Suzhou Foodies

One of the coolest parts of being an expat is all the people you meet. They come from everywhere. I’ve met chefs from Italy, chemists from New Zealand, PhD students from Turkey and of course, musicians from Portugal, The Philippines and beyond… We all come from different backgrounds and are in China for various reasons, but we all have one thing in common… We’ve all chosen Suzhou as home away from home.

Dave and I at the “Red Dress Hash”. Everyone dressed up in red dresses and fundraised for an Orphanage here in Suzhou. We saw a bit of the city, spent the evening outside walking, and had a great time!

At the beginning of this year, I decided to put myself out there more. I joined several WeChat groups in an effort to meet more people and to become part of the expat community. I started with music groups, because it was something I knew a lot about. I’ve also joined writers’ groups, travel groups and most recently, a Foodie group.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love both cooking… And eating!!!

In the Foodie Group, we all post about our favourite restaurants.  Now, whenever Dave and I want to try something new, we check out places that have been recommended by fellow Foodies.

Our most recent recommendation: a Singaporean restaurant in Suzhou Center

A few months ago, I wrote about our friend, Lixia, and her restaurant that specializes in Guizhou food. Before I knew it, I was getting messages from the other Foodies, thanking me for the recommendation. Since then, this tiny Chinese restaurant has become quite popular amongst expats.

Lixia surprised Dave with a cake for his birthday last month

Lixia is easily one of the sweetest and most hard working people I know, so when I learned about a Food & Beverage competition, I got in touch with the organizers and nominated Zou Guizhou for the “Best View” award.

Her award winning view

Tonight, we went to the finals for this award, at The W hotel here in SIP. Lixia won in her category, and we were able to celebrate with her. It was a really fun night filled with good food, great wine and fabulous company.

Kevin joined us for the evening. He is the one who found Zou Guizhou for us 2 years ago

Several of our friends won awards. Larry (on the right) owns the best Vietnamese restaurant I’ve ever eaten at. He’s also a great guy (and Canadian!)

So happy to have Miya back in Suzhou!!!

Larry and Lixia have become friends too 🙂

Some of the fabulous food we had tonight

The best part of the night was when I realized how many people I knew at the event. A year ago, I made it my mission to become part of the expat community in Suzhou… And that mission has been accomplished.

Day 1 – Pudong Airport

Well, we are on day 3 of our holiday now, so I suppose I have some catching up to do if I’m going to blog every day!!!

The theme of my first post is simple: I hate Pudong airport. Pudong is Shanghai’s international airport, so we use it at least 4 times every year. Each time, I’m floored by how bad it is.

This year was especially bad because we flew over night and our flight left at 1:30am. Now, my big problem with PVG is that after security, the food and drink options are seriously limited. There are a few really bad Chinese restaurants (which confuses me because Chinese food is so good!!!), and everything is terribly overpriced… Even by airport standards!!

Burger King is one of the only decent options post security, so on Sunday night, Dave spent over an hour waiting in line to get a couple of burgers (we were flying Air Asia… They give you exactly NOTHING on their flights without paying extra so we usually just eat at the airport).

In the meantime, I set off to find bottled water (they seriously give you nothing…). I spent an hour running around only to find small bottles of Evian for 40rmb (350ml for nearly $10 Canadian). I couldn’t even find a functional drink machine either….I DID find SIM card vending machines though…. So there’s that.

In the end, I found an entire row of drinking machines about a half km down the airport, but by then, I was so thirsty I downed 2 bottles right away and then ran out of change! Luckily, Dave showed up moments later with additional coinage and burgers in hand.

A modern day knight in shining armour.

Snowy Suzhou

Suzhou doesn’t get a lot of snow. In fact, it only snows here every 5 years or so; and it rarely sticks around.

We get enough to make an itty bitty snowlady every once in a while (credit: someone in my office…I’m not sure who)

Fortunately for me, this year was one of those ‘off’ years, where Mother Nature bestowed some of the white stuff upon this beautiful city.

WeChat Image_20180125210404
Quite a bit of the white stuff, actually (credit: my dear husband…my hands were too cold and I didn’t want to take my phone out!)

When people aren’t used to snow, it can be quite an ordeal! We saw one accident on our 5 minute walk home, and I can’t imagine how many delivery men wiped out on their e-bikes today! Imagine a late spring storm…with people who have never driven on ice before!

I’ve lived in Suzhou now for nearly 3 years, and although I’ve had my challenges here, I really do love this city. Many of the gardens here are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and are considered to be some of the most beautiful gardens in China. We often spend afternoons walking through them because even the smaller ones are a nice break from the hustle and bustle of Suzhou. I’m always amazed at how quiet the gardens here are…especially when I consider the 8 million + people that live here!

Unfortunately for me, I never had a chance to bring my camera to any of Suzhou’s gardens today. Plenty of others did though, so I’ve collected some of my favourite photos from the day and compiled them so you can see what a lovely city we chose to call home. I can’t actually credit anyone specifically…China isn’t big on copyrighting things, so I’ll just say now that none of these pictures are mine….

November 30th

I haven’t forgotten! I’ve just been busy! With exams this week, I’ve been spending every second prepping. Students spend 2 full days writing exams 3 times every semester. It isn’t easy on the teachers either.

My final post for the month is about sweet potatoes. Hang on… It’s more interesting than it sounds.

Every year, as it gets colder out, these sweet potato vendors pop up all around the city. They’re perfect, really. Sweet potatoes are tasty, filling and simple to prepare. They’re also cheap, making them the snack of choice for the impoverished and the students (redundancy?) of China.

