Today, we awoke at 6:10 to eat our final Suzhou High School breakfast. After spending a painful half-hour packing, the entire group met at the International office to get ready for a tour of Suzhou. We said goodbye to all of the students and teachers, especially Mr. Chan who had a wicked Ping-Pong serve. Our first stop was a famous Suzhou garden, called the Lingering Garden. The scenery was beautiful and the buildings were built in an ancient Chinese fashion that always makes for a good picture. Speaking of pictures, I was asked to be in two photos of random Chinese people because I am a blond foreigner. That, combined with a few earlier pictures, combines to give me 6 random photos with strangers, a commanding lead over Peter’s 4.
From the garden, we went to Suzhou’s oldest silk factory, which is hard to believe considering the guide told us that it was only around 90 years old. In any case, we saw the process of making silk and we bought some lovely souvenirs. Interestingly, all of the silk ties were atrociously ugly, so I tried my best to pick out a safe, solid-colored tie for my dad.
From there, we ate lunch at the restaurant on site. Fortunately for some and unfortunately for others, lunch was Western food. After lunch, we rode to a leaning tower on Suzhou’s highest hill, which was a whopping 34 meters high. Once again, the tower had beautiful eastern architecture and we all got some fabulous photos.
Finally, we went to a Buddhist temple, which had a high tower from which all of the locals tossed money. Being stupid Americans who were trying to fit in, we all tossed most of our change off too, hitting some unlucky locals along the way. Then it was off to dinner, which constituted a return to Chinese food. We all piled into the car after dinner and went to the train station. The train to Xi’an had many rooms on it, with each room consisting of two sets of 3 bed high bunk beds. I had the top bunk and since it was about the halfway point of the trip, I decided to reflect upon my time thus far in China before I passed out.
China is a country that is growing at an incredible rate. Earlier on the trip, Ms. Zhang commented upon the fact that things changed enormously every time she came back. Because there is so much change, there are a lot of juxtapositions. The old city walls and temples now have to compete with tall and flashy buildings. The newly rich buy Gucci bags and BMW’s while the poor live on very little money. We saw this demonstrated very clearly when our hosts in Suzhou, for the most part, drove nice cars and lived in big houses or nice apartments, while a trip down a side street in Suzhou revealed a street market, teeming with dead animals, dirt, and poor Chinese people. A final clash that will be very interesting to watch play out is that between the communist party, which overthrew the nationalists and brought some freedom to all, and the free-market economy, which is the driving force behind China’s 8.5% growth yearly over the last two decades. Walking down the street, one can clearly see the fact that business and a market economy has brought prosperity to China in the fact that there are Western brands everywhere. However, a trip to the hospital reveals the cost-efficiency and usefulness of communist healthcare. For me, this trip has opened my eyes to the old and cultural aspects of China, but it has also showed me the clash of cultures that plays out in this country everyday.