Suzhou, China: Jiangsu's Canal City!

Promising to return to Suzhou during our first encounter in June 2015, on the eve of 2018s Labor Day weekend fulfilled that promise as my night train departed from Beijing South Railway Station. Back to the canals is where I had in mind, oh and a few beers relaxing outside a FamilyMart had to be done! The Venice of the Orient called me back for a reason, I am certain! 

Sleeping soundly on my night-train from Beijing, I was on the way to Suzhou in Jiangsu Province! Pulling into Suzhou Railway Station on time, sure as ever I sneaked past the ticket barrier with my Shanghai bound ticket! Unfortunately, the seats were sold out directly to Suzhou so my ticket was for Shanghai. All good I found my friend Jia Ming, by our agreed meeting point. Shantang Street had to be done, getting there before the crowds did afforded us to have an uninterrupted view of the canal-side masterpieces. Only a short hop on the high speed line from the metropolis of Shanghai, Suzhou keeps it chilled with many period features and endless canals, it's definitely best described as the Venice of the Orient! Maybe a little restoration and beautification has been given to Shantang Street and the immediate area? It served everything we had imagined it would! Missing that street first-time in Suzhou was stupid! Suzhou had my full attention, I had the time to pay it second time round. No, nothing but Jiangsu Love! 江苏爱!

I had been friends with Jia Ming for a while, we just hadn't found the time to meet due to me being in England then my Beijing location kept me super busy! Jia Ming being from Nanjing meant he didn't need to leave his own Jiangsu Provincial region. Those China High Speed trains made Suzhou the perfect meeting point for my returning trip. It was his first time in Suzhou, so I wanted the trip to be the best it could possibly be! I had friends who had stayed in Suzhou longer than my seven days, they got to see Shantang Street during the nighttime, we preferred it during the morning. Leaving Shantang Street behind us it was time for some breakfast, the day had only just started, we had a plan! Catching up over a breakfast that was definitely not Chinese it was crazy that it was our first real face to face meeting, that's what technology and social media has to answer for! Shantang Street done, it was time to get ourselves to Tiger Hill before those pesky holiday crowds got there before us! 去吧! Get with the programme babes, don't waste my time!  

After our bus trip we arrived close to Tiger Hill, feeling generous I got the entry fee because if you're a friend of mine I will treat you right. Just don't do me wrong otherwise, I will not be so friendly in the end! Paying the crowds no mind, it was onto the main attraction! Dubbed the 'Leaning Tower of China', it stood to be another confirmation that Suzhou had that Italian nature to be dubbed the 'Venice of the Orient' even thought the Italian 'Leaning Tower' is in Pisa! Regardless of those references, I loved the twisting and turning paths within that Suzhou scenic area. It felt like a breath of fresh air to be exploring a place after such a hectic eight day working week! Tiger Hill knew that I needed to take the time to enjoy those views. Catching the first glimpses of Suzhou's answer to a famous Italian counterpart gave us life, I am sure it was collectively? Getting a few snaps was enough for me, after taking in the views we took a walk round the immediate area to move forwards. OK? Jia Ming was so chilled out, he's also a DIVA! 

Tiger Hill was something different, a pagoda nonetheless, it was another new sight snatched in a city that I hardly saw anything previously! We didn't want to do too much, catching a DiDi taxi to rest our feet or just to be EXTRA? We made our way closer to the hotel. The morning had been a busy one since our Railway Station encounter. Checking in to the hotel had to be done, getting a major blast from the past those crowds were no walking trophy, get back into your rooms! Refreshed and sorted we had some lunch, both getting a good feed with the New Zealand steak, teamed with fried eggs, chips and a glass of French red wine! It was a great chance to escape the mayhem from the tourist appropriate streets, catching up for the win. It was great to talk about life and all that good stuff because queens in this country must stick together! Suzhou served prettiness in all the right areas, we were set for the next phase of our day but we decided to take an independent flow. Turning it back! My phone played games, I knew what I wanted, C! 

Taking the Suzhou Metro once more from the familiar tourist trap, I made my way towards Suzhou's Central Business District. An area that had crossed my path more than once during my initial visit to that Jiangsu Province City. Staying near the Metro exit, it was a complete mind mess to see where my former hotel actually was, that sight fooled me for certain! Looking for a certain FamilyMart store proved troublesome but sitting in the shadow of the areas biggest landmark I found a FamilyMart store that had the same outside sitting area. I bought my Suntory Japanese beer instantly, one of those seats outside became mine! Reminiscing about the second week I had spent in China for the first time, that initial English teacher training week seemed like an eternity away! All the shenanigans that took place, it felt like a full circle moment because so much had happened and against all odds I had made the journey back to the beginning. Shaking off those crazy moments it was great to be back amongst such memories, SZ!

I walked for awhile trying to the find the same complex behind the Orange Hotel that had been our hangout during that 2015 training period but with the majority of the scaffolding gone, something told me that the former corner of restaurants had been replaced by the look of the shiny city centre look and the newly completed skyline. I wasn't bitter because both times had given me different things and my life lay in a different phase with many opportunities that weren't present for me at that time. I sat thankful for that second chance, it felt very cathartic to return but to be in the same mode as Suzhou's CBD. Some aspects weren't quite complete and that went for my status in China, it felt correct to be centred within Suzhou's shiny CBD if truth be told! Needing to find my friend again before our batteries gave up on us I boarded the metro to Moon Harbour, a stress that turned out to be! Making a mistake put us in the right direction, finding the way, we both got it back together! SZ, I knew you'd be like no other! S, I was sober?

Jinji Lake was worth the confusion, I never had the chance to see it first time round in Suzhou. The night was young, the lights shone across the waters that showcased a shiny new skyline, the whole circular shape of the lake served a 22nd century view with many futuristic shapes and colours. Another part of our Suzhou trip had been accomplished, another place bossed that I didn't get the chance to see first time round. By that time me and Jia Ming were getting rather hungry, making the most of the view of Jinji Lake was enough for us, the restaurants were quite expensive so we headed back towards our hotel for something that turned out to be Japanese. I was willing to be fancy but Jia Ming wasn't, I compromised for the first time in my living life. Leaving the lights of Jinji Lake was the right thing to do, after our evening meal we decided to pamper ourselves with some beauty treatments. It felt good to treat myself after such a long week, those eight days melted away as the weekend progressed. Suzhou had me really relaxed! 

The day had been epic, from our early morning rendezvous at Suzhou Railway Station to then moving to Shantang Street before discovering Tiger Hill. We were exhausted after our late night beauty treatments! We had seen soo much during that first day, we worked it out perfectly by going our separate ways for a few hours before we traveled to Suzhou's Jinji Lake. On a personal note it was amazing to revisit the CBD and to finally see the place that I should have seen during my initial 2015 visit! Would I revisit Suzhou for a third time? I went back to a place that I needed to but I feel content with what I saw, so it won't be third time lucky. Never say never! At the midnight hour Jia Ming received some terrible news, he was left with no choice but to take the train back to Nanjing. It was a shame but that is life! Through everything it was a perfect day, filled with nothing but good vibes, there was no time for negativity within China's Venice of the Orient!' Seriously, FamilyMart without a question needs to move NORTH! Don't be a stranger! 

Thanks, Suzhou!

Joseph Harrison 


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