Sunday, April 26, 2009

Doors of Suzhou

I have tried to tell you something about what I have been doing since I have retired, and I've told you about my trip to Sao Paulo, my trip to Montreal, and now all my adventures in Suzhou, China, but now I'm just going to indulge in one of my favourite photo adventures. I love old doors. I notice doors that have seen better days, that have become worn with weather and use, that have been patched and repaired. I stop and take pictures of these doors. I often stop and focus on the old hinges or the worn and battered locks holding the doors shut.

I started this one March walking around Ottawa. I went out for a walk just to take pictures, and I started noticing how many different doors there were on the old houses around where my son lived. I photographed them, thinking about making a photo montage of them for him, but I never got to finishing that project. I took pictures of doors in Montreal, and in Sao Paulo, but then I hit Campeche Mexico. As a World Heritage Site, the building have to be maintained in their original historical condition, so the old town is a treasure trove of old doors. I took so many pictures of the doors there.

When I came to Suzhou so soon after Mexico, my interest in old doors continued and as I wander around the older parts of this city, I continue to shoot the doors. Now in Mexico, people looked at me sort of funny when I would bend down blocking he narrow sidewalks to take a picture of an interesting lock on a door, but here in Suzhou, they always look at me funny, so it is not big deal when I see the Chinese people looking at me with amazement in their eyes. I can imagine them saying to themselves “What is that crazy foreigner taking a picture of?

Oh well, Enjoy the old doors of Suzhou. Let me know if you like them and I'll post some of the wonderful doors I shot in Campeche.

And this is only a few of them!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Teaching English in China

My trip to China came about because I was asked to do some Teacher Training for Chinese Teachers who teach English to students here in Suzhou. After a month, I have gotten to know some of them very well. They have been teaching me to cook Chinese food, they have been giving me instructions to interesting places to visit, and they have been trying to teach me a few word of Chinese. I have developed a great deal of respect for these teachers and the great job they are doing under difficult circumstances.

There are a number of factors that make their job very hard. As I work with them every week I am learning as much about the Chinese system as they are about the Canadian. Officially my job was to help them better understand the Canadian system of education, and to give them some strategies to help them teach English, but I quickly learned that there was a lot more to it than that.

The biggest difficulty they have is their own mastery of English. I had some of them tell me that I was the first foreigner they have spoken to. All their English was learned in public school and and in college afterwards, and some of them learned it all from Chinese teachers. This situation is made worse, because once they start teaching, these young students become their only source of English conversation. They tell me that they are actually losing a lot of their English skills because of lack of practice. They have no one to speak to except the students who are themselves just learning. In order for some of the Teachers to understand me I have had to modify the way I speak to such a degree that during a Skype call home, my wife asked me why I was speaking to her like she was in grade one? The teachers have had to do this even more severely in their classrooms to accommodate their students , and they are losing the skills they developed in college.

The lack of English outside of schools creates another serious problem. The students have no real reason to learn English. They have no place to practice, and they see no need to learn it. The need is there though and getting more obvious all the time. I look around and see the biggest new apartment building and the biggest office towers advertising with English as prominent as Chinese, so just as the developers see the coming of the foreign boom to China and the need for English as a common language, I see that these students going through the schools now are going to need English to succeed in the International world that China is gearing up to exploit. The students, like children anywhere, do not see this. They speak Chinese everywhere they go. Other than to say “Hello” to the few foreigners and then run away giggling when we answer, they see no practical reason to learn or use English. To them they are studying English only to pass the exams. The students that do master English either because their parents pressure them, or someone else motivated them, are going to be the ones making the big salaries, driving the fancy cars, and living in the English named luxury apartments complexes . The lack of interest in English makes it terribly hard for the teachers to motivate the students to learn. At least ESL (English Second Language) learners in Canada are confronted constantly by the need to learn English to communicate, but here students just cannot see the need for English. Oh, the sign says "WET PAINT", but I didn't even need English to know that.

Lack of resources is the other major difficulty faced by these teachers. Their job is teaching English, but in most cases they are given standard exercises books, based primarily on Grammar. As I discussed the way reading was taught in canada with guided reading programs and explained about the hundreds of levered books needed in my little school of 300 students, I discovered that these teachers had no actual English books outside of the Exercise books. I explained the proven importance of reading aloud to students, but they explained they had no good books to read to their students. I discussed the importance of independent reading and was told the students had not books to read unless their parents bought some. When you realize that the schools here are between 1500 and 2000 students, you realize that it is almost impossible to do anything quickly about this. I thought I would be able to pick up books here, but there are none to be had anywhere. Even major book stores carry few if any English books. Even if teachers wanted to slowly build up a library, they are unable to get the books. I felt so bad about those hundreds of old children's novels I remember sitting in storage rooms because they were “old” and teachers didn't want to use them any any more.

