Monday, February 2, 2009

Suzhou's facelift

Old town

New town

Suzhou is far from as hip, as happening or as fun as Shanghai, although living here is still quite OK (Shanghai's only a mere 35 min train ride away). I find Suzhou a bit more outdoorsy-friendly than Shanghai... I like the fact that the bike lanes are wide (as I love riding a bike) and that you can go for a run without almost being hit by a car the moment you step out on the street (going for a run in central Shanghai isn't quite as much fun -unless you go in the middle of the night). I live in a rather new part of Suzhou, namely SIP -Suzhou's Industrial Park and everything over here is fairly new, shiny and neat (now, don't ask me why they have decided to call it 'industrial park' because this place is ten times more a family-friendly spot than some industrial zone, but I've come across so many funny names in China that I have stopped questioning).

Often when I take a taxi I engage in a chat with a taxi driver and they love telling me the story of how 'Suzhou is changing so much' and that 'Ten years ago none of this existed' (while doing a sweeping move with their hand, indicating at all the shining new buildings outside the car window). But SIP is growing steadily and new shopping centers/ living complexes are shooting up everywhere. Just the other day we rode our bikes across the Jinji Hu (big lake) bridge and entered SIP's newest pride: 'Times Square,' a square that consists of two shiny new malls, upscale shopping outlets, as well as a Starbucks, a Pizza Hut and a KFC -probably the three most popular western food places in China (don't quote me on that, but it seems that these three 'restaurants' tend to open up wherever a new shopping center in China is being built). I was personally quite excited about the Freshmart -a grocery shop that offers fresh sushi and an extensive (but expensive) selection of western yoghurt and cheese, but I found the rest of the square to be a bit boring and predictable. It's always the same. The same shops and the same, shiny new looks. Also, one thing that bothers me is that there are no good restaurants in those shiny new squares. There are no small little Chinese places with hand written menus, cheap dishes and chatty waiters -if you want to eat you will have to settle for fast food or some stiff looking new Chinese restaurant with super bright photo menus showing yellow looking dumplings and fried rice.

I prefer the older parts of Suzhou. The gardens, the Tiger Hill, the old lanes of Shi Lu where you can take a canal ride. I know these are now considered as real 'tourist traps' but at least they feel a bit more 'real' than the new, shiny Suzhou that is shaping up in the east part of the city. It's quite weird to watch how the contrast between 'old' and 'new' seem to be growing stronger for every day here in China. I personally hope that while Suzhou's city council is creating the 'new and shiny Suzhou' they keep at least some of the 'old, dirty lanes.' After all, those places are what makes China so charming. And so China.

On my way to Times Square

View from the bridge

Times Square

Freshmart's sushi selection

Shi Lu canal ride

Shi Lu

Tiger Hill

Tiger Hill

A touristy snap from Tiger Hill

41 comments:

Jono said...

Wow - Suzhou seems like such a beautiful place, I will definitely add it to my (increasingly long) list of places to visit in China. I too worry about the construction of all these 'new town' districts, which to me seem quite cold, barren and a blatent reminder of the many shopping centres and malls that people visit in the west - and which personally I hate. It will be a sad day when you have to walk over 30 minutes to find your nearest 成都小吃 or when you are forced to eat at KFT, Macdonalds or some other vulgar fast food chain simply due to lack of choice - yet already there are many parts of Beijing where this is an increasingly common phenomenon... I don't want to pay 20-30元 for a bowl of noodles at 味千拉面 when a small local restaurant can do something far better for less than 10元!Furthermore I am concerned on the effect this could have on the poorer Chinese citizens - who will slowly be forced outwards to the peripheries of the city, unable to afford the extortionate restaurant chains in the city centre. I only hope that the Chinese wake up to this old-town genocide before it is too late - and yet many of the Chinese nouveau-riche seem only too content to eat in these 'modern' restaurants, places to be seen and flash about their newfound wealth.... 真是死要面子活受罪

Jonna Wibelius said...

Jono -my thoughts exactly... also, isn't it interesting that the cheaper the food the better the taste?

Jono said...

