Saturday, June 7, 2008

China Day 08: Along the Grand Canal

We took a bus a short distance to where we could boat along the canal. The Shanghai buses are very tricky. Yesterday's was just kind of cramped; today's has a trick seat! The back of the seat next to Dad would not lock into place, so you either 1) exercised your abs staying upright, or 2) ended up lying in the lap of the person behind you, contemplating the bus ceiling. I abandoned Dad and sat with Bob (the dog lover) across the way.

The city of Suzhou is much older than Shanghai, and it is famous for three things: canals, gardens, and silk production. Our tour covered all three, beginning with canals; Suzhou is situated on China's famous Grand Canal, and is nicknamed "the Venice of the East". All the big rivers in China run east-west, but back in the day (500 BC or so), China desperately needed a north-south waterway to connect the Beijing area with the area around Hanzhou, near here, which was the capital then. So they built over 1000 miles of artificial river and called it the Grand Canal. According to the invaluable Wikipedia, it took around a thousand years to complete - it wasn't all connected up until between 500 and 600 AD.

We only experienced a tiny segment of the Canal - just the section in and around Suzhou - but we loved it! Our boat was a low barge
(there are a lot of low bridges on this canal)
but it had a flip top! The driver could open the back half of the roof and you could stand up there to take photos!

The houses along the canal are built right up against it
(I apologize for the "avant garde" nature of this photo; I was working at arm's length). I love the way the house steps give access to the water:
and I love the misty "alleyways" we passed through
although the foundations must be permanently wet; not good for us asthmatics!
The romance is marred slightly by observing the way the canal water is used for all ordinary household purposes: this lady is doing laundry
while across the canal other households are washing out everything from dishes to chamberpots.
Some sections of the bank have actual streets, with shops, or at least stalls:
or docks where you could tie up a boat - this one is a floating restaurant:
and the banks were frequently adorned with lovely bridges (this one is reputed to date to the Ming dynasty!)
At some of the more picturesque bridges we saw couples taking wedding pictures although we were told it wasn't their actual wedding day; just like at home, they often do posed photos beforehand. And the local people apparently enjoy tourist-watching from this bridge:
This adorable little boy
in his split pants
watched our boat intently the whole time we were visible; he liked it so much his daddy brought him over to the other side of the bridge so he could watch us sail away!

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