Speaking to education officials in China, I realize that they recognize the difficulties these teachers are dealing with, and are trying to take steps to solve some of these problems, but they are such complex issues that it will take a long time to find solutions. Unfortunately the solutions may be too late for many of the students struggling to learn English in schools today. I think China recognizes the need to graduate an effective body of students able to function in the English speaking Global economic world that is coming to China, but they are still struggling to find the best way to do it. I like to think that in some small way I am over here helping with this.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pictures of People

I take hundreds of photographs when I travel, and already on this trip to China I have close to 1000 pictures. I take pictures of scenery, sunsets, cars, and doors and windows (Stay tuned for a post on that), but I do not take a lot of pictures of people. My wife gets annoyed at me because I have to be reminded to even get her in some of our “holiday snaps”. Here in China I have actually done a better job at this, thanks to one of the teachers in one of my classes.

I asked all the teachers to e-mail me a little bit of information about themselves, and I asked for a picture of them so I could try to get to know them all. I started noticing a lot of pictures of the teachers and their children, but never was there any husbands in the photos. In fact often there was not even a husband mentioned. I couldn't help but wonder about this, but I was sort of afraid to ask. Why were there no husbands? Was this something I could ask, or should I just keep quiet about it? Was there a cultural thing I wasn't understanding?

Finally one teacher sent me a lovely picture of her, her daughter, her Mother, and her “husband's” mother. No husband, but at last he was sort of mentioned if only off-handed. I decided to e-mail her back and ask?

Of course the answer was simple. Her reply was short and to-the-point. There is never any husband in the picture, because he is always taking the picture. There are lots of pictures with the husbands, but it is the Teachers then taking the pictures themselves, so since I wanted a picture of them, I got the ones without the husbands. Duhhhh????

From then on, my mission was to take as many pictures of families, so they didn't have to have photos with one absent family member. As I explore the city, every time I see a husband taking a photo of his family, I stop and ask if I can take a picture for them with all of them in it. I've become pretty at explaining this with gestures and slow English, and most people really appreciate it. I also found out that although very few Chinese speak very much English, they all seem to know the phrase “Thank you very much”.

I have also noticed that I am a favouite subject of pictures. Many times I catch people sneaking photos of the strange foreigner with a beard and big hat. When I catch them doing this I stop them and then insist that I pose with them and then ask them to pose for a picture with my camera. In Shanghai we met three lovely young people with excellent English who we chatted with for a long time because they wanted a picture with me.

As a result of this, I find that I am actually taking more pictures of people in other situations, and I even have quite a few shots of my wife while she was visiting.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Suzhou (苏州市) – the older city

If you have been following my Blog, you have been reading all about modern Suzhou, and the area I am living in is between 10 and 15 years old, but there has actually been an established community in Suzhou for at least 2500 years. Coming from Canada, where a building is considered old if it is 200 years old, it is hard to comprehend something that old. Suzhou is actually one of the oldest cities in the area. After exploring the “new” area close to my new Chinese apartment, I decided to expand my excursions, and hopped on a bus to see what the rest of this interesting city is like.

The further west I went the more you could see things aging. Even the bus stops changed from shiny silver things with stylish curved plastic roofs to wooden structures with the typical tiled roofs with curved pointed corners we expect from China architecture.

Referring to my handy “What's ON in Suzhou” calendar with it's nice English map, I first headed to an area identified as pedestrian only across the Wai Chen He River. Getting off the bus at TGI Fridays (So much for Historical), I wandered into the area. It is very easy to get twisted around in this area as you follow interesting shopping areas, or go off down side streets in search of that interesting photo. Keep your wits about you; it is easy to get lost, because although most streets are labelled in Chinese and English, sometimes it is hard to find signs and sometimes the names vary slightly from the names on the maps.