It is indeed interesting - and yet it also seems an inherent aspect of Chinese society... that is to say that some people over here (usually referring to the rich) are quite often willing to pay well over the odds for something just to make themselves look good. They will buy fruit and veg in supermarkets where the prices are often thrice those of local markets, they will buy clothes in Nike and Adidas high-street outlets even though they could be bought far cheaper online or at clothes markets and in restaurants they will eat many rare species of animals to extinction - not so much because of the great flavour but rather due to the three or even four figure price tag. One of the many things I have learnt from my relatively short stay in China is not to judge something by its price tag alone. So yes... it is interesting that the cheaper restaurants often make the best food, but it's not necessarily surprising.

The Acolyte Tao said...

Wow, such a beautiful place. I've always wanted to visit China. I'm quite jealous you live there actually Jonna. My best friend/ex-girl friend is Chinese and she got me really into only going to Chinese/Vietnamese markets to shop and into their food and traditional music, such a beautiful culture.

Colleen said...

I'm so excited to have found your blog! Your pictures are beautiful, and I love hearing about your thoughts/experiences in China. My sister is in China for 6 months teaching English. The city she's in is called Zhonshan. I'm so jealous of her having such a great experience!

I've never been to China, but even here in the states, my husband and I usually prefer the little dingy "mom and pop" restaurants over chains. I love it when the owner comes out to great you and he/she is the one doing a lot of the cooking. It's always so much more fun and interesting, and the food DOES usually taste better. I'm excited that you like riding your bike around. There are never enough wide bike lanes IMO. I hope they keep some of the old too.

febriana said...

Hi Jonna, me personally prefer the "old" town too. It has more character to it. Nice pictures by the way.

flyingfish said...

Great post, Jonna! The pictures are spectacular and it is also extremely well-written. I haven't been to Suzhou for 20 years. Reading this post really made me want to come back for another look.

On another note, if you have time, please check out my latest Chinese language blog post:

http://feiyu-yiwangrongfeng.blogspot.com/

It's long, so I am sure you won't have time to read all of it, but at least it should show you that there is nothing so hard about blogging in Chinese. So, if you ever feel like it, go for it!

Vaisakh P S said...

wow.. a really nice place.. So serene , so calm. Lets just hope the changes in Suzhou wont change it
I would definitely visit Suzhou.

flowrgirl1 said...

sounds really cool. What a wonderful and exciting life you live!

mr.gongga said...

Suzhou interest and beautiful town,...i like..

m--e said...

My company did some animations for the sky screen that is over Times Square. You can see what it looks like at night and some photos during the construction here: http://blog.emilyminor.com/labels/Suzhou.html

I also think it is a shame to tear down all of the old for the new. I am happy that this new place is on the edge of town, not in the center! (Though I can't fault anyone for choosing to live in a new apartment instead of a crumbling, old lane house without indoor plumbing.)

Lilly said...

Hi!
First time to visit your blog.
Very nice photos and I like it!

They sell Sushi!?
I recommend to come to Japan and taste them!

Diego said...

Nice pictures.

dinkan said...

great...its nice to know abt china thru a personalised experience, photos and writings...keep writing

Ventana de TeePee said...

I been to 苏州 once when my family and I visited a friend in 无锡. I love the gardens there which make me wonder the 苏州 people back in the old days really know how to enjoy life. :)

As the saying goes... "上有天堂,下有苏杭" The beauty of 苏州 really live up to its name of "人间天堂".

kanmuri said...

I prefer the old to the new. It looks more Chinese. The more the cities become modern, the more they start looking like any other modern city in the world.

About KFC being popular, I saw a documentary on JApanese TV that said that the duck producers in China have a lot of problems because they can't sell as much ducks as before, for people like chicken better now, most specifically, KFC.

Nue said...

I'm so jealous. You must be having a great time!

said...

There is a Chinese expression: 物以稀为贵/ a thing is precious if it is rare.

