My original plan was to call up my client and arrange for us to go to her factory together. However she told me that she would not be leaving that early, hence I decided to go on my own by taxi. The ride there was smooth despite the morning peak hour jam. According to the taxi driver, almost 90% of the vehicles on the road are heading into the Industrial Park, so there’s no way you can avoid that jam.
I had originally given myself 1 to 2 hours to finish all my work at the factory, and spend the rest of the day visiting one or two of the more famous gardens, as well as the Taoist temple which I missed out the previous day. However, things just did not go as planned. I spent about 4 hours in total, and it was close to 2.30pm by the time I got back to my hotel. With much lesser time in hand now, I had no choice but to drop one garden off my list.
My first destination was the Taoist temple, Xuan Miao Guan. It was particularly crowded, even though it was a weekday afternoon. Many people were sitting around the courtyard of the temple, and it looked more like a regular park for people to gather around and socialise. Admission to the temple is payable, and with the ticket, I visited the main temple hall San Qing Hall, God of Wealth Hall, Wenchang God Hall and Goddess of Mercy Hall. This temple wasn’t particularly interesting and I did not snap many photographs inside. I left only barely less than half an hour, feeling a bit disappointed.
My next intended destination was supposed to be Xi Yuan Garden, but it was rather far away, so I changed my mind and decided to go to Zhuo Zheng Yuan Garden instead, which was just nearby. However, I needed to get fresh batteries as my camera’s battery power was already running low. It took me quite a long time before I could find this big store selling electronics and electrical components. I got my batteries, but quite a bit of time was wasted as the cashier refused to let me pay for my battery without an issued invoice by their sales promoter. I tried explaining to her that there wasn’t any sales promoter at the batteries section. However she kept insisting that I must get an invoice first, instead of just taking from the rack and pay like that. So I had to go hunt for one sales promoter to help issue one for me. What inflexible service! Luckily I would not be returning to Suzhou in the near future, but even if I would, I’d not patronise this store again!
Outside this store was a bus-stop, and there was a bus service at this bus-stop that would take me to Zhuo Zheng Yuan Garden. I decided to take the bus to save money, but ended up I wasted more time as I had to figure out how to walk to Zhuo Zheng Yuan Garden after I alight. By the time I came to the entrance of the garden, it was already past the admission time. Dismayed, I could only stroll along the streets outside the garden, which was quite an eyeful as well, with classic-styled buildings lining along both sides of the streets.
It was soon dinner time again, and I took the bus back to the city centre. I hunted around for quite some time, but settled down for one restaurant selling Shanghainese dim sum. This was unlike typical Cantonese dim sum restaurants whereby the customer just sits at your table and waiters with push-carts will come forward with baskets of dishes for him to choose from. In this restaurant, the customer would be given a blank order sheet and he then proceeds to the ordering area, pick what he wants and the chef will cook on the spot for him. I ordered only 3 dishes, smelly beancurd, “ji tou mi” soup and small wanton in chicken stock. The smelly beancurd has got the smell, but it tasted just like any other fried beancurd, nothing really special. “Ji tou mi” soup is a dessert which you couldn’t find elsewhere as the main ingredient, the “Ji tou mi” seed, is only available in Suzhou only. “Ji tou mi” seeds are small and round, and resembled half-sized lotus seeds. I was lucky to be able to taste it as it happened to be the season for it’s harvest. The soup tasted sweet, but not overpowering, a definite must-try for Suzhou visitors during the late autumn period. As for the last dish, small wanton in chicken stock, I was rather disappointed. The soup base was tasty, but I could not taste any meat in the wanton, as the fillings were too little! Their definition of “small” is indeed very, very small! Nevertheless this meal was still not so bad, after all it cost only 20RMB.
Now it was getting dark and there was nothing much to do other than to shop around or visit the nightspots. I weren’t too interested, so decided to just head back to my hotel room and watch TV. I realised that it was actually not that bad to be in China, because you can get to watch Chinese opera for almost 18 hours daily on CCTV-11. The channel’s shows were mainly Peking opera. Not really my cup of tea, but then I was lucky, for I managed to catch Yueju and Huangmei opera for these 2 nights, as well as a documentary on how Xiju opera was formed. This would be one thing which I would miss very much when I head back home the following day.
Suzhou, a charming city where new and old are fused together cohesively. It’s a pity I do not get to visit their famed tourist attractions this time round. Hope I can do so on my next visit, perhaps next year!