This area is certainly interesting, but it is a strange mix of old and new, and is very commercial, with MacDonalds, KFC, and hundreds of Chinese stores. There are many old buildings, but also many new ones. I wandered here for a while, finally coming across a Temple with an amazing crowd of people. It was a weekend and it seems everyone came down here. Very few of them seem to be here for the temple however, as the big draw seems to just be the crowd itself. Everywhere you look there are vendors selling meat on a stick, and the Chinese cannot seem to get enough of it. There were places where the ground was covered with sticks from these popular treats, I'm not sure what they were. Some looked like squid, but others seemed to be chicken. I'm afraid I didn't get up the courage to do an actual “Taste-test”. There were so many people there it was almost impossible to get from one side of the area to the other. With so many people all crowded together here I picked up another titbit of information. I noticed that black seems to be the most popular colour for clothes. You don't really notice it normally, but in the crowd like this the popularity of black clothes really stood out.

I tired of fighting the crowd after a while, and headed down one of the many little side streets branching off from the central areas. These are really little more than lanes, and there is no room for cars to pass, and some are too narrow for cars at all. The scooters however continue to silently careen down even the narrowest passage, beeping frantically as they get close to move you out of their way. Walking down these narrow lanes you begin to see the older Suzhou. Old masonry buildings mostly painted white many years ago , with the tiled roofs often with weeds growing in the joints, and low doors revealed houses, tiny stores, fruit stands bike repair shops, and even a beauty shop with one chair and a lady getting her hair done. I don't think many tourists venture down these tiny streets, so although I was getting used to the stares, these people seemed really amused with this strange foreigner with the beard and the hat walking by their windows and doors.

I came out on one of the many canals running all through Suzhou, but this one finally was accessible. The buildings on one side were built close to the canal, with a paved walkway wide enough to ride a bike between them and the canal and you could walk along beside the canal. Crossing he many bridges spanning the canal brought you back into another business district with a busy street full of cars, so I walked back along he canal to try to find the bus back home.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Driving in China

As a long time “car-nut”, I always notice the particular vehicles in the countries I visit. I filled a media card in Cuba taking pictures of all the old cars, I enjoyed the old Volkswagens in Brazil and Mexico, and was fascinated by the way Japan has embraced the downsized cars, as well as their unique “Chopperized” scooters. I had not idea what to expect in China.

The first thing I noticed is that there are NO old cars at all. Everything is relatively new, I'd say most are less that five years old. I thought I might see some older communist era vehicles, or some older Japanese cars, but everything is new. This might be because I am living in a very modern area with lots of upwardly mobile successful people, who can afford new cars, but you would think there would be an occasional old car. The other thing is that there is very little individualization of cars. I do not see many options added, fancy paint, racing wheels – no customs at all. Really, other than seeing some models I have not seen before, the automotive scene in China is pretty boring.

I was also surprised at the amount of cars from Europe. I would have expected lots of Toyota, Honda Nissan, Mazda, and Hyundai, but although there are lots of the Asian brands, the Europeans certainly seem to have the market share. Almost all the taxies are Volkswagens, and the brands Audi, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagens, Peugeot, and Citroen all seem to do well here. I saw one Cadillac, one Chevrolet, but all kinds of Buick – what is that all about? There were also some brands I did not recognize, assuming them to be home grown Chinese makes.

Now if the vehicles are not particularly exciting, I'd say driving certainly is. The road system is really very good, and their traffic lights are the best I have ever seen. Every light has a counter, that tells you exactly how many seconds you have remaining to get through the intersection. This makes it easy to know how long you have to wait for the light to change. Even the turning arrows have separate counters. Those red lights back home seem to take forever to change, but here I see that the longest you have to wait is about 30 seconds. Now this is a good idea – no actually it is a great idea, but it would help if the drivers actually followed the lights. Because you can see when the light is gong to change, drivers leave early, and many keep coming through the light even thought they can see they only have 2 seconds left. Fortunately I did not see much speeding, which is good, because there was lots of very slow drivers. I suspect that there are many new drivers who are not really that confident, so they drive slowly. Parking is obviously not included in any of he driving lessons. Drivers park anywhere, often double parking, and parking on the wrong way on a one way street – did he back all the way down there? Corners seem to be a favourite place to park; just nose into the curb and get out. Perhaps it is then harder for anyone to park behind you.

The horn seems to be the most important part of vehicles here in China. Everyone makes maximum use of their horns to warn people where they want to go. When overtaking another vehicle, they lay on the horn to get the slower vehicle to move out of the way, and even if they are turning on a red light, they blast the horn if someone is in their way. Of course the interesting thing is that because everyone is constantly blowing their horn, no one listens to them. On a bus ride from the airport, the driver would madly flash his lights and blast the horn when a vehicle was in his lane, but he always had to change lanes and find a way around, because I never saw anyone actually respond to the horns. It just seems to be habit now.