In Hong Kong, you can find KFC/Mcdonald's in every district. The funny thing is, if you go to some of these fast food restaurants which are near people’s living complex (not the hot shopping area), you will find out that their business are not as good as their Mainland branches. Even though the price of their menus is quite cheap compared with other local food restaurants, their chairs are not well seated even when it’s dinner times. At the same time, people are starting being crazy about some time-honored tradition 大排档( small local street food restaurants ). According to the law, these kind of restaurants are run with government-issued licence. If the owner and his wife are both dead, the government will get their licences back, and the restaurant will be dead. Many 大排档 have been run for decades, the owners are getting older. Some of them have passed away. People suddenly find out that their familiar places are fading away. A lot of people started having dinner there since they were kids, it’s their 集体回忆/collective memory(HK people mention this term a lot recently). So people and the government are starting being supportive and protective about these restaurants badly.

The number of western food restaurants in China is still small compared with local food restaurant.人们失去了才会懂得珍惜/ people only get to know how to appreciate and cherish things after they lose it. I just hope that it will not be too late! Some of you may think it already is, but I keep my optimism.

Jono, 你那句话让我想起了电影《大碗》的经典对白:
一定得选最好的黄金地段/ 雇法国设计师/ 建就得建最高档次的公寓/ 电梯直接入户/ 户型最小也得四百平米/ 什么宽带呀,光缆呀,卫星呀/ 能给他接的全给他接上/ 楼上边有花园(儿),楼里边有游泳池/ 楼子里站一个英国管家/ 戴假发,特绅士的那种 /业主一进门(儿),甭管有事(儿)没事(儿)都得跟人家说/ may i help you sir (我能为您作点什么吗?)/ 一口地道的英国伦敦腔(儿)/ 倍(儿)有面子/ 社区里再建一所贵族学校/ 教材用哈佛的/ 一年光学费就得几万美金/ 再建一所美国诊所(儿)/ 二十四小时候诊/ 就是一个字(儿) 贵/ 看感冒就得花个万八千的/ 周围的邻居不是开宝马就是开奔驰/ 你要是开一日本车呀/ 你都不好意思跟人家打招呼/ 你说这样的公寓,一平米你得卖多少钱/ 我觉得怎么着也得两千美金吧/ 两千美金, 那是成本/ 四千美金起/ 你别嫌贵 还不打折/ 你得研究业主的购物心理/ 愿意掏两千美金买房的业主/ 根本不在乎再多掏两千/ 什么叫成功人士 你知道吗?/ 成功人士就是买什么东西/ 都买最贵的, 不买最好的/ 所以,我们做房地产的口号(儿)就是 /不求最好 但求最贵!

Björn Bock said...

Hi Jonna,

i went to china a long time ago.
But china lost much of his charme!
I like the way you life. If i were younger i would do the same.

Great blog!

Greetings Björn

Kena Siu said...

Hello Jonna, very interesting journey you have...I definitely will keep track of you so I can learn more about my an ancestors. My grandpa arrived to Mexico when he was around 12 years old, unfortunately I wasn't able to meet him. He was born in Canton, now called Guangzhou. For what I know he wasn't able to pronounce the 'R' properly.
Good luck with your language skills, I may think you really need them.
Cheers!

Tripfriend said...

Sounds a bit like Xi'an. I live in the "International High-Tech Development Zone" It's still got a lot of construction going on, so a lot of the buildings are still fairly clean. You can see a large difference when you leave this area and go to one of the older parts of the city. Especially inside the city walls.

Kristina said...

Hey! I love the pictures you have on your blog. I am an American volunteer teaching in Western China for two years. I have enjoyed reading your perspective on China. :)

IT Freak said...

Nice to be @ your blog. Very nice, keep it up & best of luck to you.

Mel said...

Hi Jonna,
I stumbled across your blog over the weekend and I'm enthralled by your journey in China so far! The read is quite addictive! Almost like a soap opera...
I love it!

Jono said...

