Friday, 13 February 2009

Shanghai Noon Becomes Shanghai Nights: Part 3

Getting up early I looked outside to see the rain was still at full strength. Today however, I would not be wandering around Shanghai. No, the adventure was to take place in a city a short distance away named Suzhou. The city is famous for its waterways and gardens. It contains three of the national gardens of China and I was going to see two of these.

To get there I had to navigate Shanghai central station which was fairly straight forward. At the other end things were different. A surge of people poured off the train and out into the, still under construction, Suzhou station.

This meant it was almost impossible to see where I had to go. After that came the trial of getting across the eight lanes of traffic outside. Remarkably, I made it across unscathed and after the mornings excitement it was time to head for the Lingering Garden for a more peaceful experience.

The garden is much like many Chinese gardens in that it focuses heavily around the elements of stone, water, plants and buildings. It’s the way these things are combined that make it so breathlessly enchanting.

The naturally forming rocks, taken from a special lakes neaby, produce the most bizarre shapes and the way the place is so meticulously organised shows why many people do indeed linger in the Lingering Garden. It proved a nice contrast to the free for all that was the mornings train journey. Even the rain began to ease. Energy suitably restored I was ready to move on.

Next, it was time to experience the main canal route through the city. Onto the boats we went and down the river we motored. Travelling down the canal gave me a good chance to see a different side to the city. The boat passed many of the poorer areas. People waved and smiled at us as they washed their clothes in the river, all the while, maintaining a proud dignity.

Boats docked, there was still more travelling to do. This time by Rickshaw. My girlfriend and I scrambled in and we, along with some others, sped off in a convoy of rickety carriages held together by tape and bits of rag.

The rickshaw was one of the best experiences I had in China. It allowed us to access hidden streets and the feeling of constant danger from the mad drivers moving straight across main roads was both terrifying and exhilarating.

It also meant that we could stop and see the local fish market and reach the incredibly well hidden opera museum. It was amazing to find such a unique building filled with colourful costumes stuck down a back street.

I walked through it, moving out into the courtyard area, and was greeted with the site of a wonderfully elegant outside stage. It turned out to be a very interesting place I wouldn't have found if not for a wobbly rickshaw.

Rickshaw fun over, we arrived at the Humble Administrators Garden. This was much bigger than the others and had a more open feel. It was also busier. There was very little peace as I took in the water features and strikingly designed buildings.

I think I preferred the Lingering garden, but that is not to say that this one isn’t a very special place. The open style and more enthusiastic use of greenery helped the garden stand out from others I had seen.

The gardens visited, canal traveled along and my bones suitably rattled by the rickshaw it was time to head back to Shanghai. After commenting on the efficiency of the trains on the way out the return journey was inevitably delayed. The train eventually arrived in Shanghai and we departed. This was the end of the day for some but for me it was time to see Shanghai by night.

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