Year Abroad: Suzhou Sunshine!

OFF TO SUZHOU!
苏州

Shanghai Honqiao – Suzhou: 79¥

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to take a break and update on my travels here in China, but with the pesky Midterm Exams over I can finally take a look at the rainbow array of photos from my October trip to Suzhou!

With my 79RMB return ticket from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Suzhou clutched in hand, our group of five make our way though the mid-National Week holiday masses to the train station.  Suzhou has been cheerfully sold to me as the ‘Venice of Shanghai’, and to add to my natural scepticism of such Chinese claims, there’s a scuffle of conjecture that it’s actually Shanghai’s other water town, ZhuJiaJiao. A quick (and exasperated) description edit later, we’re back on track: to one of Shanghai’s two Venices…

Snacks and drinks packed in my trusty rucksack and sunglasses at the ready.

Train to Suzhou, Shanghai Railway Station

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WATER TOWN

The Old area of Suzhou around 石路夜市场 ShiLu Nightmarket and its surrounding canals is a beautiful area of dainty Chinese bridges and street markets that sweep up out of the water in streets that weave alongside cloudy-watered, narrow canals. With it’s white and dark wood traditional buildings, cobbled streets and streams of red paper lanterns – the town Old Town sections are beautiful in the sun.

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Suzhou Canal Boats, China

Suzhou Streets

Suzhou Canal City

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TRADITION & THE TOWN

As we make our way from the East of Suzhou town through the backstreets to the West, we criss-cross through silent, thin streeted residential areas (stopping for the odd 1.50RMB Green Bean ice lolly sold through a front door) and bustling open squared Pagodas where embarrassed tourists pose in traditional Chinese clothing and awkward couples shuffle in suits for wedding photos.

We watch a man in his late 50s twist blobs of hot coloured sugar into beautifully delicate, edible animal shapes with some lickity spit and dubiously clean hands around the Temple of Mystery (which in itself is not that mysterious, and probably not worth the walk if the Temple is all you want to see…).

Comfortable shoes an absolute must.

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SUZHOU LUNCH

Lunch, one of my three favourite times of day, greets us in the form of the famous hundred-year old Zhū hóng miànguǎn 朱鸿面馆 as we battle with the locals stopping off between work shifts, wrinkled and fresh-faced alike who fold over their steaming noodle broth bowls and inhale their juicy lunch. I try the recommended salty pork and noodle soup 香辣排骨面, 14RMB and exact sighs of exasperation as I take pictures of the chilli sauce bowl.
That’s some mean chilli.

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COLOUR-MAD MARKETS

In a refreshing, zesty break form Shanghai’s concrete forest, Suzhou markets are packed bursting with colourful flowers, tea-shops and stalls around the Suzhou Watertown Hostel area (苏州浮生四季青年旅舍). Besides a treat for the snap-happy photographer (myself), it’s also a sensory delight for anyone who loves nibbling at sweet street-food snacks (also me) as their speciality steamed desserts, candied fruit and sugar stewed lotus root are light, yummy treats that should keep most children (and easily satisfied twenty-one year olds) happy.

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For a bit of formal history, and light culture we stop off at:

HUMBLE ADMINISTRATOR’S GARDEN
Adult 70RMB/Student 35RMB

Unfortunately, being peak holiday season, what we actually see is thousands of other tourists and energetic, flag-flailing guides, filing wildly and haphazardly in droves along the well-trimmed verges of the Humble Administrator (who certainly had a very big garden indeed). We become a garden highlight as we naively stop for a rest at this pagaoda, and are subjected to the flashes of Chinese tourists from all over the country.

We do however, pose for this little girl who solemnly asks in perfect English if we would mind her mum taking a photo of her with us.
Cute!

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As the sunlight sets over the Humble Administrator’s Bonsai’s we make for the end of our day-trip to Suzhou in a slightly mad dash back to the station after dinner. Taxi after taxi refuses to stop for the boys, who wave desperately at them. As the token Asian, I manage to hail one eventually (supporting our theory that some Taxi drivers are very suspicious of foreigners – actively avoiding picking them up) and we make it in time for our 40min train back home.

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Bonsai in the late afternoon, Suzhou

Good Bye, Suzhou!

It’s been a great day out, but I’ve got class in the morning.

