Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Suzhou :: China

Suzhou China -- Pedicab Drivers Waiting for Tourists
©2007 L. Peat O'Neil

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Suzhou is an urban area with a population of 6 million, formerly known as ‘water country’ or the ‘land of rice and fish.’ That must have been in the past, because instead placid rice fields and ox-plows, we saw miles of factories under looming grey skies. Suzhou’s traditional silk production has been replaced by IT firms, industrial parks and a massive new exhibition center, 2nd largest in China. Suzhou is a bedroom community for Shanghai and an industrial powerhouse in its own right.

Canal Life, Suzhou
©2007 L. Peat O'Neil

Despite the urbanization, the 2,500 year old "Venice of China" retains its charms, and we were headed for one of the most famous sites in Suzhou - the Master of the Nets Garden.

Every mosaic in the garden pavement conveys meaning: cypress trees and cranes mean long life; bats mean happiness; garlands of bats around cranes mean a long, happy life.

Bat Mosaic in Pavement, Master of the Nets Garden
©2007 L. Peat O'Neil

The Master of the Nets garden took 80 years to construct, several hundred year ago. This was the dream project of a former government official who left his job because of his “rebel ideas” and because he only wanted to work in the garden, said our guide. Probably true. While visitors with Viking Cruise nametags stuck on their polo shirts streamed through the garden led by loud guides, our guide suggested we wait and savor the views, then he explained the layout in the wake of the cruisers.

Master of the Nets Garden, Suzhou
©2007 L. Peat O'Neil

Rock farmers set the rocks in flowing water to encourage marks and mineral deposits to form. Two generations later the rocks were pulled out and placed in gardens.

There’s more to the UNESCO protected garden than rocks and pebble mosaics. We rested in a pavilion for moon watching, gazed at ponds filled with prosperity-inducing gold fish, and walked out the gates to find ourselves in an outdoor corridor of vendors who netted in strolling tourists to buy fans, folding hats, postcards, figurines, tee-shirts, replica furniture, jewelry and more.

Downtown Suzhou on Saturday Afternoon
©2007 L. Peat O'Neil

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