Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sunshine in Chengdu

What do Chinese students do when the sun comes out?  They hide from it!  Kirk asked a student to play tennis with him one beautiful, sunshiny day and she said, "No.  The sun is shining.  I don't want to turn dark."  NOW you KNOW that China is on the opposite side of the world from America, because Americans spend money on tanning salons to make their skin darker.  Apparently, the Chinese think it makes them look like peasant farmers when their skin is darker, so they don't want any color.  As a matter of fact, I had a hard time finding a face cream that didn't have bleach/whitener in it!  Seriously!  So on those rare days when the sun comes out in Chengdu, so do the umbrellas.

These umbrellas are the cutest things--they are covered with bling, including sequins, lace and other frills.  They are UV Protective and come in all colors.  I bought one for Shanna, my daughter-in-law who lives in Tucson and spends hours out in the sun watching T-ball games and swim meets.  America should pick up on this fashion item.  They are really cute.

But the cutest thing is when the girls ride on the back of their boyfriend's bike with their umbrella open.  It looks like something from a romantic movie.  Fun!
Bicycle Friends 

It wasn't sunny this day, but friends of ours loaned us their electric scooter to go for a ride.  So we got to be in our own romantic movie!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Suzhou - The Venice of the East

Suzhou (say "sue-joe") is a 2500-year-old city, famous for its beautiful gardens, stone bridges, canals, moat and silk production.  It is a top tourist destination, and we did have big crowds.  We started by visiting the Lingering Garden, built during the Ming Dynasty, used to encourage healing for recovering patients.

Stone Walkway

The amazing limestone formations are particularly interesting.  We have heard different tour guides tell us about these unique stones that come from the bottom of a lake.  One told us that they were only for use in imperial gardens, but we have seen them in many places in China.

The signs are so fun to read.  At least they make a concession that there may be English speakers in the gardens and try to translate the best they can.

There are beautiful pavilions with lovely furnishings.  They look very authentic and "typically" Chinese.

In these gardens, even the trash receptacles are made of porcelain.  (One is for recycling.)

I loved these stone patterns in the walkways.
Some of the pavilions had lovely instrumentalists playing soothing music on period instruments.  We enjoyed pausing to listen to them.

Guzheng Concert

The famous Japanese bonsai sculpted trees actually originated in China--called penzai.  They are so lovely.

You can see why it's called the "Lingering Garden".  You'd like to spend all day here enjoying the lovely plants, flowers, stone work, and water features.

Flower Gardens

Tiger Hill is another landmark in Suzhou with its famous all-brick "Yunyansi" or "Cloud Rock Pagoda", which leans like the tower of Pisa.

From this angle, you can really see the lean.  The tower was built of all brick in 959AD and weighs 600 tons!  We weren't allowed inside.

More humorous signage.
There are legends and stories associated with the site.  The Wu King, He Lv, was buried on the site and 3 days later, a white tiger appeared squatting on the hill.

Legend has it that there are 3000 swords and other treasure buried underneath this small pond beneath the bridge.  No excavations have been done in order to preserve the stone pagoda.

We drove through the wedding dress factory district.  The Chinese are traditionally married in red, but many have adopted the Western white dress, especially to have their elaborate photos taken in.  The photos are the biggest part of the Chinese wedding.  There is no formal ceremony nor are vows exchanged.  The couple give a dinner party and sign documents before their guests.

The Humble Administrator's Garden, built in 1509, is another famous classic Chinese garden in Suzhou.

The park is 5.2 hectares large and has more of the familiar pavilions, rock formations, flowers, ponds and beauty.  Wish I had this in my neighborhood.

This garden is the largest and most beautiful (according to some) of the gardens in southern China.  Too many people were here today to enjoy any peaceful solitude, but we did catch its potential and enjoy the weather.

You can see the plastic pots the flowers are planted in.  This is a typical way to display floral arrangements in China.  They don't plant them in the ground, just line them up in rows in pots.  The effect is very striking.

After dinner, we went for a walk with Alan & Kim Malan to the ancient town built along a canal.  It is a popular tourist area, and the lanterns were lit in beautiful colors and shapes.  The year of the snake!

All over China, we see shop owners crushing peanuts with huge mallets like this one, then they make a brittle candy out of the peanuts.  Makes a perfect set up for a silly pose!

 Suzhou Ancient Theater

The video clip is short on purpose.  I can hardly tolerate Chinese "opera" after living with my mother's beautiful voice.  This ancient theater is one of the oldest in China and they still have performances on it.

The next morning, we started out with a boat tour on the grand canal.  We sailed back underneath the bridges where we had walked the night before.  It was beautiful weather.

Grand Canal Boat Tour

Washing shoes

 Here's the pagoda we saw lit up last night.  The folks on shore are waving to us.  We are always noticed wherever we go in China, even in these tourist towns.

We had to duck our heads to go under this bridge!

 It really does remind me of Venice.

Interesting cantilever stairway.

Notice the chicken coop/bird cages next to the laundry.

Windowsill gardening.
Sichuan Opera Mask Lanterns

These are "squatters" living underneath the bridge.

And another Rose Pose.

A gate and portion of the old city wall are still preserved for posterity.

Silk production is still in full force in Suzhou as it has been since ancient times.  The process is fascinating and we enjoyed our tour of the silk 'factory'.
Sorting the cocoons.

Each single strand is connected to the spindle above and they turn around, unwinding the long thread.

 Boiling the cocoons makes them separate easier.
All that's left are the dead pupae.

Silk Production

The fabric is created using the old punch card method, where the pattern is in the cards fed into the loom.  Amazing.

Silk Loom

Of course I had to go in the gift shop to buy some silk products--a duvet cover and pillow cases, some "popcorn" silk blouses, eyeglass cases, scarves, etc.  Susannah Goudin, my silk-producing pioneer ancestor from Italy, would be pleased to know that I appreciate her art.