Here is the second part of our weekend adventure. The area we stayed in was the Pingjiang district of Suzhou. This is the historical part of Suzhou and a definite must to visit. We walked around in the evening which was a smart idea (I am sure I had it). The street transformed into one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
The canal is lit at night and you can see bats flying over top catching bugs. Like in other water towns, the area is still mainly residential with local restaurants and commercial spaces. I tried to take as many pictures as possible of the canal and people walking along, it was truly amazing. The hostel guided us to a local restaurant Pin Von which specialized in local Suzhou dim sum (You have to try the leek dumplings). Along the canal, there are several historical buildings which have been restored and one by Tongji University. The building originally was a sanitation building and by around the year 2000 created so much pollution in the canal the government decided to shut it down and do some clean up. The original concrete structure still stands but it’s the facade you notice. They used stone blocks to create the skin and created a really nice pattern for light and the building now houses a local restaurant. Another adaptive use of space is Zhuyuan Hall. We first just walked by the building but noticed an architectural model in the window and went in. The space has been completely updated but kept in mind the importance of the traditional architecture. Inside you will find a small bookstore, cafe, reading room, and hotel…..yes that’s right a 4 room hotel (Yeah I know 4 rooms does not make a hotel). If you are ever in Suzhou and have 400 yuan laying around, you might want to stay at the Archi-Garden bookstore and cafe. One final place was the Momi (Cat) Cafe. This is a clever idea for a business and by Su’s photo, you can see he really wanted to stay.
They sell drinks, books, and postcards. What makes it stand out is the slots in the wall with every month and day of the year. You buy postcards, fill them out, buy the postage from the bar, and put it in the slot for the day and month you want it sent. It’s a great idea for special occasions when you want to really surprise someone.
The next day we went to visit our professor from UNCC Zhongjie Lin. His wife has an architecture firm in Suzhou and he was kind enough to show us around. Two of our fellow students are working at the firm, Mark Pelz and Ryan Shaban…..(pretty sweet deal). Zhongjie showed us the newer parts of Suzhou which is along the lake and the Suzhou Industrial Park. Just a side bar, his wife has done some of the landscape architecture in this area. A couple of notable places he showed us was Harmony Square and Suzhou Science and Culture Arts Center. Harmony Square is a big commercial space with shops and restaurants but was dead when we were there. Only after 5 pm, does the place begin to fill up. Over top of the shopping area is a massive LED screen that is about 300 meters long (984 feet for those meter impaired). I wanted to see it lit up but it normally doesn’t come on till dusk. Now for the Suzhou Science and Culture Arts Center, let’s see how do I put this……..hmmmmm. The building was designed by Studio 505 from Melbourne Australia and seems to take traditional Chinese window pane patterns to the extreme. I am not sure if that was their intention but the covered walkways eludes to that idea. The space is to embody everything that is Suzhou but just seems to want to do too much.
After spending the afternoon with Zhongjie, we went back to Pingjiang district. Frank and I decided to walk down to the Twin Pagodas at the Luohanyuan Temple. The temple garden is a little overgrown but still very nice. What is pretty amazing is the stone carvings lining the walls. I tried to take a picture of each of the plaques so you can see the meaning. Also the Lions guarding the entry are supposedly the originals. As I was walking out, I noticed the carvings over the exit. Whether they are original or not, the thought that someone at one point created the carvings was enough for me. It is sad to think that at one point this beauty was destroyed because it was a reminder of the past.
I get told I am never in the photos or in the videos but you can hear me. Well, I am in the photos today. There is an interesting photo of us all at Harmony Square but I honestly do not know what is up with Frank. Also, I have been accused of making the little Chinese girl cry at the train station but you can tell in the photos, the girl beside me is laughing along with her. As soon as she turns and looks at the couple across from us…….the tears and screaming start (Yeah I said it Su). For some reason, I always get blamed when bad things happen……but now I have proof it wasn’t me.