Drivers do not seem to look where they are going. When they want to pull into the road they just pull out. I have almost hit a couple of cars while riding a bike, as they turned corners or pulled out of driveways, and the rule of “catch the driver's eye” is useless, because they all just seem to look only forward. I noticed this particularly when walking. Even if you have a “walk” signal, drivers will look straight ahead, ignoring pedestrians. The “walk” signals certainly do not mean it is safe to cross.

Now if the cars are not particularly interesting, the scooters and bicycles more than make up for them. Here is where you see the old vehicles. There are probably more scooters in China than there are cars, and the variety is amazing. You can buy them for less than $1000.00 and they come in every imaginable colour from pink to lime green. Most of them are electric, and there are very few gas motorcycles. They vary from simple bicycles with electric motors added, to fancy high end models with plastic wind shields & skirts, wooden floorboards, and chrome wrap-a-round bumpers. You see anyone riding them, from young people, to grandmothers, city workers, to business women in fancy suits and high heels. They do not drive on the main roads, sharing special lanes with bicycles, and I don't even think they need to be licensed or registered, as they all seem to have the licence plates I saw on the showroom models.

One of the first things you learn when arriving in China is to watch out for the scooters. Pedestrians have to be very careful. Crossing a road involved first getting across the bicycle/scooter lane before you can even think about the cars. These scooters run so quietly you cannot hear them coming, and they can go quite fast. In addition, they do not seem to follow any traffic rules. They go through red lights, turn against the lights, and even drive down the bike lane on the wrong side of the road. Looking at the condition of some of them I'd say this is a problem for them as well – many are scraped, bent, cracked, and dented. Looking over the rows of them locked up in parking areas all over the city, very few are without some damage.

I brought my international driver's licence, thinking I might want to rent a car. I think for now I'll stick to two feet.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Update on the Suzhou NIght Lights

Well, the more time I spend here in China, the more I am surprised. Just when I think I know something I find out I was wrong. It has happened again.

I went out on a nice evening with my telephoto lens on my camera to get some better pictures of the lights on the top of all the building. Some of these apartment
complexes are so tall you need a long lens to get a picture of the top floors. It was a lovely warm evening and I walked down to the bridge over Jin Ji Lake thinking I'd get a few photos of the bridge, as it ia also all illuminated like so much else.

I got some great shots, and was going to edit my post on the lights with some better shots. I started back at about 8:55 pm, and at 9:00, suddenly I noticed it was darker. I looked around and realized that the streetlight had gone from five bulbs to just one - so much for no light burning out. I thought. Then I noticed that the b
lue strip along the top of the apartments beside me was gone. Then as I watched, all over the city, the lights on top of the building were going out.

Now the powers that are in charge of the lighting of Suzhou could have read my Blog, and decided t
hat my suggestion that it was a bit of a waste was a valid one, and decided to turn everything out, but I suspect that this display is only on late at night on the weekends, and goes out every night at 9:00 to conserve power.

I apologize to the Suzhou Light & Power folks. I now see that this beautiful display of lighting is only on during peek hours when everyone can enjoy. Once again I am surprised at how this city has been carefully planned for the enjoyment of the residents, and the nightlight are just one more part of that plan.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Suzhou After Dark

As I drove into Suzhou on my first night, tired after the long flight, and sick with a cold, I noticed the impressive lighting on top of all the buildings. I decided to go out after dark, and take some pictures of these lights, but it seemed that even on nice days, it got damp and cool as the sun went down, and it took me over two weeks to actually get around to going out after dark and seeing the lights. Today, it remained relatively clear out and the warmth of the day stayed with us to create a pleasant evening, so my camera and I went out to see the lights.

My first goal was to get some shots of the illuminated building tops. The biggest problem is deciding which ones are the best. Every apartment complex is different, and they are all quite nice. Some have flood lights trained on the top floors, some have coloured lights decorating or outlining the tops, and some seem to have decorative tops with all the lights on. During the day I assumed these were the penthouses where the rich and famous of Suzhou lived, but it wouldn't be such a luxury if the lease agreement required you to keep all your lights on all night.

