Flew north to Shanghai, met by large poet Butler who was also taking part in the three cities’ Beijing Bookworm Festival, in Suzhou, a very boring 2 hours’ drive west of Shanghai along grey motorways. Suzhou is a delight, a bustling city set amidst a 1000 year old canal system, which eventually flows into the Yangste, and recommended by Marco Polo which can’t be bad. The image above probably says something like ‘Made in China’ but I think it’s lovely, and representative of the many fretwork windows in Suzhou.
Stayed at the Nanlin Hotel, where a scarlet skirted lady sang at a grand piano in the foyer, fairy lights twinkled, waterfalls delicately plashed and a new mat in the lift every morning told me what day it was. Chinese generally seem very fond of grotesque shaped rocks as well as fairy lights etc.
Workshop the next day at Suzhou’s Bookworm bookshop which doesn’t actually sell books because of Chinese red tape, but you can ‘borrow’ them for a fee. Only one child turned up as event rather foolishly timetabled during the school week, but several adults had fun. Ex-pats gather here for chatting and drinking sessions.
The first spring sunshine in Suzhou coincided with my visit. Washing appeared everywhere, hung out to dry. Bjorn (festival organiser) and Butler took me on a tricycle tour of the town. We ate chive and black sauce pancakes from a street stall, drank tea in delicate cups by the canalside and had a boatride up and down the canal. Our amiable boatman sang us many versed Suzhou songs.
Visited one of Suzhou’s many famous gardens, that of the Master of the Nets, built for a retired official in the 12C who decided to be a fisherman, but possibly of rather an upmarket kind with plenty of time on his hands.
Walked through rooms for viewing pine trees in winter and the moon three times (in the sky, reflected in water and in a mirror) and other delights. I only had a couple of days in Suzhou before heading north again to Beijing, this time on the Shanghai-Beijing CRH bullet train which stops briefly at Suzhou’s shiny new station north of the city. Super-efficient station staff, but did NOT like the squat loos.