After a filling lunch De Yue Lou we slowly headed back back to our room for our regularly scheduled afternoon nap. That's a photo of the North Temple (Beisi 北寺塔) Pagoda, reputed to be the oldest pagoda South of the Yangtze river.
Exhausted I immediately fell into a deep sleep back at the hotel. When I awoke it was already dusk, and the Missus was ready....... for some shopping! We walked along and browsed the various silk shops. While the Missus was looking at some silk, I noticed this in one of the glass cabinets.......
I thought "what a neat stuffed animal"! Until it moved!!!! And holy smoke it was a live cat just chillin' lying inside the glass case.....
Purchases in hand, it was time for dinner...... it had gotten a bit cooler over the last few hours, and a slow drizzle had started. We wanted something nice and warm in our bellies, so passing this hot pot shop made our dinner decision easy.
The place seemed to be doing some pretty good business.......
The Missus ticked off what She wanted.... we were in the mood for more vegetables, so that's the way we went.
We went with the "lamb bone soup".......
There actually was a pretty good sized leg bone, with a decent amount of meat attached to it in the broth, along with cucumber, carrots, napa cabbage, and bean curd strips. The hot pot had a nice lamb flavor, making frozen bean curd a perfect ingredient. The only meat we had was fatty sliced lamb.
This shop also had a sauce bar, with all the usual suspects; fermented bean curd, etc..... and a couple of spicy options. I believe the sign says that you can have two choices, but we noticed folks just going ahead and helping themselves..... "so when in Rome" and all that.
I loved the mixed wild mushrooms.......
I did a good job of gnawing all that meat off the bone, and we finished two refills of the bone soup....
It was just the right thing for the moment. We left with warm full bellies, the rain had passed, and we took the long way back to the room.
We were up early the next morning, and caught a 5am cab to the bus station.... the very green bus station.....
Suzhou's bus station wasn't quite as nice and clean as Hangzhou's, and the restroom were pretty horrific, even by China standards. You could smell the latrine from the other side of the bus station. I don't know how the toilet paper vendor (yes, you either brought your own, bought some, or.... well, let's not go there) could stand it.
Soon enough, we were on the bus headed for our next stop.... Nanjing.
The Missus and I attempted to hit at least one restaurant that featured well known local cuisine in each city. In Suzhou it was easy to find. Right off the inevitable Guan Qian Jie was a location of De Yue Lou, a Suzhou institution. De Yue Lou was originally founded during the Ming Dynasty under Emperor Jiajing.
If you're walking at night, you can't miss this location......
My goodness...... Vegas eat your heart out!
During the day the place looks a bit more subdued. The Missus and I decided to have lunch here since we figured it would be less crowded....plus we'd already done a good bit of walking and were famished.
This was one of those multi-level monstrous restaurants that we came across everywhere in China.
We were seated away from the crowds on the second floor overlooking the street.
Even more monstrous than the restaurant was the appallingly bad service.....bad even by Chinese standards. With nothing to motivate the young Servers who seemed to want to be somewhere else.....they would forget things, and not care if you complained about it....in fact they would complain about you having to ask for rice four times! There's no reward for doing a good job, no tips, demanding customers....so it seems that the attitude is to do the least, and disappear whenever possible. I could use words like apathetic, dismissive, but 'nuff said.
The menu is quite large........ and even includes this blurb in English.
Wanting to develop a baseline, we started with a Suzhou standard, the "Smoked Fish" which we always seem to get in places that serve "Su Cai" (Jiangsu cuisine), Huiyang cuisine, and even a good number of Shanghainese restaurants in the DGV.
Strangely, the flavor of this was very close to what we get at Chin's on Miramar Road, perhaps a bit sweeter, and much more tender....but very close!
There was one dish I wanted to try in Suzhou:
It was the Song Shu Gui Yu (松鼠桂鱼), the Squirrel Shaped Mandarin Fish. Versions we've had of this had always been really sweet, and not very good. But this was Suzhou.......
They should use this as signage during the evening as it looked glowing neon red...... as it arrived, it gave us both a start, bringing on memories of the gloppy-teeth aching sweet, artificial tasting sweet sour stuff served all over the place in the states. But it was not.....there was a light, complex and fruity sweetness, the fish was lightly fried, airy and crisp, almost melting in your mouth.
This was delicious, and we finished every thing we could......
The vegetables were also perfectly prepared.
Bai He (Lily Bulb), mildly starchy and sweet, the bittermelon added a good bitter contrast, but was also nice and crisp. The red peppers were sweet, and the cloud ears added an earthy flavor, grounding the dish.
In spite of the atrocious service, the food was very good...... we're still talking about that fish. Not sure if i'd go back if we return to Suzhou, though.
Our first day in Suzhou was a busy one, and after walking back to our hotel room after dinner..... I was totally spent and crashed pretty quickly. I also knew that if the Missus had Her way, we'd have another full day coming up. And I was right, The Missus decided that we should walk from our hotel to the Lingering Garden (留園).
