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Monday, 01 March 2021

Xi'an & Suzhou - Page 3

Written by Eric D. Goodman
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Dumpling of a Dynasty

The dumpling feast featured eighteen different kinds of dumplings, and the accompanying costume show was based on the sort of musical entertainment the Emperor and Empress would have enjoyed during the Tang Dynasty. The show included dancing, costumes, a bit of acrobatics, and traditional Chinese songs.

 

After dinner, we drove thru the city walls to see the city at night. It certainly looked different at night—and at a much slower driving pace. We visited the “times square” of Xi’an and the Bell and Drum Towers, this time all lit up. Once we arrived back at our hotel, we noticed that, when illuminated, you could clearly see the drum and bell towers from our hotel window. When we went to our beds, we kept the curtains open to the night lights. But it was the terracotta warriors who still occupied our dreams.

 

A Day of Three Cities

The next morning, the bellboy took our luggage—and the next time we saw our bags they were waiting for us in Suzhou. After breakfast we’d planned to take a taxi to the Big Wild Goose Pagoda, but with our flight looming and after our recent experience with the crazy rickshaw taxi, we decided not to press our luck.

 

Instead we walked along the city wall again, and in the garden. We witnessed groups of people doing tai chi, badminton, hacky sack badminton, jump ropes, people snapping whips, staffs and bows, people dancing, flying kites, moving and dancing while balancing a ball on a racket, people playing instruments and singing, painting, and much more. It was something we’re not used to seeing in the states. It’s as though every retiree and many workers were taking a refreshing break from business to relax and enjoy the simple pleasures.

 

After we walked, we came back to our hotel and got on the bus to go to the airport. But while driving we learned there was a flight delay. Instead of sitting around and waiting, our tour guide took us to Hanyangling Mausoleum and Museum.

  

Terracotta Junior

The Hanyangling (0r Han Yangling) Mausoleum and Museum was another Emperor’s burial ground, where miniature Terracotta figures were found. This mound was discovered, and the museum is currently located, about twelve miles north of Xi’an in the farming village of Zhangjiawan. This was the final resting place of Emperor Liu Qi and his wife, Empress Wang, and was built in 153 A.D. More than 3,000 artifacts have been excavated from the pits belonging to the couple, surpassing even those found in the main Terracotta Museum.

 

Some of the terracotta figures here included pigs, sheep, cows, and soldiers. The glass floor allowed us to look down into the pits and see the figurines as we walked over them. A hologram movie detailed the history and discovery. Especially interesting: the remains of an old dirt-constructed city wall. After the museum we said goodbye to Xi’an and flew to Shanghai.

 

Skirting Shanghai

Shanghai was our relay, but not our destination; that would come later. Once we landed in Shanghai we got a new tour guide and hopped on a coach destined for Suzhou.

 

But we got a taste as we passed through the outskirts of what is probably the fastest-growing city on earth. Some of the skyscrapers and buildings form a distance were unique and amazing—as was the sheer mass of seeing so many buildings and so much construction concentrated in one area. As the skyscrapers gave way to farmland, our guide entertained us from time to time with information, stories, and jokes.

 

We have a very good driver,” he assured us. “Number Two Driver. It is the best kind to have, because a Number One Driver is already in the hospital or jail.”

 

The drive lasted three hours, and the farmland was a beautiful contrast to the high-density cities of Beijing, Shanghai, and even the concrete and steel of Xi’an. Once in Suzhou, we went straight to our hotel, the Grand Metro Park Hotel, settled in, and then walked in the lit-up neighborhood. We ended our day at a family market with green bean ice cream. It sounds disgusting, but it was delicious! At the same family market we bought dinner and tried unusual things like dried snow plums, cantaloupe gum, milk tea soft drink, and a flower tea. A flowery end to a long day.

 

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Silky Suzhou

With a population of about six million, Suzhou’s not nearly as huge as Shanghai, Beijing, or even Hangzhou. It’s known for its peaceful gardens and waterside canal towns where people live today as they did in generations past. But there was one important commodity that has made Suzhou a successful city throughout the ages—silk. Known over the centuries for both its silk production and fine silk embroidery, silk is what put Suzhou on the map. That, and the gardens, which date back to the Ming and Qing dynasties.

 

We woke early, checked out of our Suzhou five-star, stowed our luggage on the coach, and enjoyed an enormous breakfast of eggs, sticky rice, and jellyfish “noodles.”

 

Our first stop of the day was the Number One Silk Factory. We learned about the production of silk and saw each step firsthand. Our guide took us from the raising of the silkworms in different types of habitats to the cultivating of mulberry bushes to feed them. From the boiling of the silkworms to how silk pulled from multiple silkworms at a time to form one barely visible strand.

 

We also saw how some bigger silkworms are used differently, to create comforters and pillows—instead of pulling a thread of silk, the silkworms are pulled open on a stick, then a bigger one, then each single silkworm is stretched open to the size of a blanket. We even got to pull open one of the silkworms ourselves. These larger silkworms used to be thrown away because the silk strands couldn’t be pulled off like string—until a lady figured out how to use them and these “rejects” became even more prized than “normal” silk worms.

 

After the silk production factory, we visited Suzhou Lanli Garden Embroidery Research Institute, in an area surrounded by beautiful mountains. There, we viewed original, million-dollar silk embroidery works of art, and witnessed the process of embroidering silk into masterworks. We took in a number of different styles. For example, the double-sided works with different pictures on each side or figures that are different colors on each side, using the same stitch work. It was amazing to see the nimble needlework of the masters as they worked with multi-colored thread (one color on each side of the silk strand) so thin it was nearly invisible to the naked eye, to create two intricate pictures in one.

 

One work that impressed us was the portrait of a tiger who looked as clear as a photograph. When we rotated the center of the frame around to the other side, the same picture was there. These were not two of the same picture duplicated—it was the same picture, the needlework so masterful that it created twin copies of the same portrait at once.

 

Another amazing example was the two-sided image of a cat toying with a cricket. On one side, the cat is gray. On the other side, the identical picture can be found, but the cat is orange. These were not two works of embroidery matched up—it was the same thread with one side of the silk colored gray, the other orange. It was astounding that the embroidery masters could accomplish such a feat. But they do it every day.

 

After the silk production tour and silk embroidery institute tour, we were hungry. We took lunch at a local farmers’ restaurant, which was quite good. As with most of our lunches, an assortment of many kinds of food was placed on a lazy susan for us to share. As we ate, our guide pointed at one of our waitresses.

 

Beautiful, don’t you think?”

(Page 3 of 4)
Last modified on Monday, 01 March 2021

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