There’s a saying in Chinese that goes, “Paradise above; Suzhou and Hangzhou on Earth”, describing the beauty and elegance of the two cities in southeast China (the Jiangnan region). The convenient locations of Suzhou and Hangzhou made them the perfect day trips from Shanghai and Huzhou (I was going to write the Huzhou post first, but decided to save it for the next chapter), and with some time on our hands, my mom and I were off to explore paradise on Earth ^_^
First up: Suzhou, located in Jiangsu province. Suzhou is famous for its many elegant classical Chinese gardens and canals and is known as “Venice of the East” (though, why can’t Venice be “Suzhou of the West”?) Upon entering the city, we were greeted by tranquil rivers and old bridges, a picturesque scene reminiscent of a painting. All of a sudden we felt like we stepped into the set of a historical TV drama taking place in ancient China. Bring on the costumes!
Perhaps the most famous of Suzhou’s gardens is the Humble Administrator’s Garden (Zhuo Zheng Lin). The garden was said to be named as such because its original owner, a former government official, decided to build a garden and live a simple, quiet life after retirement, planting trees and growing vegetables for leisure. Hence, the name of the garden referred to the life of its owner, a humble man. From the outside, the garden isn’t all that impressive, but you’d be surprised how HUGE it is inside! Lakes, pavilions, bridges, stone sculptures, hills, bamboo forests, bonsai gardens, courtyards, artistic corridors and windows…I was told that every layout and every element was intricately and delicately designed to display an ultimate sense of aesthetics!
The other garden (we only visited two out of the tens of them) that my mom and I visited was the Lion Grove Garden (Shi Zi Lin), named so for the (too) many lion-shaped rocks scattered around the garden. I actually liked this one more than the Humble Administrator’s Garden, precisely because of the rocks that formed a complex maze throughout the garden. Going through the interconnected tunnels formed by the rocks and going up and down the steps made us lose track of orientation multiple times, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it took us 20 minutes to finally find the exit. Lots of fun, actually, if you have time and patience to play hide-and-seek with a bunch of friends…!
You may have noticed the appearance of willow trees in the previous images and that was one of my favourite things about any of the Jiangnan cities. I had always compared willow trees to a classy lady dancing in the wind with graceful movements, and in Suzhou, these ubiquitous trees complemented the classic beauty of the gardens so well. Of course, the most beautiful one was my mom, who wore the perfect bright red coat that day (with her red-dyed hair!) to contrast the colour of the willows. Too lovely!
After Suzhou we went to the other paradise on Earth, Hangzhou. I had been here in 2010 during the summer and upon seeing the lotus ponds 6 years ago I had to gasp, “What beauty that makes me faint!” It was then that I made it my bucket list item to come to Hangzhou at lease once during every season, and this trip fulfilled the “winter” part of that goal. Although there was no snow as I had wished, the West Lake, which is the defining feature of Hangzhou, was still as beautiful as ever.
Selfie time at the West Lake! So happy to be travelling with this wonderful lady in red AKA my mom! It was also probably only one of the two days during my entire 26 days in China where the temperature was below 10 degrees Celsius – rather windy too!
And here are the rest of my companions – MC, the lady in red; YX, MC’s son; and YH, my host from the nearby city of Huzhou (next post) whom I haven’t seen in four years! In fact I met all of these great people in my Bordeaux fellowship, so it was a mini but precious reunion in China!
At sunset the West Lake was getting ready for rest as the sun began its descent behind the smoky clouds. And of course the willow trees were ubiquitous here, just as they were in Suzhou. We didn’t see much of Hangzhou aside from the West Lake this time but for a first-timer like my mom, that was sufficient as the highlight. As for me, you know I’ll be back – spring and autumn!
A final look at the West Lake before it got completely dark. The layering mountains in the background made this look almost like a traditional Chinese landscape ink painting and even in the dark, the West Lake still hasn’t lost its unique charm. So will you say that you agree with the saying that Suzhou and Hangzhou are like paradise on Earth? 😉
This is one of the few posts in the “26 days in China” series that does not include any food, since Suzhou and Hangzhou were done as day trips and we mostly packed just snacks and simple foods. Rest assure though that food will be aplenty in the upcoming posts 😉 Next up: arguably the most anticipated city, Huzhou! (Yes it will be Huzhou for real this time!)