In summer 2014, a bunch of us from the University of Edinburgh took part in a four week exchange programme in Nanjing University of Astronautics and Aeronautics. It was the first weekend of the programme and we were excited to do some travelling. We spent the entire week learning about Chinese language and culture so it was about the time to do some practice. After unsuccessful attempt to get train tickets to Beijing, some of us decided to visit Suzhou which was a city not that far away (~200km) from Nanjing. Suzhou is often called Venice of the East due to a number of canals that there are in the city, so it was an exciting option. It was our first proper time out somewhere alone without any guides and we were excited to see the real China.
Well I can tell you now, that Suzhou is nothing like Venice. Even though I have never been to Venice, I can guarantee that you won’t find many similarities. Wanna bet?
I think I had a wee cultural shock in Suzhou. Nanjing was absolutely “normal” (at least the bits we saw) very peaceful city, while Suzhou was full of people who were following us and screaming to our faces to book their boat tours. People would not stop asking to take photos with them and you could not just quietly walk down the street. At some point I stopped to look at the turtles that a man was selling in the street and then he smashed one of their heads with the rock just in front of me. I’m not even talking about some public toilets I saw there. The city was polluted, loud and weird. I think it was more real than I could expect. I never thought I was so squeamish about things and this trip was a good preparation for surviving another six weeks in China.
We stayed in the weirdest place ever. We didn’t book anything before we left and then we stumbled across the place called OK Motel. It looked like a garage. You get one of those “rooms”, park your car inside and then go through the doors into your room (the one we saw was completely pink). It’s a shame I don’t have any photos of the actual rooms, but you can probably imagine the situation.
We weren’t so adventurous and got a ridiculously cheap room with two bunk beds and armchairs, which was big enough to accommodate all of us (10 or so if I remember it right).
Our research before coming to the city said that there are number of things to see and do in the city: loads of beautiful gardens, the most popular being Humble Administrator’s Garden , a number of pagodas and of course the famous boat tours of the canals. Maybe because it was a weekend, a lot of places we visited were crowded, but the gardens were absolutely gorgeous. I also really liked the little streets of the town, full of colourful shops and people.
Even with all the things that freaked me out, I still have nice memories from Suzhou.I think the boat trip with the old man singing an old Chinese song absolutely destroyed all the negative feelings I had. I realised that I should appreciate every minute I had and enjoy every random thing that happened…
And there were a lot of random things that happened during the entire trip. But I’ll tell you about them later.