Charming Suzhou

Charming Suzhou

Right now, I am in Suszhou, a very touristic and beautiful city one hour west from Shanghai. Temperatures here reach a staggering 37°C every day and it is also very humid.

03 July 2008

Needless to say that exploring this city is an achievement and everything (even traffic) slows down, compared to other cities I've been. However, Suzhou is the perfect strategic place to visit my brother who is currently visiting Changshu on a business trip about 30km away.

Well, I have been rambling a lot about China in my past posts. Not all of it is really bad and I am actually collecting a list of things I do like here and which I probably will get used to and therefore might miss when leaving China.

At the park in Suzhou

People: Chinese people in general are very friendly and helpful. Even if they don't speak a word of English and you ask them for directions, they will try to find someone who can help - they might even use their mobile phone to call an English speaking friend who then will act as translator.

Moreover, Chinese really do smile a lot. And they definitely love to get the "Ni hao" as a reply whenever they randomly greet you by saying "Hello". It even alters some of my behavior. For example: When I bump my head somewhere (usually in a bus handrail or an entrance door) back home, I tend to be quite annoyed about the bad design - made for small people. But here in China, as people start to laugh when this happens (as if they were saying "yet another foreigner bumping his head"), it makes me smile about my clumsiness, too. I should have known better and being the center of attraction in such situations is actually pretty fun.

House in the Suzhou park

Trains: Although the procedure to take the train is like a major undertaking (showing up early at the station, baggage screening, waiting in the departure lounge), the ride itself is smoother than on the average train back home. And there are a lot of trains and they are on time. Therefore, traveling long distances on sleeper trains is a no-brainer, very cheap and comfortable.

Food: OK, I don't really fancy Chinese food. But the quality of food is absolutely excellent. Even if you eat from a small stand on the street, you get good quality. China has so much variety in food that eating out never gets boring (as long as you're willing to try out new stuff). I will definitely also miss the spicy "Hot Pot", which became one of my favorite dish. Also there are instant drinks, such as chilled Green Tea or hot Milk Tea with Coconut pebbles which I will miss.

Water reflections in the Suzhou park

Toilets: You may call me crazy for liking them - but hear my out. To be honest, the ratio clean vs. dirty public toilets seems to be the same everywhere in the world. A lot of public toilets in Europe stink as well. However - and I herewith confess - I am the guy using loads of toilet paper to clean and cover any public toilet seat before sitting down. Therefore, I do prefer the squat type toilets which are most common throughout China. There is no need to clean seats and big business is done very quickly. And hey, I even got used to the fact that I can see my squat neighbor, because usually there are no toilet doors in China.

As you might have guessed from the above small recap of positive things, I am ready to leave the country. For the past two weeks I've been trying to arrange travel to Tibet, and - although it is open for Western tourists - it is not possible to visit that place as an individual backpacker. Only group tours, closely guarded, and coming at a premium price may go there.

To obtain this level of knowledge, I had to roam around bigger cities, like Wuhan, Hangzhou and Nanjing, where I took every opportunity to see travel agents and inquiring hostels about the various possibilities to visit Lhasa (Tibet) as the official situation still remains unclear and rules change every day.

The final straw was broken when I learned of Thomas' experience. I traveled partly with him through China and we still keep in contact. Well, Thomas simply booked - with the help of his Chinese girl-friend - a train to Lhasa in an effort to put the rumors to the test. Upon his arrival in Lhasa, he was greeted by the local authorities and being told that he had to leave Tibet as soon as possible. So, I guess that I won't be able to see Tibet this year. Which is a shame.

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