It ended up being a pretty long walk, but also gave us a pretty good look at some of the neighborhoods along the way.
In one of the shops along the way, we noticed that these "candidates" for dinner had made it out of the tanks, and were trying to avoid becoming the main course.....
We also came across a large "market area", and decided to take a detour..... I love these places.....
Scenes we've seen played out on a daily basis all over the world....
Meandering through the narrow alleyways.......
And over the canals....the ancient highway system for Suzhou.
Ending back up on the main street......
Out past the Changmen Gate....
You'll come across a simple long wall and gate....... the simple entrance belies the beauty of the Lingering Garden, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and along with The Humble Administrators Garden, The Summer Palace in Beijing, and the Imperial Mountain Summer Resort in Chengde, is considered one of the Four Famous Garden of China.
We'd arrived right at opening, but there were already a couple of tour groups in line. While waiting, a young lady walked up, and started chatting with the Missus. Apparently, University Students majoring in History and Tourism give free guided tours. We ended up having a free private tour, albeit in Mandarin (with the Missus translating). The young woman was very knowledgeable and pleasant, and we really enjoyed the experience.
The Lingering Garden was built in 1593, and had gone through several owners, each of whom added his own touch to the garden but still keeping within its grand design. The garden covers about two hectares and is divided into four parts, the central, North, East, and West. Which are connected by a corridor.
There's so much to write....and even more I forgot as the young woman was full of immense detail and stories of the garden. I'll stick to those that have really stayed with me. The first thing that I think of when it comes to the Lingering Garden was the wonderfully angelic song coming from this boat in the middle of the pond.
I've never been a big fan of this type of Chinese music, but here, in this environment, it was beautiful....... just plain beautiful.
The young woman told us we were lucky that it wasn't very crowded. When the garden is too busy, and the chattering gets too loud, the woman stops singing, since no one can really hear her.
The natural stones also grabbed my attention. Many of the large stones replicate mountains, landscapes, and in this case a scene. This one is called Eagle Fighting Wolf.... and looking closer it did indeed look like a eagle swooping down on a wolf.
This stone is probably the most well known.... we were told that it was headed to the Forbidden City... but the transfer was halted when the Communist regime took over.
For me, the most imp[ressive hall in the Lingering Garden is the "Yuan Yang Ting", the Mandarin Duck Hall.
The hall is divided into two saloons which are decorated differently. Even the beams and the roofs are different on each side of the hall.
There's so much more....but so little time. Here are a few other photos.
This is one place I'd like to return to.
There's a saying I heard several times while in China - "Shang you tian tang, xia you su hang" (上有天堂 下有苏杭), "In Heaven There is Paradise, On Earth, Suzhou and Hangzhou".
My foot had started bothering me a little, so we decided to catch the bus back. Unfortunately, traffic was so bad we decided to get off the bus after a couple of stops and walk back to our hotel. Along the way, I noticed this shop.....
I'd been trying to get the Missus to 85C Bakery in Irvine, but She just didn't seem interested. But it was getting kind of hot, and we decided to take a short break..... and it ended up being just the perfect stop for us.
It turned out to be the perfect thing.
After this, every time the Missus was tired and needed a little pick-up, we'd look for a 85C Cafe.....
Suzhou, like many other cities we've been to in Asia, has certain types of businesses located on specific "named" streets. For instance, our hotel was located on restaurant supply street. Even though we'd already had a pretty full day, a nice short nap recharged our batteries, and we were off looking for some dinner. After walking up one of the side streets, the Missus was getting pretty hungry. She stopped at one intersection, a restaurant on each corner, and said, "let's eat at one of these places." I looked around and told the Missus, "I don't think you'd want to eat on this street......" You see, we were on "pet shop" street! The Missus, taking a glance at the shops around the restaurants agreed that we'd both feel more comfortable eating on another street..... just so long as it wasn't tombstone street..... or "hair extensions" street for that matter.
We finally came across this little restaurant on one of the side streets.
Named Pǐnwèi Rénshēng, this place was packed, with a pretty raucous crowd.
Mainly due to stuff similar to what's pictured on the right. The guys at the table in the photo was having a very loud time getting ripped. They started placing empty beer bottles on the empty chairs. After the chairs were full, they started placing bottles on the floor, which was a bad move. One false move, and bottles would go rolling all over the floor......
As for the food......
Finally having a seat, I realized how hungry I was...... as was the Missus. The first dish up, Wined Fried Fish:
Wine marinated fish were deep fried to crisp perfection. I practically ate all of this myself, bones and all. The Missus found the strong wine flavor too strong, while I loved the saltiness and wine flavor.
We both loved the fresh sauteed bamboo shoots.
Though the bamboo shoots were starting to just get past the tender stage, I enjoyed the salty, but not too sweet flavor. Combined with the earthiness of the bamboo shoots, these were good.
The Missus wanted something comforting, and chose the Wintermelon Soup with Ham.
A nice classic dish. Actually, the Missus hated wintermelon growing up, but loves the soup, which brings Her comfort. Simple flavors, savory flavor from the ham and salt. The Missus still didn't care for the pieces of wintermelon; I ate those, but loved the broth....and ham (of course).
