We fell in love with Suzhou before we’d even moved to China. I did a quick search on the internet for the most livable cities in China, and Suzhou was near the top of the list. From that google search on, I always knew I wanted to live here. Although it didn’t work out for our first year in China, with 2 years of teaching experience under my belt, it wasn’t a problem to find a job here for year 2.
Guiyang is lush and surrounded by rugged beauty
Suzhou is modern and peaceful
Living in SIP, we are surrounded by expats, western food, western bars and English. It couldn’t be more comfortable for us and I sometimes forget that we’re living in China. But Suzhou isn’t only good as a place to live and work. There’s plenty to see here as well, and although tourism isn’t as high as it is in cities like Guilin, you’d have no problem filling a week in Asia’s Venice.
When we first arrived in Suzhou, the tourism board of the city gave us a tour of a silk factory. Suzhou is famous for its silk
We got to tour a factory
A lot of the merchandise was out of my price range, even at factory prices, but I did buy myself a scarf 🙂
Where Guiyang has minority villages, Suzhou has Water Towns. Water Towns are built along the canals and are a peaceful retreat into ancient China. They can be a little over crowded during holidays and weekends, but if you can escape to one during the week, they are a lovely experience. You can get traditional minority candies and food and there are always plenty of little restaurants where you can stop for some food. Water Towns are also nice for shopping and it isn’t difficult to find a shop that sells scarves and other traditional Chinese gifts.
You can go on boat rides along the canals
lots of pretty views
lots of pretty bridges!
small restaurants are scattered along the canals and you can almost always find a patio like this one
They can be a little bit overcrowded, but that’s part of the fun!
Shantang Road and Pingjiang Road
There is no shortage of places to shop in Suzhou. Shantang Road ad Pingjiang Road are both ancient shopping streets where you can find any Chinese souvenir you desire. They’re also great places to grab a beer, hop on a boat and eat some local food. My favourite pass-time on Shangtang Road (we haven’t actually visited Pingjiang yet) is taking pictures. These roads are beautifully picturesque and no matter which time of day you visit, there are endless photo ops.
Although Dave hates shopping and crowds, even he is impressed by some of the craftsmanship you can find on Shantang Road. Jade carvings, paintings and wood art is easy to find along the street. Not only are these things beautiful to look at, but they give you an (air conditioned) escape from the crowds when they get to be too much!
What drew me to Suzhou happens to still be my favourite part of living in this city. Suzhou has the most beautiful parks I’ve ever seen in my life. They are a mixture of old and new, with old style buildings and carefully trimmed trees. In some of the more famous parks, the crowds can be a problem, but if you go to some of the smaller parks, they are peaceful and refreshingly quiet.
There are always places to stop and take in the beauty
Dave can never get over the beautifully trimmed trees we see every time we visit a park
Suzhou is modern and peaceful
Circular doorways are abundant in Suzhou Parks and I never grow tired of taking photos of them. Most of the parks we’ve visited have also had rock formations that make mini caves. There are dozens of parks in Suzhou and so far I’ve only seen 3 or 4, but each has been impressive in its own way.
We visited Linger Garden, one Suzhou’s nicest spots, a few weekends back. It was a bit crowded in some areas!
Pretty garbage cans
Beautifully carved windows are another common feature of Chinese gardens
And if you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I consider it a game to find all the crazy translations each park has to offer. Here are some from Lingering Garden
Spelling Mistake. These signs were everywhere…some were spelled correctly…others were not.
There are really 2 types of parks in China. There are the walled off ‘old style’ parks that are a step into ancient China…and then there are modern parks that are free and open, similar to the ones we have out West. I don’t often go to those parks, but we had one particularly beautiful weekend back in May where Dave and I, and our friend Michael, spent several hours chatting and walking around Central Park. I ended up with a pretty impressive sunburn, but it was worth the peaceful afternoon.
Central Park is close to our Apartment in SIP. It was opened by the Singaporean President to represent peace
Dave and Michael standing on their countries (in Asian maps, North America is on the right)
If you’re lucky, you may even spot some wildlife in Central Park! We saw this little guy from across the pond…a testament to the zoom on my camera!
Remy the Rat!
Perhaps he’s off to make some Ratatouille
All the Other Cool Stuff
Although we’ve been here nearly a year now, I still haven’t had the chance to make it to some of Suzhou’s most famous landmarks. Tiger Hill is somewhere I was hoping to go this week, but my leg is still very swollen so I haven’t been able to. There is a pagoda there that leans that is pretty cool to see.
A smaller and lesser know destination I HAVE visited is Suzhou’s city wall. It’s located at the Xiangmen metro stop on line 1 and although it isn’t the kind of thing that would take up an afternoon, it’s a nice place to stop during sunset or at night, when the area is all lit up.
The old city wall
Canals are everywhere in Suzhou
So there you have it. These are some of my favorite places to visit in Suzhou. This list will continue growing the longer we live here, but I think this is a pretty good start!
In my next post, I’ll be writing more about SIP, the area where Dave and I live.