The apartment complexes are not the only buildings illumining the night sky of Suzhou. Offices and pubic building seem to have a competition to see who can have the most elaborate lighting scheme. Off across the lake I could see the Arts and Culture building changing colour and twinkling in the moonlight, and the Cruise ship (I have taken to calling it this because I do not know what it is, and it reminds me of a ship), has rows of lights continually changing colour. The most elaborate is a big building that has one straight side and the other curving up to it in an arc. There are lights all over the building, but on the curved side, rows of lights constantly move up and down the surface, changing colour and pattern. I stood there for a good ten minutes just watching the patterns.

I then made my way down to Rainbow Walk. If I was looking for lights, I figured a place named “Rainbow” would be a great place to be. There is a little cove there, and on my rainy day walk I noticed that in the cove beside the walk, there were many fountain heads and light systems. I assumed this was to put on an elaborate light and water show after dark. When I arrived there was a large crowd gathered, and I thought they must be there for the show. I was disappointed. Every so often a group of fountains would erupt in coloured lights, but the 10 minute wait between short displays made it not worth while. I waited about an hour, spending a pleasant time watching the people, although even after dark, I found it hard to blend in, and often found myself the object of interest rather than the lights. One little boy of about 2, could not stop staring at me. I waved to him, and his family decided to try to get him to wave to me, and then to shake my hand, but he would have no part of it. He was quite happy to observe the strange man from a distance, but as soon as someone tried to carry him towards me, he burst into screams of terror. Good thing my self esteem is in good shape.

There were vendors selling tissue paper hot air balloons powered by little blocks of fuel, and as a few were sent into the night skies, business became brisk, and soon the sky was full of these balloons gently floating away on the evening air. It was quite a sight, the red glowing balloons with tiny flames under them drifting past the moon and away into the distance. I bought one to take home with me to send aloft some calm evening, but I would have to buy 50 of them to truly recreate the sight.

One interesting thing I noticed is that I never saw a burnt out light, or a flickering neon strip, everything worked perfectly. I passed a park area with a whole group of lights that served no purpose I could see other than light up the city, and every one was working perfectly. Back home there would have been burnt out bulbs, or lights changed with wrong wattage, so they were dimmer, and there would have probably been some broken by vandals and not fixed yet, but here in Suzhou, whoever maintains the lighting is sure doing a great job. They are at least as good as the amazing garden maintenance teams.

I learned tonight that Suzhou is just as beautiful at night as it is during the daytime.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spring Has Arrived In Suzhou

I'm afraid that this blog entry is just to annoy my friends and family back in Canada. I know they are still suffering with winter weather, and I believe my teacher friends actually had a storm day last week with a snow storm.

Not so here in Suzhou. I was just out for a bike ride and a walk, and spring has definitely arrived here in China. I wore my spring jacket, and it was actually too warm. As I write this, I see that it is 19C in Suzhou and 3C in Halifax Nova Scotia. Can you see my smile? We get a lot of misty wet days, but the air is warm, and the sunny days like today are lovely.

I missed the famous Blossoms in Japan when I visited my daughter last year, but I am getting them in full force this year in China. Of course here it is even better, because so many of the parks and gardens are planned and carefully planted with flowering bushes and trees. Everywhere you look trees are bursting into bloom. Along most roads are short green hedges and I see that there are bright red flowers all through them. As you walk along the canals, the willows planted there are all leafing out in their long light green leaves, and so many of the trees have beautiful pink or white blossoms coming out. After a couple of rainy days, the past two sunny days have put spring into high gear and every day more and more colour appears.

Today as I walked around Suzhou, it was so pleasant to see all the people out walking and enjoying the lovely day. This weekend is a holiday, called Tomb Sweeping day. It is supposed to be a day when family graves were cleaned up after the winter, and loved ones were honoured by burning special pretend money, or in a greener world, they are I hear putting flowers on graves to avoid he polluting from burning paper. People have an additional day off work, and all the parks are full of people enjoying the weather. The open areas were full of families trying to fly kites, and the pathways along the water were crowded with people just out walking.

Don't worry, spring will be there soon in Canada . . . . . . . For now you will have to enjoy my pictures of spring in Suzhou.

Saturday In Suzhou

I was perhaps a bit hasty in my assessment of the people of Suzhou and their appreciation of the sculpture that surrounds them as they go about their business in Suzhou Industrial Park. I discovered that perhaps they just do not have time through the week to enjoy the art work provided for them to enjoy.

