Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Weekend in Suzhou - part II

We booked a half day tour today with an English speaking guide.  Her name was Yvonne, and she was very knowledgeable.
     The first stop was The Humble Administrators Garden, built in 1513.  Yvonne told us how it was originally created by a wealthy member of the feudal government.  He had become wealthy taking money & gifts, and was exposed by his peers.  He was banished back to Suzhou.  He spent the rest of his life in shame and reflection, but did create the garden.  The garden, like the Lingering Garden the day before, has a lake in the center, winding pathways, pagodas, bridges and impressive rocks.

old wisteria vine wrapped in bamboo
150 yr old rose tree w bamboo trellis
moon gate
Some of the seating areas have these reclined backs, this is called "Beauty's chair".  Called this because when wealthy women had their feet bound by silk bands, they would never be able to walk more than a few steps.  They could recline, and enjoy the pond here.  Crazy.

This is the most famous example of "borrowed scenery" - a concept of Chinese gardens.  The designers built-in this view of the North Temple Pagoda in Suzhou from the main house overlooking the pond.

The next stop on tour was a silk making factory.  Suzhou silk is very famous, and a point of pride for the people that live here.  We learned about silk worms and the cultivation of the cocoons.  Large bamboo trays had hundreds of silk worms and mulberry leaves.  Yvonne lifted up the netting under the leaves, and there was a lot of silkworm poo.  Yvonne said some people use the poo for inside their pillows.  Eeeww.
     In the factory, we saw how silkworm cocoons are boiled, and then the fine filaments are spun into thread on a huge machine.  Silk comforters and blankets were being made too, and we helped pull the batting for the inside of a comforter.  Really, really fun and educational.
     We went to the Suzhou Embroidery Museum but unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures there. I didn't think this would be very interesting, but I was wrong.  We watched a Master Embroiderer at work on a canvas that would take over a year.  The museum is full of work that is so intricate and delicate, but also beautiful.  The idea of embroidery at this level was really mind boggling.  All done by hand on silk.

 worms and mulberry leaves

pulling the silk batting for inside a comforter

bowl of dead silkworm pupa - yum
stretching boiled cocoons
The last stop was Shantang street.  This is a 7 mile long pedestrian walkway with ancient halls, bridges and homes. The front of the homes face the street, and the back of the homes face the canals.  Yvonne told us this was because merchants would bring goods and deliveries by boat up and down the canal.  We walked across a bridge that was built in AD 825.  We also went inside Starbucks.

 We had to get back to the hotel to catch our train back to Shanghai.  It was definitely worth visiting Suzhou.  I think the girls will remember it always.

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