Thursday, June 7, Day 5
French Toast this time at Chabad and then more Tai Chi.
Took the Bullet Train (we went at 300km/hr, though apparently a slow day as can reach up to 350km/hr) to Suzhou, the “Venice of the East”. Went through Central Train Station of Shanghai. Once again, these guys are really impressive. The modern feel of the place makes me feel like I’m in one of Isaac Asimov’s sci-fi stories. On the ride west we saw a sky full of buildings and cranes, followed by what seemed like an endless field of new cars, followed by rice patties.
We reached the train station of Suzhou and were attacked by 50 pushy vendors selling us boat tours. We made it to the taxi line. They must have filled over 40 cabs in the space of 3 minutes. An incredibly efficient operation.
Except for particular Chinese eccentricities, Suzhou is as common as any city in the world, with tree-lined streets and busy storefronts. Our guide and taxi driver got mixed up on the way to the boats and we ended up walking for two miles until we reached the right place.
The ride was surprisingly reminiscent of Venice, with Chinese instead of Italian architecture. The housewives dump their used water in the river just like in Venice.
Next stop was the Lingering Gardens. Bigger and more complex than the Yu Gardens, we saw a live Chinese Opera performance and two ladies in costume on a little row boat in the ceremonial pond. One of them was strumming on a wooden instrument that looked like a cross between an oboe and banjo and she song a mournful-sounding tune. Beautiful banzai gardens (I know, that’s Japanese — don’t ask me).
The Chinese seem to be particularly in touch with nature, the seasons, etc. They have a special place to view the pond in the autumn and a different one in the winter. Tamara took an immense number of pictures (she gave me the camera for a minute and I managed to take a picture of their unusual toilets…). They had some inspirational/amusing signs (take your pick) that translated as follows: “Kindly treat the virescence around in the way life is treated.” “Clean environment and civilized behavior co-create the beautiful scenery.” “Your health rests with your civilized behavior.”
Finally went to the Suzhou No. 1 Silk Factory. Got to see a lot of worms, worms eating, worms in cocoons, worms (or whatever they call them afterwards) out of cocoons and then a lot of cocoons. It is quite impressive how they’ve industrialized the production of silk from the infinitely thin strand that can be as long as 2km per cocoon and then combine 8 strands together, make the raw silk thread, spool and then weave the beautiful fabrics that they make. They then tried to sell us (of course) a range of products siting their health benefits, blah, blah, blah.
End day 5. Tomorrow we have the day “off” and will see what we can manage to do on our own.