The final dish was steamed eggplant with garlic. I had expected something closer to this(without the chilies of course). But the sauce was pretty bland, and the eggplant wasn't completely steamed, and in fact had a raw texture and taste.
Overall, this was a satisfying meal, and we left the restaurant...gingerly stepping over empty beer bottles, feeling relaxed.
As we walked along Guan Qian Jie...... I noticed something.......
The Missus, usually always headed off seemingly on a "mission", was just strolling along!
I'm not sure if it was that wonderful tea we had earlier in the day, or perhaps the atmosphere...... Suzhou seemed much more laid back than Hangzhou.... or maybe a combination of both (and more!), but we felt so relaxed.
Which was nice.... since we had another full day in front of us!
*** My apologies, this is one of those really long posts, and there's not much food in this one. You may want to return tomorrow for more food!
After our we started walking to our first "destination". Suzhou is well known for their wonderful gardens, most were built during the Ming and Qing dynasties by retired scholar and business men. The largest garden in Suzhou is called the Humble Administrator's Garden, spanning thirteen acres it is anything but humble. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Sight, meandering on zig zag bridges and trails over and around water. I'm going to stop now, and just do pictures...... I could never do this place justice in one short post.......
Taking a close look, you soon realize that every space within the garden was carefully designed. I find the idea of creating a calculated aesthetic to match the randomness of nature somewhat fascinating.
I loved all the windows......
And for some reason, I could just sit and look out the moon gates.......
All of which seem to frame it's very own living portrait.........
There are many pavilions along the way.....where you can soak in the garden view....or check your map to figure out where you were.
There are many buildings along the way, such as the "Hall of Distant Fragrance":
And the "Hall of Elegance":
But we found the tiny nooks and crannies like this quaint "couples retreat" most charming......
Another feature of the gardens are the large natural stones that represent different scenes.
It can be a bit overwhelming at times, and don't let the seemingly tranquil photos fool you. There are some pretty large crowds in the garden.
Yet, there are always those moments..... like this one, where I looked up at the ceiling of the "Listening to the Sound of Rain Pavilion".
I could almost hear the "sighing of the autumn rain" giving "great pleasure to all those who have noble sentiments".
Connected to the garden is the Suzhou Museum, designed by I.M. Pei, who drew much of his architectural inspiration from the gardens of Suzhou. For us, it was way too sleek and modern, but it also housed what was probably the cleanest public bathrooms we came across in China!
Also attached to the garden and museum is Prince Zhong House - Zhong Wang Fu. This was the orginal location of the Suzhou Museum.
Within the complex is a restored classic Chinese Opera stage.
Exiting the garden and museum, the Missus decided that "garden fatigue" hadn't set in, so why not try for another one. We headed off on foot, looking for the Couple's Garden....which took some looking for. We wandered past tiny streets that reminded us of the "hutongs" in Beijing, which turned into vast lots where the ever present modernization of China was taking place. We worked hard to find the garden......
We did find this well, though......
Which apparently is of some significance.
After going around in circles, the Missus asked for directions and we found the Couple's Garden. It was down a small side street.
This garden was built in 1874, and is located at the intersection of canals and surrounded on three sides by them.
This garden was tiny, quiet, and serene.
After about twenty minutes or so, we hit the wall. It was time for a break, and we headed out on foot, back to Guan Qian Jie.
We enjoyed walking down the residential back streets of Suzhou.......
Walking down one of the streets, we passed this building which really stood out.
It turned out to be a museum of Kunqu Opera, a form of Chinese Opera dating back to the 16th century. Having traveled quite a bit, even though we were tempted, we knew when to say when, and decided to take a pass on this one.
After a short while, we finally made it to the street that paralleled a canal on the other side of Renmin Lu.
Crossing the canal and Renmin Lu.... we were back within the hustle and bustle of Guan Qian Jie. The Missus decided to pick up some snacks..... and in spite of the heat and humidity, determined that we needed some tea, and found a tea house on the second floor of a tea shop right across the Xuanmiao Temple.
The Missus went over the list of teas, and decided we should have the Ti Kuan Yin. When I saw the price.... 70 Yuan, over ten bucks for tea! I refused..... but the Missus insisted, and eventually I gave in. And I gotta say; this was the most fragrant, wonderfully flavored tea I've ever had. Nothing before, nor since (I've had tons of tea from China) has even come close.
While the Missus had Her snacks......
I just kept pouring myself cup after cup of tea....which lasted a good long time, we went through a whole large thermos of hot water, and watched the crowds below.
This was just one of those perfect moments.......
And where I started learning the wonders of having tea.... something that I've kept up since returning home.
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:
She told me the Eel was not very good.
I had the same type of noodle soup, but with a pork chop and preserved vegetable.
I felt about the same way regarding my pork.... it was tough and dry.
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.......
Looking at the line, I thought it was for a movie or something. But the Missus told me that this place made stewed meats..... and apparently was very popular.
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.