China Blog 2011

Suzhou, the Modern China

All things shall come to pass.  So I'm learning to eat less, and  we have gotten a couple of varied dinners (and I realize I disliked warmish food that should be hot, and warmish food that should be cold).  I just eat what works for me.  And I've found 2 Diet Cokes and some Oreos to keep me appeased.

We continue to shop, but without the pressure, I don't mind. Finally made my first purchase (shipped home): a pure 8 layer silk comforter.  Will buy duvet covers at home.  Incredibly light and soft.  A good buy I think at $145 includes shipping.  And I totally fell in love with a four panel wooden screen, each panel filled with an incredible silk embroidery about 5' x 2' of the four seasons.  I've wanted a screen for a long time, but now I'll never buy one.  None could compare to this beauty.  But I just couldn't part with the $70,000 it cost-- even though that did include shipping!  

We have been awed by the new and old cities of Suzhou!  (WILL SOMEONE LOOK UP SUZHOU, CHINA, ON www.home and let me know if there are places for rent here and how much? )  The Lingering Garden of old city is enchanted with wooden buildings and passageways that evoke images of concubines sliding around on bound feet in gorgeous silks.  Maybe because we saw two pairs of "Lilly shoes" there.  Along with mahogany furniture, screens, bonsai gardens, streams, rock formations, mums and other flowers, picture windows (not our types, but ones that frame pictures of what is beyond).  A truly enchanted experience, even with hundreds of our Chinese friends...all of whom love to take pictures of and with us, and are thrilled when we take pictures of their babies.  We've learned to say "adorable" in Chinese.

Suzhou is incredible. Fifteen years ago, nothing but rice paddies outside the old city.  Then government saw a chance to make money (natural huge lake, the Grand Canal that carries barged products north to south), and a huge partnership with Singapore.  I don't really understand, but think they invested and China built 3000 factories here...though we really never saw one.  Instead, we saw literally hundreds of flashy new apartment buildings, many appearing empty, unfinished,and without workers.  Then there is Singapore Center..a mirage-like Las Vegas with amazing lights at night.  Think whole huge buildings that continually change colors, public art in colored lights, bridges lined and trees (1000s alll newly planted!) lit up like Christmas.  And of course, the now ubiquitous designer malls and stores.  

We got dinner on the causeway full of fabulous expensive restaurants lighted parking out there, so people taxi or bike in (electric mopeds very popular).  I walked out on the waterside to take photos and meditate on change.  

We think of communism as anti-capitalism, but if this isn't about money, I don't know what is!  But rather than investors, entrepreneurs, and inherited money, this place was created by government fiat.  The leaders must have some sense of what they are creating, but I can't imagine a next generation to willingly stay put if they aren't a beneficiary.  The young seem educated, and TV savvy even if they can't get to Facebook (it is blocked).  Of course, we aren't meeting the poor...though we hear a bit of the party-line story (old women still keeping hands all day in boiling water to pull silk threads from cocoons appreciate their low income, because they get insurance and welfare, and soft hands).  And we do see them in decimated areas of town, sitting in a tiny stalls, or single slivers of otherwise abandoned buildings selling their wares into the night.  Or watering shrubs on a rooftop, then going down stairs to rooms that are bare except for bed and a single wall hanging, and tv.  

In 1987, Chinese themselves could not enter the door of Friendship stores or hotels where foreigners like me could buy anything.  Western goods were off limits...except select pirated movies and some books.  That door has been opened.  And I'm not sure if they have tumbled into Oz (what if the wizard is a phony money scheme based on a housing bubble that could burst), or Wonderland (it really does all feel surreal to see sexy everything in a country that denies Facebook claiming it includes pornography), or some sci fi novel of a future America has yet to see.  But here we are.  About to descend back into Shanghai and a crazy bazaar (no one told me this was a shopping trip!). Tomorrow, however, we go into the wilds of Zhangjiejia, parts of which inspired Cameron to design the landscape of Avatar.  Stay tuned.

P.S. You can email me at with comments.  I'll have more time on my own to comment next week.  Questions welcome!  Thanks for reading.