial parks have been created to promote research and commerce.  Created in conjunction with Singapore, the Suzhou Industrial Park on the east, abbreviated  SIP, centers around Jinji/Golden Chicken Lake with office structures, apartment complexes, five-star hotels, a university, cultural and arts center -- and one of the world's tallest Ferris Wheels, comprising a whole community.  Across town, is the similar Suzhou New District high-tech development zone.

Lobby view of a luxury hotel
Lobby view of a luxury hotel

RECREATION

            Visitors seeking exercise can stroll among the shops of Pingjiang Lu, cycle and jog on special paths around nearby Taihu Lake, China's third-largest freshwater lake, climb past the stone carvings and monuments on Tiger Hill at the outskirts of town.  Newly arranged by the tourist office is the opportunity during crab season, October to mid-November, to rent boats and help local fishermen harvest crabs from the aquatic fields in Taihu Lake.

Tree-lined streets are pleasant for strolling
Tree-lined streets are pleasant for strolling
Crab fields are laid out within Taihu Lake
Crab fields are laid out within Taihu Lake
Crab catchers stay on houseboats
Crab catchers stay on houseboats
Visitors go out in boats to the crab cages
Visitors go out in boats to the crab cages
The fisherman pulls in the net of crabs
The fisherman pulls in the net of crabs
The catch is emptied into the boat
The catch is emptied into the boat
The crabs are cooked and served for lunch
The crabs are cooked and served for lunch

ENTERTAINMENT

            China's oldest form of opera, Kunqu, originated here with performances featuring singers in colorful masks and costumes.  Folk tales and jokes are told in song and musical accompaniment in popular Pingtan storytelling performances held in local tea houses.  Many of the classic gardens also present musical programs.

Performances are musical and colorful
Performances are musical and colorful
 Parasols are a popular prop
Parasols are a popular prop

DINING

Suzhou cuisine is noted for fish and produce, fresh and slightly sweet.  Crab and shrimp are abundant and Sweet and Sour Mandarin Fish is a specialty.  Homesick foreigners can dine at elaborate versions of KFC and Pizza Hut. 

Lotus blossom with duck rolls
Lotus blossom with duck rolls
 Tiny shrimp in an elegant presentation
Tiny shrimp in an elegant presentation
Most meals conclude with artistic platters of fruit
Most meals conclude with artistic platters of fruit

TOURISM IS WELCOME

            Ex-pat residents of Suzhou and a small delegation of us from the US were invited to attend ceremonies welcoming American visitors to the city as part of the 2016 China-US Tourism Year. The Mayor of Suzhou and other officials greeted the group at ceremonies held in October near the Panmen Gate.  After speeches and an elaborate drumming performance, guests were led to a stage to see a show of traditional songs and dances.  The festivities concluded with an elaborate buffet featuring both Chinese and American dishes -- dumplings and hot dogs.

A festival welcomed overseas visitors
A festival welcomed overseas visitors
 Tourists were welcomed in the 2016 China US Tourism Year
Tourists were welcomed in the 2016 China US Tourism Year
 Representing America, consultant Paul Cohen reciprocated greetings
Representing America, consultant Paul Cohen reciprocated greetings
 Costumed characters greeted guests
Costumed characters greeted guests
Musicians set the stage for a mock water wedding
Musicians set the stage for a mock water wedding
 The wedding party actors arrived by boat
The wedding party actors arrived by boat
Music by an orchestra started the program
Music by an orchestra started the program
Singers and dancers performed traditional pieces
Singers and dancers performed traditional pieces
 The buffet served both Chinese and American dishes
The buffet served both Chinese and American dishes
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS