I realize that I really need to finish all my posts on China before we head off to our next vacation, so I'll try to catch up in the next few weeks.
We left Hangzhou on bus, the distance being about 100 miles and took about 2 hours. We arrived at the bus station in Suzhou, just South of downtown and made it to our hotel. This location of Green Tree Inn had seen better days. The carpets were scuffed and torn, much of the place smelled of cigarette smoke, the rooms were on the beat side. Still, you really couldn't beat the location just two blocks from Guan Qian Jie, the main downtown pedestrian street. Plus, the staff here was very nice, especially the housekeeping gals. One was so nice we actually tried to tip her.......which seemed to shock and offend her. I guess she didn't want to be mistaken for being a capitalist??? We were a bit hungry so after settling in we decided to grab something to eat. The young lady at the front desk suggested a noodle shop just a few yards away from the hotel.
The Missus said this seemed to be a chain of some kind. And as with many of these types of shops the drill is as follows..... you order and pay at the front desk.
Take your ticket to the back window were they'll prepare your order and you pick it up and eat at your table. As you can see, most of the dishes here are below 10 Yuan ($1.50 US).
The Missus went with an Eel Noodle Soup:
I had the same type of noodle soup, but with a pork chop and preserved vegetable.
In spite of looks the broth was very mild in flavor, though the noodles, which were very loooong weren't bad.
We hedged our bets with some Chao Nian Gao (stir fried rice cakes), which was much better, if a bit more filling than the noodle soup.
After getting some food in our bellies we walked up the two blocks or so to the heart of downtown Suzhou, Guan Qian Jie. The first thing I realized is that although Suzhou seemed much more crowded than Hangzhou; things seemed to move at a slower pace. Unlike Hangzhou, which seemed to be much more "edgier" folks here seemed to enjoy relaxing, people smiled, laughed, and things seemed much less harried.
Almost directly from the hotel, our street took us up right behind the well known Xuanmiao Taoist Temple, also known as the "Temple of Mystery". I never found out what the "mystery" was, but maybe someone out there can fill me in.
With all the hawkers and vendors, this place sung out "tourist trap" to us..... so we decided to just enjoy the view. But we did find out that the first temple was built in 276 A.D. destroyed a couple of times. The current main hall was rebuilt during the Song Dynasty and the only remaining structure of that style in Suzhou.
Guan Qian Jie has all the trappings of the "new" China; a KFC and a TGIFridays is close by.....
But turn the corner and you'll see something like this.......
Peering through the window, I was tempted, but the line went all the way down the street.
Renmin Lu is one of the main streets in Suzhou. One one side of the street is one of the many canals which why Europeans gave Suzhou the nickname of "Venice of the East".
The water was a bright green. But strangely, there was no smell.....
Folks lived above many of the businesses lining the street..... I love the shoes drying in this photo.
Actually this bridge is a landmark for us. Right to the North of it was this shop, which was doing some major bang-up business.
As you can tell by the line........
So what were most of the people waiting in line for?
Why Sheng Jian Bao of course!
While I found us a spot outside the restaurant, the Missus paid at the front counter and stood in line. While waiting, She brought out Her camera and took almost thirty photos! Here are a couple:
There was an army of workers making Sheng Jian Bao! I found us two seat at one of the tables outside the restaurant. When I first looked at the SJB I was unimpressed.....
But it only took one bite...... the tops were surprisingly fluffy, the bottoms looked burnt but were just nice and crisp.... I'm guessing that those pans have been heavily seasoned over the years. The interior was full of lip melting soup...... slightly sweet, and very savory. The meat(quite a bit actually) was tender and full of pork flavor.... on the sweet side for the Missus; I loved it.
I saw a middle aged woman looking for a seat, so I gave her mine, and grabbed one of the plastic kiddie stools. She smiled and thanked us, and told the Missus "you're not from here, are you?" When the Missus said no, she decided to become our SJB "tutor". Using her chopsticks to grab an invisible SJB (strangely, she was the only person I saw who wasn't having SJB... she was having noodle soup). She instructed the Missus to turn the SJB on its side. Then "you bit a tiny hole in the side to let the steam out, and suck...Suck....SUCK all the good juice out first! Careful not to burn your tongue." It right then that I knew...... I was really going to enjoy this city.
As we finished our meal and walking up Renmin Lu, a little army of women, each carrying a stool and packages walked passed up ahead, and disappeared into an alleyway. Curious, I made sure to peer down the alley when I passed it...... it was women workers going on their lunch break.