This weekend, we traveled about 90 minutes outside of Shanghai to Suzhou – Sue Joe to be helpful. Suzhou just happens to be a sister city of Portland.
Kenny picked us up and was excited to share that he had downloaded some of his favorite American music for us to listen to on our drive. We drove through the crowded highways of China listening to Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston. Did I mention karaoke is big here in China?
I asked Kenny if Suzhou was a big city and he dismissed it with a shrug and a strong no. When looking into facts around Suzhou I found that the population is just over 4 million. Nothing, I guess, to someone who is born and raised Shanghainese.
Suzhou was originally founded in 514 BC during the Sui Dynasty. Let’s do a quick sidebar on the history of Dynasties in China. There have been 3 periods of Dynasty rule in China – Ancient, Imperial and Modern. Within the Ancient period there was Xia, Shang and Zhou. Imperial was not quite as organized and there were numerous Dynasties and through disagreements and battles was sometimes split into Dynasties governing over separate territories. But more recently within the Imperial period, Yuan (1271-1368), Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) Dynasties implemented some organization and key decisions in history and culture were made.
The Modern Dynasty, the one we are in now, has had 2 – Republic of China (1912-1949) and People’s Republic of China (1949 – present). Interesting to note, it is Chinese tradition that each new Dynasty writes the history of the Dynasty that preceded. It’s a good thing the U.S. government and the era of each new presidencies hasn’t caught on to this practice.
Any who, Suzhou was founded during the Imperial era, during one of the split Dynasties of North and South. It was the commercial hub for China before Shanghai. Many of the building’s architecture and gardens are original or have been rebuilt after battles to reflect the original era.
We visited the Zhuozheng Yuan or the Humble Administrator’s Garden, a garden dating back to the Ming Dynasty. According to Kenny and Wikipedia, it is the most famous garden in all of China. This garden, by the way, is the one that is the inspiration for the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland. Lan Su was built by visiting artisans from Suzhou. Go visit when you’re in Portland. It must be beautiful this time of year.
After touring the garden we went to Xuanmiao Guan temple or The Temple of Mystery. This Taoist temple is located in the center of the city. First founded in the Ancient Dynasty era (AD 276) it was destroyed by wars and rebuilt in 1174. There are two entrances to the temple – the Gate of Good Luck to the east and the Gate of Fulfilled Wishes to the west. We made sure to enter thru Good Luck and exit thru Fulfilled Wishes. A true sign of the Modern Era ruling is the McDonalds and KFC located just outside the gates of the temple – I like to think of that exit as the Gate of Obesity and Digestive Issues.
Our last visit was to the Silk Factory and Museum of Suzhou. Suzhou is known as the most premium in the manufacturing of Silk. The factory was fascinating and walked you through the production from silkworm to finished products. It was a bit like visiting Graceland, now stay with me, like Graceland in that, you are moved by the history and process and then disappointed when at the end of your guided tour you are dumped into a store to buy memorabilia, trinkets and trash. I wonder if Graceland and Ancient China have ever been compared before?
It was a beautiful fall day and it was great to take a drive, sing along with Man in the Mirror and visit the Sister City of our hometown.