Once the drizzle and fog lift, Suzhou reveals itself as a pretty town, shot through with canals and sleepy back alleys. Here you can sit by the water and listen to the orioles sing. Early in the morning, I went to the Garden of the Master of the Nets. I had been woken up by a small German child, who did not seem to mind that I did not answer all her questions. I understand German quite well if it’s spoken slowly but a small child’s rapid-fire inquisition is too much of a stretch. I was glad to have gone early because the garden is small and was quickly filled by tour groups. Given how few Europeans you see on the street, it’s amazing how many are actually on holiday here.
If by garden you are thinking grass, trees and flowers, by the way, you need to adjust your image. Chinese formal gardens are harmoniously arranged collections of buildings, courtyards, ponds, rockeries and bushes. Still, it was quite attractive, and the big pond in the middle made a stunning view. I will be looking at a couple more, at least.
The contrast between the smaller gardens, such as the Master of Nets Garden and the Couple’s Garden, and the Humble Administrator’s Garden is striking. Where the former two feel intimate, showing a careful use of limited space, the latter sprawls. It is a major attraction in Suzhou, with a flash ticket office, and attracted huge holiday crowds. Having plodded through the old city to get to it (about 5 km from my hostel, plus I had walked a fair bit round and about in the morning), I was quite leg-weary, although with travel and hostels for later in the week sorted out, I was in too good spirits to get too annoyed with the Chinese for walking in front of my camera on each occasion I saw a good photo or for barging me aside when they saw one or even for yelling at each other (for people whose major religions centre around the quest for peace, the Chinese sure do like to pump up the volume).
The best thing about my day was that I found a veggie restaurant with a waitress who spoke some English. She brought me an enormous amount of food for 20 yuan. The way to a man’s heart is without question through his stomach, so I now officially love Suzhou.