The problem with these stands is that those sweet potatoes are sometimes the only filling food that people can afford, and while these snacks are high in vitamins A, B5 & B6, they’re very low in calcium, potassium, vitamin C and protein. Simply put: if you’re eating these things 3 times a day, you might be in trouble.

On the bright side, it doesn’t look like it would take much to start a sweet potato business!

November 29th

Behold, China’s greatest secret: How to fit far too many cars into virtually no space at all.

I took this at the end of our walk last night, and my biggest regret was that I hadn’t captured the much worse version of this parking job that we’d seen the night before. You see, there isn’t nearly enough parking available in China, so people just sort of park wherever they can. Some of the most impressive parking jobs I’ve seen:

  • Parking in front of other cars (as seen above)
  • Parking on the side walk (sidewalks are difficult to walk on because of all the cars…)
  • Parking in the middle of an intersection (so that your car becomes an extension of the median)
  • Parking on the ramp of a parkade

I don’t know if we’ve ever eaten a meal at the restaurant behind our building without the waiting staff coming in at LEAST once to ask if we had driven there, because somebody was boxed in, and they needed a car moved.

This is reason #211 why I have no desire to drive in China.

November 28th

This is the little side street that runs behind our building. There are plenty of little restaurants down this road, as well as a couple of hotels and Euromart. It’s a popular area for people to eat, and get a few drinks.

This also happens to be the little road that Dave and I were driving past when we were hit by an e-bike.

Our bike was ok, and Dave was uninjured, but the guy drove directly into my shin. I suppose I was lucky that my leg didn’t break, but that’s not to say the injury wasn’t severe. Even now, a year and a half later, I have bruising, and I’m a bit afraid that the nerve damage will never fully go away.

I call this intersection “Shattered Shin Pass”. My shin may not have actually shattered, but my love for late-night e-bike rides surely did.

November 27th

Suzhou is a massive city and home to 8 million people. We live in Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP), which is a nice area of city where many foreigners live.

Just down the street from us, is The Gateway to the Orient, more commonly called “The Pants Building”.

Aptly named

The whole area around “The Pants” has been under construction since we arrived in Suzhou more than 2 years ago. On November 11th (the annual shopping festival), Suzhou Center opened directly in front of Suzhou’s most iconic building.

Concept art of the building before it was finished

The entire building takes up more than 16 MILLION square meters (yeah…) and is a shopping mall, a hotel, office space and more. It’s architecturally beautiful and an endless maze of shops and restaurants.

Among all those shops is a skating rink. Complete with a Zamboni and bleachers. I was surprised that so many people knew how to skate… But we could tell some people were going to have very sore ankles (and bottoms) later that night!

Seeing kids skate for the first time made me happy!!

Maybe when there are less than 100 people lined up, waiting for the chance to try, we’ll have the chance to try out the rink. Either way… It was glorious to hear the sound of blades on ice again!!

Oh! And i finally got to stand directly under The Pants!!!

November 26th

We moved to Suzhou more than 2 years ago now. Time has flown. It seems like just yesterday we were wandering around Rainbow Mall looking for pillows and some other odds and ends that our apartment was missing.

While searching for pillows one evening, we passed by a hot pot place that smelled good. When a server saw us looking at the menu, she came out and greeted us with excellent English. We explained we were new in town and in need of some things, and she kindly sent us in the direction of the bedding stores. We never made it back to that restaurant for food that day but we became regulars later on.

Over the next while, we got to know Linda better. Her father owns the hot pot restaurant, and her whole family is from Taiwan. Eventually, we added one another to wechat, so we could trade pictures of our pets (she and her husband have a dog). Saturday night, I had a show at Ollie’s, and she and her husband came to see it.

After the show, we chatted with them for a while. We discovered we had a whole lot in common with them. They’re also in their early thirties, married and without kids. They both love animals and travel and even make some of the same lame jokes as we do.

Before we knew it, an hour and a half had passed and the bar was closing down. When we got home, I realized how much I regret having never spent time with Linda before that night.

Making friends in China can be tricky. When we randomly meet local people, it often feels like they really only want to talk to us because we’re foreign and interesting. I wonder how many people I’ve brushed off, assuming they’re “collecting foreign friends”, when really they’re just nice people, being friendly.

I’m glad we didn’t brush off Linda.

November 25th

Most of the places where we eat are nearby, but now and then we need to take a taxi.

Once in a while, we get a competent driver, but the guy who drove us to dinner on Friday was purely maniacal.

For starters, he had a tv show playing on his phone and was watching TV while driving. Not just at stop lights, but while actually driving.

Then, after being stuck for some time, he decided to drive into oncoming traffic (that lane was momentarily clear). When the light changed and people started driving toward us, he cut off multiple vehicles (2 of them buses) to get back into his lane.

The Coup de Gras was when he turned right on a red so he could do a U-turn right away and carry on down the original Street. Because stopping at a red light for 2 minutes was unimaginable.

November 23rd

This is my beautiful girl, Poe.

She is my little sunshine. Since it started getting cold, she’s been extremely cuddly. She spends most of her time with Dave the rest of the year, but when it’s cold, I’m a furnace, so I get lots of Poe cuddles.

We adopted her and Hugo 2 years ago this week. They’ve been such good friends. I can’t imagine life without them.

My November Perspectives project wouldn’t be complete without at least 1 post about Poe!!