We left China two days ago and the last few days were most definitely the most memorable of the whole time we spent there. It might be because we saw a bundle of exciting and interesting places or it could be because we finally started getting used to the Chinese lifestyle (read: pork dumplings and chili for breakfast). Regardless, the outcome was that China ended up leaving a wanting taste in your mouth, a craving even. With our tiny trial in a city with no spoken English, I think I'd be ready for a tour in the central parts of China.
Our first venture outside Shanghai was to the city of Suzhou – the city, which the Chinese compare to Heaven. We started out early from our hostel, grabbed a quick breakfast and stepped onto a train to Suzhou. As the train sped through the suburban areas of Shanghai, I felt pity. The land had been built full of industrial fields of warehouses, storages, factories and interconnecting roads. The smog started clearing up as we fled from the central parts of Shanghai but nature never showed its face throughout the whole ride to Suzhou.
At the train station, just outside the gates, we were greeted quite aggressively by an army of face-to-face salesmen and women. They were selling maps, taxi rides, tour bus rides, food, little gadgets. They obviously saw that we were tourists and were actually fighting with each other to get our attention. Hello, hello. Engalish map, engalish map. Taxi? Suzhou garden? Hello, hello.
After circling around the station, looking for a subway that didn't actually exists even though there were signs pointing towards it, we managed to get a taxi to take us the central parts of Suzhou. Directing the taxi driver to the right place was as problematic as it had been in Shanghai because the driver couldn't speak English and we had no actual directions of where to go in Chinese. Maria even drew him some pretty flowers and trees, so that we'd get to a garden.
After some walking and a quick lunch, we came to the North Temple Pagoda. I had never seen a pagoda in my whole life and the sight was marvelous. Such a simple building, yet somehow so intriguing. I don't know much about Buddhism but my interests definitely arose as the golden statues stared at me with their knowing eyes. Their presence around the pagoda and inside the nearby temple was somehow dominating.
We set out on foot for the next pagoda, which was on Tiger's Hill. According to the map, there was a straight road leading to the hill and the distance should be close to two kilometers. After walking for half an hour straight towards our destination, our surroundings started to be quite authentically local and the buildings were getting poorer and poorer. This is when we stopped and took a look into the map we had and noticed that none of the streets we had seen were on the map. The distances were screwed up as well. The truth was that we were walking through the suburban area of a slum with a map that didn't have our location on it. Luckily it was a really hot day and we had barely any water left. It also helped that we were the only two people who could speak any European language. We were lost.
After some misdirected information, a few wrong turns, some stops to sip from our bottles with the ever-shrinking amount of water in them and help from an extremely friendly local girl, we managed to get on a bus to our direction. We offered the bus driver some money but he just directed us towards the seats, and we smiled.
Tiger's Hill had a calm atmosphere and the remnants of an ancient forest echoed with wisdom. We didn't have much time left to explore the area because the getting lost part had taken quite a chunk of our time. The hill was the closest we ever got to the older Chinese culture but I'm quite sure it was not the last of China I saw.