“We wander for distraction, but we travel for fulfillment.” Hilaire Belloc
The next of my adventures in China happens to be in Suzhou, a half hour train ride from Shanghai. It was the perfect opportunity for a day trip and the train system in China made it very convenient.
As I mentioned before, I was staying in an airbnb in Shanghai, more specifically in Pudong near a subway station called Century Avenue. This subway station made travelling to all the hotspots and touristy attractions super easy and the environment near the station was kind of like Bay Street in Toronto (or like Wall Street for you Americans). It was quiet and peaceful in the morning as I walked to the station. The ride on the subway from Century Avenue to the railroad station (called hong qiao train station) was longer than the ride on the train itself! It took about an hour to get there in total, and when I got there I began to look for the ticket counter. It was impossible to miss- there were so many people lining up and buying tickets. I may have gotten to the train station at 9am, but by the time I had purchased my ticket, it was already 10am! My train was scheduled to leave at 10:35, so I barely had time to get through security, find my boarding gate and buy breakfast. I ate at a place called yong he da wang, a kind of fast food place where you could get traditional Chinese food. I had pi dan shou rou zhou and it was SO good (or maybe I was just super hungry) and washed it down with some fresh soy milk. It was a pretty satisfying breakfast.
The first thing I did when I arrived in Suzhou was wander around the train station. The outside of the train station had a lot of sculptures and ancient looking buildings surrounding it so it was pretty cool to walk around and see everything.
I couldn’t figure out the bus system (either that or there were no busses going to where I wanted to go) so I took a taxi. Turns out the park I wanted to go see was literally 2km from the train station- good news was that there was AC in the taxi and it only cost ¥11. My first stop was to Tiger Hill to see the Yunyuan Pagoda (aka the Leaning Tower of China). The pagoda wasn’t very tall- only 7 stories- but it was SUPER old. Like it looked like it was going to crumble if I breathed on it. Interestingly, the pagoda closed to the public in 2010 (how it managed to stay up is beyond me). It was built in 961AD in the Song Dynasty and the uppermost stories were added during the reign of the last emperor of the Ming Dynasty.
Let me just tell you all something, it was hot and humid that day so walking around in the sun was not ideal. Luckily, I thought it was going to rain that day, so I brought an umbrella and as monkey see, monkey do, I followed the lead of the people around me and used it to shield myself from the blazing sun. After walking around the garden for a bit, I decided to leave for my next location. I had the brilliant idea to walk to the Humble Administrators Garden (a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site), but I didn’t realize how far of a walk it would be. I forgot to mention this earlier, but Suzhou is very similar to Venice. It’s a water town, connected by canals, so to get to most of the touristy locations, you just follow the river.
To get from Yunyuan to the Humble Administrators Garden, I had to walk along a road called 7 mile road. Honestly, it felt like it was 7 miles long (I think it was 2-3km long) but the walking and the heat and humidity combined made it feel like forever. The upside to this was that I got to walk though a tiny road filled with little shops that sold everything (from live chickens to souvenirs to street meat). Because it was almost 2pm and I was getting I hungry, I decided to stop for lunch at this homey looking restaurant. A rule to live by in China is to eat locally at little mom and pop shops, but because they may not always be sanitary, I suggest looking for places with lots of people eating there. The restaurant I encountered was filled to the brim with people by the time I got there so I thought it was a safe bet. I don’t even know what I had, but I know it was delicious!
After lunch, it was time for me to make my way to the next touristy spot. The Humble Administrators Garden was gorgeous and beautifully decorated, much like the Yu Garden I mentioned in my previous post. However, unlike the Yu Garden, the Humble Administrators Garden was filled with people. It was so hard to find a spot to take pictures because everywhere I looked, there were people.
So, after maneuvering around the people for about an hour or two, I couldn’t take it anymore and headed back to the train station to buy my return ticket. Thank god I did or else I wouldn’t have been able to find a seat back to Shanghai. I got to the train station at 4pm (the line literally went out the door)- so I joined. I discovered that the people who sold tickets had breaks scheduled at specific times, and they would leave the ticket counters when time was up (even though there were literally a hundred people in line). I mention this because just as I was getting to the front of the line, the man selling tickets went on break. So I stood in line (along with about 70 other people) waiting for him to return. His break was supposed to be 15 minutes long, but I guess he felt that he needed a longer break so he was gone for about 30 minutes. I thought this was pretty annoying, how the ticket counter was organized, but what could I do? As I finally got to the front of the line, I asked for the earliest train back to Shanghai and to my dismay, the only spot was on the 9:05pm train. A good 3 hours later.
I decided to go to another tiny street- this time it was filled with food stalls- called ping jian lu.
I am so glad I decided to go because I came across the most delicious meal ever. It looks kind of gross in the picture but it was so tasty. It was a mixture of potatoes, tofu and nian gao (made from a kind of sticky rice) with parsley, green onions and hot sauce on top. The combination of spices added to this bowl was perfect. Since I bought the bowl from a food stall, there wasn’t any place to sit, so I opted for sitting on the side of the canal and people watched as I ate.
I washed down that meal with some pastries (I don’t even know what they were called) but they were made from corn, sticky rice (same as the nian gao) and san zha (a red berry, I think it’s called hawthorne berries?). The little yellow duck you see in the picture wasn’t actually that tasty, but the rest of it was delectable.
The last thing I ate was homemade yogurt from this tiny shop. The yogurt packaging was so cute- it was flavoured with strawberry or blueberry and topped with fresh fruit. I spent about an hour and a half walking along the street, and by the time I got to the bus station, it was time to head back to the train station.
All in all, it was a pretty fulfilling day. I had one of the best meals I’ve had since arriving in China and made the most out of a bad situation.
(S/o to my mom for putting up with my shenanigans during this trip)