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Chinese culture

Sushi & soaking

I have become a lazy traveller.

What makes a great travel destination? For some its history, for others maybe culture, architecture or art. For me these days it seems to be all about the food. Not sure exactly when this happened, I’d say it was somewhere between those Namibian oysters and that lovely artichoke in Lodi, CA. The city scape photos with our Canon SLR camera are slowly making way for iPhone snaps of sushi and bowls of noodles. I’d rather soak it up than capture it.


Maybe it’s just Japan that is making me care less about pixels. It is the only holiday I’ve ever been on where I have not been disappointed, not even once, with the food on our plates, despite my travel companions’ craving for carbohydrates and my fussy eating past (I can hear a few people thinking ‘o yes very fussy’).

So I have to write about the food in Japan. Obviously it will be just the tip of the iceberg but what the heck.

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The coffee machine

Sometimes living in a foreign culture puts you in touch with the less pleasant parts of your personality especially when your patience gets tested and even more so when you are not a very patient person to begin with.

When we returned to China after our little Christmas break in Europe, things just weren’t the same. With my appetite gone and my previous enthusiasm for learning Chinese evaporated into thin air, they all started turning against me… or so it seemed.

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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…


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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Venice of the East

When I visited Suzhou earlier this year, with the aim of putting my stamp of approval on the whole ‘moving to China’ project, I thought calling the place the ‘Venice of the East’ was a bit of a stretch. As I was only here for a week and spent most of it either tired, overwhelmed or looking at shopping malls or supermarkets (don’t ask), not much sightseeing was accomplished.

One day last week as I was walking around the old town (well I was at stop two of my ‘let’s get off at every metro station, look around and if it looks anyway decent, go for a wander’ game), I found this tiny little old street called ‘Ping Jiang Lu’ (Lu meaning road) which ran along a narrow canal with some lovely arch bridges. I quickly realized that this street is probably in every guide book (obviously we didn’t have one the last time…) but I didn’t care because it was very nice and I was beginning to get on board with the whole ‘Venice of the East’ thing.

Ping Jiang Lu

The ancient cobblestone road is aligned with trees, cafes, some of the oldest tea houses in this area, and my favorite, a few small shops selling cards and paper goods.

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