Another Starbucks, another city. We are spending the last day of our holiday in Beijing working, as is often the case with Dave and I. It helps that we both love our jobs and don’t usually see these kinds of things as really being ‘work’. Now that I’ve finished my Power Point presentation on writing summaries (riveting stuff…), I can spare some time to blog!
It’s now been 41 day since we left Canada and head back to Eastern home. Suzhou has been welcoming and beautiful and there is so much to tell you all about this new city. So, even though I am itching to write about our trip to the Great Wall, I want to finish writing our time adjusting to life in Suzhou first. Plus, putting off writing about the Great Wall means I have awesome material to look forward to (and hopefully that will entice me to writing again soon!)
After moving into our apartment, the next step to getting settled into Suzhou was to start work. For those of you who are new to my blog, or are foggy on the details, here’s a recap regarding the school….
I originally took the position expecting to teach Drama and English, but that quickly changed (things change a lot in China…you come to expect it). The IGCSE program that is taught at Suzhou Foreign Language School is a pretty big deal. It basically means that students who graduate from our school, graduate with a bilingual diploma, which is a huge help when it comes to applying to western Universities (IGCSE is an ESL program through Cambridge University). So, because this program is so important to the school, they didn’t want a brand new teacher teaching too many of those courses. Some people would have been hurt by the insinuation that they are not ‘good’ enough to teach English, but I saw it as a plus. Any school that wants to put the RIGHT teachers in place for the important classes is alright with me! It showed that they are concerned with the quality of education their students receive, and that is exactly the type of school I want to work for.
I was able to keep my Drama classes, which I was very happy about, but my English classes were replaced with Food and Nutrition classes; basically I’m teaching Home Economics. The beautiful thing about both these programs is that I can custom make all of my classes. There is a basic syllabus that I need to follow, but really…at the end of the day…it’s up to me to decide what I teach and how I teach it. Once more…some teachers may not be thrilled with this sort of set up, but for me…this is heaven!!
My creative side kicked into full gear and I began brainstorming ideas for both my courses while I was still in Guiyang. For Drama, we are starting with a play called “Meet the Ancient Greeks”. It’s set on Mount Olympus and all the Greek gods are fighting over who was the worst of them. While I teach the students about acting (something I’m actually pretty good at myself…who knew???), I also teach them about pronunciation, confidence, voice projection, body language and emphasis. They learn a tonne and it doesn’t even feel like learning to them! Plus, because of my background as an ESL teacher, I use the plays to teach the students lots of new words. And because of my background in Classical history (my minor in University), I’m also teaching them about ancient Greek culture while I’m at it.
So. Much. Fun!!!
I decided to take a fresh approach with the Food and Nutrition classes, and have turned it into a bit of a ‘culture course’. I’ve been teaching the students about different countries and then I teach them how to make food from those countries. So far we’ve only been to the kitchen once, but the students were all very pleased with their Mexican taco dip 🙂
The teachers and students are all fantastic at SFLS, and although I’ve had a few small issues with the payroll office (that were promptly sorted out), the administration has also been a dream. Last year, I was walking on eggshells at about this time, scared to say anything to anyone for fear of being taken aside for a ‘talk’. This year, I was greeted at the gate by the principal of the school on Teacher’s day, with a box of mango milk and a flower. I also received a small crate of Chinese dates (which are delish!) and countless other flowers and chocolates from my students…who I’d only been teaching for 2 weeks at that point!!!
The school is not the only thing that has been great since we got here either! Suzhou, as a whole, is a fantastic city! Unlike Guiyang, where I really disliked the spitting, the littering and the smoking…Suzhou is spotless! Very few people spit, smoking is prohibited in many public areas and people actually put their trash in the trash can! Although the air is a little more polluted that Guiyang (because Suzhou is so close to Shanghai), it’s so much more comfortable of a place to be!
And the gardens!!!….
Dave and I arrived back in China just in time for a holiday! This year marked 70 years since the Chinese victory over Japan in the Second World War. It was celebrated across the country and everyone was given a long weekend. Dave and I spent those days familiarizing ourselves with Suzhou. We visited one of the lesser known gardens here (one we’d happened to stumble upon when we were still staying in a hotel).
The city outside of these gardens is also very nice. We’ve spent countless hours walking around the different areas of the city, enjoying the scenery along the canals and trying new restaurants. Times Square is one of my favorite places to take a stroll. I love walking near water and there are a lot of really great restaurants in the area.
I think my favorite part of the city (so far) has been ShanTang street. There are countless shops that sell all sorts of souvenirs and traditional Suzhou items. It’s along the canal, and you can even take boat rides around to see the old architecture, which is especially beautiful at night. We never had a chance to go the last time we were there, but this is where I’m planning on doing a lot of my Christmas shopping, so I know there will be other opportunities 🙂
I don’t consider myself a superstitious person and I believe that we are responsible for making our own fate, but still, I can’t help but feel like I’m exactly where I’m suppose to be right now. Suzhou fits like a glove and it became home to us more quickly than I really imagined possible. Maybe I’m still a little shell shocked from everything I went through last year, but I am honestly still overjoyed at how smoothly everything has been going over the last 41 days. Life…in short…is good.