Welcome to my final blog on China!! This blog is going to be about Suzhou. During our last day of our trip in China we ventured into Suzhou. I have to warn you that I don't have as many details on Suzhou as I've had on the other cities... but with that said... let me tell you what I do know. Suzhou is known as the town of gardens and it is about a two hour bus ride from Shanghai. It is the oldest city on the planet, and it is over 2,500 years old. In the past there were 10 Providences in China. Suzhou was the capital city of the providence named Wu. Wu was a place that many rich people wanted to go to, so in order to keep up this demand a grand canal was built that linked all of the canals for 1,100 miles in China. About 6 million people live in the Suzhou area, but only 2 million in the city. In the past many emperors would comes to Suzhou looking for future concubines, because it was thought that women in this area were prettier. However, Suzhou is famous for three things... it's canals, silk, and gardens. I am going to tell you about each of those items in turn.
But first... Here is the 2,000 year old city gate. Named Xu Gate.
Next to the gate is a statue of Xu. He was a great war general and he built the bridge. Once it was built they named it after him.
Here is our group getting onto our river boat cruise.
The Grand Canal was hand made section by section over the years in different time periods. It was later connected to form what grand canal system that is now there. The canal is about 5 to 6 feet deep in the regular season, but it can get up to 9 feet deep in the rain season.
Suzhou is often referred to as the Venice of the East. And as we were going through the canal system I could see why they might name it this. It is remarkable, because as we floated down the canal I was reminded on Venice. If you're interested you can check out my pictures of this canal, and then look at my blog on Venice for a comparsion.
This area imparticular really reminded me of Venice, because Venice had a very similar look/feel to it.
Even though there are some similarities between the two places they are both very unique. This place is called Old Ghost or Old Guy. It used to be the place where the wealthy people in the city lived, however now it is not.
One thing that I found funny is that masks are very common and popular in Venice. They sell a lot of different types of masks in the streets. While I don't think that the Venice masks resemble Chinese people, I found it interesting that there were masks hanging up in Suzhou too.
The banks of the canal never used to be popular. People used to use that area to wash their dirty clothes and empty their chamber pots. However, now the area is a lot cleaner and roads lead to it so it is becoming more popular.
Here I am with our tour guide Charlie.
And here I am with Joan! We all enjoyed our river cruise, it was very nice. I think everyone in our group was buying all kinds of things from the people on the boat. They were selling post cards, playing cards, hats... and all kinds of stuff. They just kept bringing out box after box of tourist items once the item was done selling.
Here is dad in goofy hat #1 that he bought! But this is dad in prime negotiating mode. I think he got everyone a good deal on those chopsticks that the woman was holding up!!
And then he had to buy goofy hat #2 from her!! Before our cruise started I think it was Brock that was walking around wearing this hat, and dad instantly fell in love with it haha. He just HAD to have one!
Now that I've finished up talking about canals it's time to start talking about the second thing Suzhou is famous for... it's silk! Real silk products are supposed to be really clean and good for your skin. It gets rid of moisture in the air and makes it feel cool in the summer. A thicker silk quilt can keep you warm in the winter. Real silk is cool to the touch, and if it burns it smells like hair burning. However, I don't feel as if this is a good test to figure out if you have real silk. Picture someone doing this... "Oh yes... let me burn it to see if it's real... yep... smells like hair... darn I just burned my silk." So obviously I wouldn't recommend using this technique to figure out if you have real silk or not. In order to produce a lot of silk the people in Suzhou take a lot of care into "farming/harvesting" silk worms. First, they grow mulberry bushes like ones seen in this picture.
Here is a close up of the silk worms on the mulberry bushes. The farmers have to take great care to make sure that the mulberry leaves do not become wet when the silk worms are eating them, because the water will kill the worms. So they bring all of the leaves inside and make sure that they are dry... once they have been verified as water free the silk worms are allowed to eat them.
Silk worms have a life span between 25 and 28 days, and eventually they will become the size of a caterpillar. Once they become full size they make a cocoon. Each cocoon is worth about a mile long of silk.
In order to soften the cocoon, it is boiled in water and then people use their fingers to gently pull the cocoons apart. This has to be done in water, because air will tear or break the silk.
The silk is then dried using a big spinning machine. It is not completely dried here, because it still needs to be sent to be dyed. But the glossiness, weight, and durability of the silk is checked here. In 8 hours about 5 meters can be produced. The spindles below are then placed into a machine where a computer has a design on it and it creates the silk item on its own. The only people needed are the mechanics that fix the machines and change out the design patterns.
Making a quilt is a little bit of a different process. Here you can see a woman spreading the cocoons out. First she gets rid of the worms inside the shells. Then she spreads the silk over a loom to get the arch in the picture. It takes between 8 to 10 cocoons to make an arch.
Then these arches are spread out to make a layer of the quilt. Approximately 80 layers or 80 arches are needed to make one quilt. That's about 800 silkworms to make one quilt!! Here are the guys trying to spread a layer of the quilt...
Look at the great job that they did. Do you see all of the silk on one side?? Haha!
So the girls stepped up to give it a try.
Of course ours was beautiful! I guess they say that woman usually do this work, because they have more patience for it. I also think we were trying to do better than the guys did. It was really hard to get the cocoon to pull. Silk is a lot stronger than cotton, and it didn't want to pull easily!! We had to put a little bit of muscle into it.
Here are three different types of quilts. There is a light, medium, and thick quilt. The quilts in Suzhou are cheaper than what you would pay for a silk quilt in the US, but they still had a pretty good price tag.
Here we are at the Garden of the Master of the Nets. The garden got this name many years ago, because the second owner of the garden's son fell into a river and almost drowned, but a fisherman saved him. In appreciation of the man saving his son the owner named the garden after the fisherman. This particular garden was the first garden in Suzhou and was built over 700 years ago.
Here is dad being silly! I thought this picture was too funny.
The garden was part of a house that the old owners had lived in. Here you can see the windows in the rooms. They call them picture frame windows, because they frame the beauty from outside and look like works of art.
Here is our group listening to Charlie tell us facts about the garden. I wish that we would have had more time to walk around and explore the garden.
But we were having a lot of fun taking different pictures in the area, and I think we ended up getting a lot of good ones.
Instead of the 10 minutes free time we had to wander around the garden, dad and I decided to take a look at the market place just outside of the garden. Here is one of my favorite pictures of dad. This picture with the hat on is just too funny!!!
Here is an example of the different things people in the market place were selling. They just had little tables and tents set up, and they were selling various items. Something that I found very interesting about China is that every city sells something unique to the city. Something that you could find and buy in Suzhou wasn't something that you would be able to buy in any other city.
Which was why I really wanted to the leave the gardens early, because I had my eye set on one of these silk drawings. People were selling them by the Xu Gate and I thought they were absolutely beautiful. I didn't buy them at the gate, but I did I end up buying four of them outside of the garden. My mom has already framed and hung hers up!! It looks gorgeous in a frame. I just haven't found a good frame that fits it yet, but it's still very pretty. :) Our trip to Suzhou was very nice. We enjoyed our river boat cruise and then our trip the garden. We got a lot of nice items and pictures in Suzhou. It was very pretty and I'm glad that we took the extra excursion to go there.
Well I hope that you enjoyed my posts about China! It was definitely a trip of a life time. I'm so glad that dad and I got to go on the trip together, because we had a lot of fun. I don't think there was anyone in our group that wasn't a good group member. We all seemed to be happy people that got along with each other. I really enjoyed Gate 1 and I thought that they were a tremendous value. I will definitely book a trip through them again. :)