I was on the move again, after afternoon tea to mark my birthday in Shanghai a day early… just because I wanted to… I was now off to a thoroughly pretty town to actually spend my birthday.
The Shanghai Metro became my favourite Metro system in China today.
Briefly, the Shanghai Metro for the trainspotters…
1. Not only is there signage in English (Pinyin) throughout the station and,
2. Take note Xi’an, the self service ticket machines provide the station names in English, but…
3. Giving consideration to the average, clueless, lost foreigner (and probably the large expat community), the platforms include signs to indicate the most likely station you’re going to, in my case, Shanghai Railway Station.
It was just so civilised. Either that or the city is just keen to facilitate a fast exit for us.
So, the usual routine on arrival at the Railway Station and so far, in China, each station’s process has been the same. No surprises, like a lack of signage, as on the Trans Siberian Express.
Ticket inspection at the main door, up the escalator, find the waiting room and wait for boarding.
Slight difference today. I was catching a suburban train, a journey only lasting less than one hour, to Suzhou. Oh, and according to my ticket, I didn’t have an allocated seat.
Did anybody have an allocated seat? How would I tell which ones were reserved? Would there be a free-for-all to grab a seat? Would it be busy?
It was Sunday morning but, in China, that means nothing. On the way out of my hostel at 7am I had passed people repairing the roads with pneumatic drills. The streets were already busy with cyclists and electric-moped riders.
The train that departed 25 minutes before mine was packed. The waiting room cleared.
I checked the train number on my ticket just to be sure.
Just as boarding closed, I watched the last runners dash through the hall to wave pleadingly at the ticket inspectors beyond the glass walls.
It was too late. The train name and number displayed on the board were now red.
The inspectors waved back.
I wondered if my train would be busy.
When boarding was called, I took a leisurely stroll down to the platform and, still wondering if I had a seat, presented my ticket to the conductor.
She scanned the ticket showed me the seat details and waved me down the train. It turned out I had booked first class for this hop.
I had decided, at the time that I wanted to see how the different carriage classes compare, and this had seemed very cheap.
How does it compare?
The space! The legroom! The foot rests! Now, would they bring a cup of tea?
I arrived at Suzhou. I’d come here because it’s one of the water towns that surround Shanghai and rather than take a day trip, I decided to base myself here for a couple of days.
With a population of six million, describing it as a water town seems somewhat an understatement. Suzhou was formerly a key administrative centre, some several hundred years ago.
While the city has dwindled in importance, its gardens are why Chinese people come to visit and just wandering through the river lined streets is worth a trip too.
I arrived at my hostel to discover they had lost my booking. A very nice lady called Lianyin was despatched to entertain me, briefly.
She took me out to her favourite place for breakfast and having ordered pork and peanut rice dumplings with an additional bowl of noodles (rather than a cup of tea, which personally I would have preferred) she gave me some key directions and left me to enjoy my morning.
The food was tasty.
I set off down Pingjiang Road. The central streets of Suzhou have been preserved and restored. They are quite beautiful and unlike anything I have seen so far on this trip
I eventually (after sorting out the hostel booking) ended up at the Humble Administrator’s Garden which is the biggest in Suzhou.
“Oh, that’s what YOU call it,” Lianyin had said to me earlier.”WE call it the Georgian Garden”.
Well, the signs don’t – Lianyin’s directions were flawless. Her naming of places less so.
The Humble Administrator’s Garden is anything but and it was intended as a space for an individual, or with a small group of friends, to spend time in peace and tranquillity, at one with nature.
It was a retirement project by an imperial censor – the name being his gripe that he could administer nothing but gardening now.
I know people who consider that a life goal.
Today, it was busier than the Beijing Metro, but what a stunning garden. Despite the crowds it was calm and relaxed.
Even with the small girl belting out: “Let it go, LET IT GOOOOOOO!”
South of the Garden is the Lion Forest Grove – more of a rockery than a garden. It was laid out by a monk in honour of his teacher who lived on Lion Rock Mountain.
The rocks in the Grove are supposed to resemble big cats… no matter what angle I viewed them from, I just could not see the resemblance.