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Charlotte xx

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She Interns: The Commute

Jeans: Topshop , £40
Shoes: Clarks , £32
Jacket: Zara, £30
Bag: As Before Urban Outfitters, £22.50
Top: Own Acrylic Print, Fabric Top, Zara, £5 Sale

TOTAL OUTFIT: £129.50

THE COMMUTE

Yesterday was the second proper commute of my life, and as I sit here typing, I’m making my third, joining what looks like a futuristic, dystopia-imminent horror movie. The train is pretty full on this pre 9am service, the air is hot and muggy from many suits pressed into unfortunately upholstered seats, and the 70 bodies exhaling in this compartment are all jacked into various devices. It’s all feeling very Watchowski Bros (usefully a brother and sister) and ominous to my Tuesday morning mindset, as I realise that 7AM is the weeks’ routine beginning; from the alarm I’m in the system and ‘online’ now that I have an iPhone. Mild sympathy is what I’m used to when I whip out my phone, until Sunday a nifty little Sony Ericsson k500i, but my fairly shockingly efficient iPhone fits right into the commuter life, where all my train companions sit in an early morning zonk with their consoles.

It’s the same pang of regret I get when I pull out my beautiful matt Kindle, another bewildering technology update for my 21st year; it’s not necessarily just nostalgia for childhood things, but the reluctance to feel the strangeness of holding items that, as far as I used to be concerned, were for the ilk of Captain Janeway and her starship crew. At least I can thank my Dad for his Star Trek education, or else, as it is, I’d be completely unprepared to accept these gizmos*. Even in the office, the use of email over speech is at first baffling, but again a blindingly efficient way of tracking responsibility, decisions, deadlines and documents.

Maybe it’s just that the edgy ear cuff I’ve taken to wearing this week that’s rubbing off on me.

THE WORK LIFE

Back into real work – it’s the day after and I’m typing up the work that I covered yesterday, which involved handing in the finished article I was writing yesterday, and getting straight into learning about client’s media booklets, a way to store their press coverage and provide not only a record of useful contacts and a backlog of old work, but provides a tangible demonstration of the company’s output ie. The Results. After helping compile a media booklet of my own, I was free to take an lunch break with my trusty packed box and kindle. Belfast is truly baking in this heatwave, and the hour is a welcome break from the office and shiny screens (which are nigglingly weirding me out today like it’s some episode of Black Mirror).

When I return, seeking shelter from the heat, I chat to Bob, the absolute old gentleman who looks after the permanent War Memorial Exhibition down stairs; can’t hear a thing, bless him, but we manage to communicate some form of happy friendliness regardless! I’m sent on errands with a long-term intern of the office, and she affirms some fears I’ve long suspected of the unpaid intern world (which is a self-perpetuating, studentential nightmare in certain respects) but encourages me to keep at it. Thank goodness for to meeting people on the same path for some thoughtsharing and morale-boosting. I spend the afternoon cataloguing some goodies the company receives from beauty brands and am released to chirpy freedom to catch the 1714 train home.

Today I donned my work clothes and played the (reluctant) commuter, scoped out the industry and took a sneaky peak into the perks cupboard.
It’s looking like staying in education forever is the key. Sorry Parents…?

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* Some academics have given this feeling a fancy name: premediation. Cheers Prof. Grusin!
You can check out his blog, Premediation, or his academic paper of the same title via Project Muse or JSTOR.

China: Backpacking Begins

Going Solo

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Endless trains.

I read Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Sea, The Sea’ and ‘Ender’s Game’ by Orson Scott Card.

I sleep. Alot.

It’s the first terrifying experience of backpacking alone, and as I’m left at the train station, I’m not filled with fear, but a burning shot of adrenaline alertness; a fend for yourself alertness. As I make my way through Beijing Main Station’s steel barriers, I enter a sea of dark-haired heads and become indistinguishable from the crowd. Beijing travelling is hot and sticky and distinctly not modern, and I battle with language barriers and reading barriers to make my platform.

It feels dangerous on the dark platform, rushing towards my cheap L-class, student-cheap train, but the train itself has the light, vaugely clean feel that attempts something clinical for the fifteen something hours six strangers are about to spend in around three meters squared of space.

Being alone, I feel at once reassured and threatened by their presence. Too shy to approach them, wary of being caught in a life-story trap, I curl up with my rucksack at my feet and settle into a long journey interrupted only by the rattle of the untouched food trolley and the occasional jarring-chug into not-my-station.

 

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