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Stories about Suzhou

A taxi in China

Recently after a night out I accomplished something that I had unsuccessfully attempted on more than one occasion. I phoned a taxi and it came.

During previous efforts I always had to hang up halfway through the conversation with the Chinese telephone operator. Communication issues. I would usually be able to tell them in Chinese what my location was, however I could never understand what came next.

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Suzhou Markets

One of the great things about living in China is that there are markets everywhere and depending on whether you need vegetables, fish, plants, plates or puppies, you can be sure there is a market for it.

Suzhou wet market

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Kites & tyrants

When you walk around Jinji lake in Suzhou it’s not hard to figure out that people in China love flying kites (they invented them too). The many kite sellers and their customers are a dead give away, although they all seem to be hiding from the heat these days. Of course the Chinese would not be the Chinese if their kites did not have bells and whistles, usually in the form of lights, some so strong that we wondered what in god’s name was flying so high up in the sky on a recent summer evening. Apparently Chinese people like to fly their kites as high as possible and then let go of the string. In an article by CRI English on kite-flying in China Cui Puquan explains why:

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Reading about China

I recently dusted off the book Wild Swans by Jung Chang and started reading it again. Rarely do I read books twice but I read this one many years ago and recall it impressed me. It was before I ever thought I would be living in China so I am now reading it with different eyes.

Someone asked me recently if I had read any books about China and I decided to have a look on the bookshelf, both wooden and digital. Apart from the obvious culture-shock-avoiding and roads-less-travelled type of guides, there are a few more books I have enjoyed.

River Town by Peter Hessler, an American Peace Corps volunteer who spent two years in Fuling (Sichuan province) in 1996, teaching English at the local college. He recently returned to the river town and wrote an article about it for the National Geographic: Return to River Town.

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The laughing driver

Sometimes I forget how big Suzhou is. Today I took a trip across town to find the fabric and flea market. The taxi driver laughed when I showed him the taxi card I took from the handy color coded book. I normally don’t bring taxi cards since this forces me to practice my Mandarin but this time I was unsure of the name so I cheated. When the driver laughed I could not tell if it was about the pink taxi card or the chosen destination.

When I took out my phone to check the map, the driver laughed again. I told him in my best Chinese that I like looking at the map so I can familiarize myself with my surroundings and thus get my bearings. I didn’t really say all of this, just some words. Then I said Suzhou is very big and he said it was not. That was the end of our conversation.

As we arrived the driver pointed at the gate of the market and started laughing again. I just smiled back. It was hard to tell what kind of laugh it was but it seems to happen to me a lot. It generally makes me a little uncomfortable as it sounds like an “I’m laughing at you” laugh. Since I could hardly (read I was unable to) ask him what he was laughing about I remained in the dark. I was hoping the market would enlighten me, in the sense that if it was really shit, I knew what he had been laughing about. Then it would for sure have been an “I can’t believe you are going to this place” laugh…

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The wheel keeps on turning

Driving in China is not really an option. Firstly because I would need a Chinese licence (this can be overcome) and secondly because I value my life. So instead I’ve been having a go at sitting behind a different kind of wheel. This one stays indoors and can be found at a local ceramics studio hidden in a very far corner of an anonymous car park. It would have stayed undiscovered if it hadn’t been for an article in a local magazine and a little encouragement from a new German friend.

pottery wheel

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Ted says sell your waste

Last weekend I spent a very interesting afternoon at the TEDxSuzhou event City2.0 (how people are transforming cities). Some talks were in Chinese and I entertained myself during these by counting the number of words I could understand whilst chatting to my newly found friend. Luckily there was also content in English. One talk was particularly interesting to me as it was about recycling. Not that I am overly interested in this topic in general but I had been wondering for a while whether I should really be dumping all my recyclables in the trash or start looking for an alternative. Well there it was.

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Please come again :)

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