The last time I visited Suzhou was in 2006, and I only had the chance to see the ancient part of the city for a day's short trip. Life is amazing. When I first came to China in 2003, and even the last time I came to Suzhou in 2006, I never imagined that life would take me to Suzhou again. Nevertheless, here I am living and working in this wonderful city. The vast majority of my time in China has been spent in Shenzhen and Guangzhou (with some pockets of it in Shanghai and Beijing), and I suppose when one is used to travelling so much that it does not matter much where you live. However, on this occasion I did feel sad (even on some days I still do), of leaving Shenzhen and Guangzhou. I miss Guangdong Province (especially Shenzhen and Panyu!!), and felt homesick when I arrived in Shanghai and Suzhou. I have no close friends here, and the people are not as friendly and open to talk to strangers as they are in Shenzhen (this is true of the East Region of China). In addition, there are too many westerners here...it’s not as exotic as the real China down south! Anyways, I must stop complaining and whinging, and enjoy my life in Suzhou!
Suzhou is actually more or less a remote suburb of Shanghai (as most people see it). Indeed being located only 20 minutes away from Shanghai by the CRH high speed rail link, Suzhou is the perfect place to visit for a day's or weekend's break. The city is also gifted with excellent weather all year around with an average temperature of about 20 degrees Celsius (winter low of -2 degrees Celsius, and a summer high of around 30 degrees Celsius), and a perfect relative humidity of around 76%. Though the main source of income for the majority of local Suzhou people As a satellite city of Shanghai, Suzhou has grown in the past 10 years or so to become an industrial hub with many multinationals setting up their manufacturing facilities there due to the low land costs (well, these land costs are on the rise now). For tourists, writers, and photographers, the city is a gem of a place to visit.
The city is no stranger to any travel guide, and there are probably a million books and websites paying homage it to it. What does fascinate me is the stark contrast that Suzhou possesses between the ultra modern, clean, and spacious Suzhou Industrial Park (SIP) area, and the old city. The old city is the real Suzhou, and how Suzhou looked hundreds of years ago. It’s full of natural canals, ancient architecture, beautiful natural gardens, and lakes. While the SIP is the opposite. It is dominated with manmade canals, manmade parks, and ultra modern homes.
The SIP is the largest cooperation project between the Chinese and the Singaporean Government. It is located around the circumference of the beautiful Jinji Lake, which lies to the east of Suzhou Old city. SIP has a total jurisdiction area of 288 km2, of which, the China-Singapore cooperation area covers 80 km2 with a planned residential population of 1.2 million. This part of Suzhou is home to many Korean, Japanese, British, American, and German expatriates. Big corporations such as Bosch, Honeywell, Samsung, Hitachi, and many others dominate the area. To cater for the education of the growing number of expatriate children, famous international schools have set up lavish campuses in the SIP area. These include such fine establishments as Dulwich College. In fact, the SIP area in Suzhou is perhaps the most modern and cleanest part of China now. Its ultra wide roads, spacious clean parks, and huge shopping malls (Times Square Suzhou) make it a real home away from home for expatriates.
Cities such as Suzhou are definitely signify what the future of China may look like. There is one problem though- in the SIP area it is very difficult to get a taxi or a bus after, say, 8pm. It becomes almost like a ghost town. So the best way to travel around is on one of the electric bikes (E-bikes). But the problem with E-bikes is that they don’t make any noise, and with the way people drive erratically in China, it is very easy to get into an accident. The worst-case scenario is at night time when people drive wrongly in the opposite way without any headlights on (because they want to save battery power). People are so used to being struck into an accident that if there is an accident then they don’t show any emotion on the face whatsoever- it’s just a blank look as if nothing has happened. I hope that this transport problem should be resolved by the end of 2011, when two metro lines will open allowing residents to commute safely and quickly across the city.
Right, here are some photos that show life in and around Suzhou- the Venice of China!
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