斌,谢谢您的留言,真是非常有意思。您写的那句“物以稀为贵”很恰当,正好能描写我所提的那个社会现象。

“人们失去了才会懂得珍惜”这句话也让我想起了我最近读过的一本书,那就是"中国之路"。记者Rob Gifford记录了从上海外滩到与哈萨克斯坦接壤的中国边境这4800公里旅程的旅行故事。作者与上海某家电台的名叫Ye Sha的主持人进行采访时,Ye Sha说:

"I thing China is like a beautiful old house that is about to be knocked down. People are living in it, and some of them want to put on extensions or make renovations. But in the end they don't feel comfortable living in the old house: it doesn't suit them, so they decide to knock it down. The residents take one final walk through the house, and suddenly they find something very precious, some treasures that they didn't know were there before. It was only when they were going to knock the house down that they thought of looking. This is what I want to happen with China in the next few years, before we knock everything down - that we rediscover something precious in the rooms of the old house, something Chinese, something hidden that is waiting to be rediscovered"

以上主持人做的的隐喻和您在香港意识到的那种现象很像。这就是说人们突然发现他们那些很熟悉的,从小就有的地方已经在逐渐消失,所以他们最终采取行动,想方设法保留这些可贵的,中国味浓郁的遗物。在香港,有可能这个拯救中国文化的活动势头已经相当大,不过就我而言在中国大陆这种百姓对中国文化减弱的意识仍然很浅。我们就能希望当中国人发现去旧迎新所导致的后果时,他们还能来得及使他们所造成的损失减小,还能延续和保留国粹。

至于您说的那部片子,我一定要去看!

Jonathan

Rachete said...

You make me want to travel. Nice photos.

http://racheteapaintersdiary.blogspot.com/

Little Tiger said...

Suzhou looks like a nice place to live. I love the contrast between modern and old in any city. Tiger hill looks especially interesting! ;-p

Jonna Wibelius said...

m--e -yeah I agree with you that some new living complexes might be well in place but in a way it is a shame that they are tearing down all the old stuff rather than preserving it.

Bekah said...

Last year I went to China for the first time for work and spent three weeks in Suzhou and this post brought back some great memories. Your first picture of Old Suzhou is almost identical to a picture I took that is now hanging in my living room. I look forward to hearing more of your stories.

said...

Jono, I’m sorry, I typed the wrong movie name. It should be 大腕/Big Shots Funeral. I hope that it didn’t cause you any inconvenience. Enjoy 冯小刚's movie!

Jonna, it looks like 牛/Ox year is your lucky year! it becomes more and more crowded and warm here. 真的是牛气冲天!Congratulation, keep up the good effort.

Jonna Wibelius said...

斌 -是啊! 牛年刚开始了, 已经很不错, 哈哈。

Anuz said...

beautiful snaps,
these malls and all those MacD's and pizza huts have sprang up everywhere, I like old markets, whenever my metropolis life allows me, i make it a point to visit old style markets, they are so much fun, shopkeepers are so welcoming and natural, they dont look like hypnotised.

Anonymous said...

Id like to see some pictures of the 'old' where everyday Chinese live who arent part of the rising socio/economic class. CCTV doesnt show it. The most you see are the old shopping areas where people live over the business.

Jim

Anonymous said...

"It is interesting that the cheaper restaurants often make the best food, but it's not necessarily surprising."

In my area we have a number of Chinese restaurants called 'Buck a Scoop'. A Buck is colloquial for a US dollar about 8 RMB. They are independent not a chain. Each has about 10 stirfrys with standard soups and noodles. Any item is only a Buck. Ill usually get one stirfry with noodles which comes to $2. The pop or tea is also a Buck. I just order water which is free. They use big scoops for serving. Cheaper than anything youll find at any fast food franchise. Theyre usually located in rundown business stripmalls. Unfortunately the closest one to me is about 9 miles or 15km. You can eat in but the dining leaves something to be desired, pastic tableware, old tables, chairs and the omnipresent unisex restroom which someone is always using or the door is always open.

Jim

Beauty through broken glass said...

I really love the pictures

P S said...

I am more interested in China to maintain their priceless heritages and cultures instead of going too modern in their urban development. :D

Funny Toaster said...

Beauty photos!!! Thank u!!!

Anonymous said...

I have not seen Suzhou since 2004 - seems that it has changed (for the better).
Hope you enjoy your stay as much as I did.

Marco said...

Hi Jonna, during my studies I was in Suzhou and very much has changed. You have a very nice blog and you transmit the flair and the great people over there. I admire your lifestyle

Gruß Marco

big t said...

where have you gone?

Peter said...

You have made a great trip and would gladly do so. Due to my young family, this is no longer so easy. Enjoy it as long as you can. Regards Peter