Suzhou: May 13
05.13.2015 -25 °C
Today began with a 4:00 am wake up call. We were on the bus by 5:00 am and on our flight to Shanghai (the financial centre of China) by 7:00 am. It was a two hour flight and included breakfast. Once we'd picked up our luggage and loaded it onto the bus, we headed for Suzhou. (We will spend two days touring Shanghai before we leave for home.) It took about an hour and a half during which Joe, our guide, told us a lot about China eg. Beijing has 20 million people, Shanghai has 24 million people - Canada has 40 million people. Quite the contrast! Beijing has about 6 million cars and their rush hour is from 8 till 8. The traffic is unbelievable. It made the drive from the airport to the hotel take 3-4 times longer than the distance required.
Upon landing, in Shanghai we boarded a bus that took us to Suzhou. We stopped at Golden Rooster Lake for a little walk about before going for another delicious lunch. Following lunch, a real treat was in store for us at a famous local garden known as Master of the Nets. Suzhou is a city of many gardens and though this one is the smallest it is among the most beautiful. If we manage to upload some pictures, you will see why. It encompasses about 8 acres of water, stone and varied plants and trees cultivated with exquisite attention to detail. It originally belonged to only one family. The owner designed this private garden and his home to listen to intimate concerts, entertain friends, and above all, view and relax with nature. His gardens had outstanding ponds with rock formations and pagodas that totally relaxed you in their presence. The furniture was antique (over 200 years old) from the Qing Dynasty)
Our next stop was really interesting. We learned about the life cycle of the silk worm and how silk was made. The silk worm is mature in 25 days, spins its cocoon in 72 hours and becomes a moth in a matter of days. The cocoons are harvested and each one provides 1200 - 1500 meters of silk thread. It is washed and wound on spools for silk thread painting etc. For duvets, double cocoons are used. They are soaked in water and stretched to about 6x9 inches. Those pieces are then stretched again over an arched frame to about double the size and then passed on to four women who stretch them to the required bed size. The small cocoon can stretch to a king or queen size duvet. The threads are very strong. We had the opportunity to see some beautiful paintings on silk and rice paper there that were really impressive.
We also went to a demonstration of silk thread painting on a silk fabric. We were amazed at the skill and the patience of the women doing the work. We watched one 71 year old woman doing a double-sided painting - no knots on either side. It requires so much skill and patience. A finished painting of the Mona Lisa took two years. You couldn't tell that it was done with thread because the thread used was 1/24 of a strand.
We stopped at Time Square to see a 500 meter sky TV (the longest in the world) on our way to The Grand Canal. The Grand Canal, which is over 1100 km, was created from Suzhou to Beijing, at the request of the emperor, hundreds of years ago. He loved the pretty girls from Suzhou as his concubines so he wanted an easy route to go to select them. We enjoyed a relaxing 45 minute cruise, on a dragon boat, down the canal seeing many old buildings and homes since the canal was in their back yard. It is sometimes called Venice of the East.
Our last stop before dinner was a breathtaking tour of silk thread painting. The masters must have at least 20 years experience. We watched one master (72 years old) as she worked on a two-sided painting, equally-beautiful from both sides. It seems impossible but we watched her do it. Her thread was 1/6 of a strand. When she works with thread 1/24 of a strand, she can't work there where a breeze could destroy her work. For those paintings, she stays at home with everything closed up. One painting of the Mona Lisa took two years to complete. Each en on close inspection the threads are invisible. Another painting of Princess Diana took a year to complete (thread not as fine) but her hair alone required 24 thread colours. This is the only place you can get these paintings. They are not exported.
Another feast completed our itinerary, then we went to our hotel, the Grand Metropark Hotel. It was amazing from the chandelier in the lobby to our suites on the 21st floor. WOW! What a classy place! Joe said that we had an upgrade. Our room was a suite with a large entertaining area, a large king size sleeping area and a classy 4 piece bathroom. Our view from the 21st floor overlooked the old and new city and the river. Absolutely gorgeous!!