Suzhou is famous for its gardens and canals. Web-mate Liu Zhang picked me up at the Suzhou station. We visited the leaning tower of Tiger Hill, the West Temple and the Liu Garden before going to his apartment.
I shot this canal on the way to Tiger Hill where the two photos below were taken. Unfortunately I did not manage to get a good shot of the tower. That would have required a wide-angle lens and I did not have one. You can get a glimpse of the tower behind us but you will have to take my word for it; the leaning tower does lean but not as much as the one in Pisa!
The West Garden Temple (xiyuan si) contains over 500 "Laka", gilded wooden statues of holy men (only men) to whom the faithful used to address their demands for health, wealth and children.
It was unfortunately forbidden to take pictures inside the temple. It's a pity for some of the ancient sculptures were quite expressive and would have made good photos.
Also in the north west corner of Suzhou is the Ming dynasty Liu Garden. Also known as "The Garden for Lingering In" it is an elaborate succession of small gardens each one different and more exquisite than the other. One has to linger in the Liu Garden, or in any of Suzhou's great gardens to marvel that the unique art form these gardens represent has survived the violent turmoil of this century.
The Garden for Lingering In is a veritable labyrinth of beauty. Really a nice place to get lost in!
At every turn a new vista of trees and flowers invites you to dream and linger in this garden. And it goes on and on, the garden covers more than three hectares!
I shared Liu Zhang's apartment that night as his wife was away for the weekend. The following day I explored Suzhou by myself and took this picture in the quite small Garden of Harmony located right in the center of the city next to the noisy main street, Renmin Lu.
At the northern end of Renmin Lu stands the appropriately named North Temple not far from the "Humble Administrator's Garden" where I am heading now. Built in the 17th century, this nine storey pagoda offers a great view of Suzhou from the top.
I had admired the Liu Garden without reservation yesterday but The Humble Administrator's Garden (zhuo zheng yuan) was even more impressive. My visit happened to coincide with the flower festival and additional flowers were artfully displayed everywhere. An exuberant explosion of colour and scent!
The Liu Gardens were large but the Humble Administrator's Garden was even larger as it covered five hectares with streams, ponds, islands, beautiful rocks, delicate bridges and elegant pavilions.
There were many visitors but the garden was large and it was divided up into smaller gardens in such a manner that it did not seem crowded.
What can I say!
I'll just let you look.
Some people prefer the Master of Nets Garden but this one was my favorite.
In the afternoon I was joined by Kong Fan Yun, a bright Suzhou university physics student I had met when I arrived in the train station. Here we are in the 14th century Lion Grove Garden (shizlin) just south of the Humble Administrator's garden.
This garden's specialty was its great collection of beautiful rocks artfully arranged into a kind of labyrinth around this pond.
The Master of the Nets Garden (wanshi yuan) in the south east corner of Suzhou is small but remarkably beautiful. Actually it not only a garden but also an 18th century residence (now a museum of course).
It is world famous because part of the residence was duplicated and exposed in New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1981. A miniature of the garden was also exposed in the Paris Pompidou Center in 1982.
On the following day I visited the East Park to see the umbrella festival, millions of red umbrellas displayed all over to add colour to this large park.
I also visited the nearby Coupling Garden (ou yuan). It was also beautiful but I must admit that I was saturated after three solid days of garden gazing!
I turned my attention to the older parts of this ancient city and discovered great spots like this quaint canal south of Coupling Garden.
The people had a tendency to stare at me but that was OK because I found them equally interesting to look at and had to make an effort not to appear to be staring at these two old timers repairing a bed by the canal. Their Mao suits give away their age, the blue uniform, universal when I was here in 1973, has been now replaced by jeans and t-shirts.
Guangian Jie which crosses busy Renmin Lu and passes through the old bazaar around this temple is becoming Suzhou's fashionable place to go shopping. The 3rd century Taoist Temple of Mystery is now swamped by stalls selling everything from insense sticks to brassieres. The mystery has left but there are still some people who will burn insense and rub the great brass Ding for good luck.