Saturday in Suzhou dawned cloudy, misty, foggy and/or raining depending on when you looked ou the window. By lunchtime, it did not look like any real improvement was eminent, so not wanting to completely waste a free day, I unfolded the umbrella, and ventured out. On the previous days adventure I noticed that the other side of the lake running perpendicular to my walk also seemed to have some interesting parks, and a map of the area showed extensive parkland there as well. Today, ignoring the dampness I explored this area.

First thing I noticed was more statues and sculpture. As you walked through the pathways, you would come across interesting sculptures, again, with little or no explanation. On this walk I found a huge crocodile who I believe was being zapped by a spell from a witch. I saw a very hip fellow roller-blading with his dog on a skateboard. Yes I'm still on the sculpture thing, both he and the dog were in bronze. There was an entire brass bank made of red metal on a big white quarter moon, and there was the usual assortment of interesting abstract items.

The difference today was that the Chinese were enjoying their parks and their statues, I gave up waiting for the statues to be clear of people, and started trying to include the people having their picture taken beside the sculpture. One family was very interested in the roller blader and his dog. I watched them trying to convince the little boy to sit on the dog to get his picture taken. He seemed reluctant, but I couldn't tell what his objection was. Finally his mother produced a Kleenex, and he carefully wiped the moisture from the dog and happily sat down for the “photo-opp”.

It was a day for photography, and I came across two sets of newly weds having their wedding photos done. I felt sorry for them trying to look happy and festive as someone held an umbrella over them and someone else tried to keep the rain off the photographer. I can just imagine them years from now sitting together looking through their wedding album and remembering that day trying to stay dry while posing for the pictures.

Again, I was amazed at the expanse of perfectly maintained parkland. Everywhere I went there were beautiful broad walkways, made not out of ordinary concrete, but paving stone or even artistically arranged polished stone. There would often be large areas of polished marble like surface (Very slippery in the rain). There were always neat rows of trees, perfect hedges without any gaps, flower beds with perfectly evenly spaced plants all with perfect blooms. You might see the occasional spot where a path had been worn in a lawn, but other than that even the grass was consistently perfect green. Of course everywhere there is greenery or flowers are the ever present maintenance people; sweeping the sidewalks and bike paths, picking up litter, weeding the lawns, and picking dead flowers out of the gardens. They are there rain or shine, seven days a week, keeping everything perfect.

Actually, as I walked back from this damp adventure, I suddenly realized as I passed a forest of trees all planted in dead straight even rows, that I had actually never seen anything that wasn't completely created by man. None of the parks were preserved natural land, they were created from scratch. I do not recall seeing one area in this part of Suzhou that was not designed and built. I do not know what was here before someone decided to build this Industrial Park, but I don't think there is much left of the original land. This is not really a criticism, because I do not know what was here before – it could have been a waste dump, or a gravel pit, and now it certainly is a lovely place for the people to live and work, and I am enjoying exploring it bit by bit during my time in China.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Suzhou Sculpture

After working for week, I had four days off, so I decided to finally go explore Suzhou and see some of the this beautiful city. One of the schools I work in, requires a fairly long bus ride, and I noticed on the ride a lot of interesting buildings and sculptures along the route, so although the day was overcast I decided to go have a closer look at these interesting pieces of public art. I rode a borrowed bike, and followed the walkways through the parkland beside Jin Ji lake, towards one interesting building modelled after the Olympic Birds-nest stadium in Beijing. This building is the Suzhou Arts & Culture Centre, and is definitely a work of art itself. It is shaped like a huge symmetrical “U” around another glass building called the “Pearl”. The building is surrounded by bronze sculptures of musicians and dancers and other performers. Even some of the seats looking out onto the lake were pieces of sculptures, shaped like the Blue Men Troupe. Not especially comfortable seating however – the nose tend to dig into the back. It is amazing how little this beautiful facility was used; I was practically alone exploring both the grounds outside and the building itself.

From here I continued along the lakeside park, until I was halted by one of the many construction sites – it seems that everywhere something bigger and more impressive is being built. I then rode through an amusement park under construction, and again, the building were going to be as much of an attraction as the rides and pavilions. Like elsewhere in Suzhou, everything is surrounded by beautiful well maintained parks. Even though this attraction has not opened yet, I observed a little old woman sitting and carefully maintaining the extensive gardens.

I was aiming for a series of brightly coloured geometrical sculptures, as a turning point to head back through the pathways and parks on the other side of the roadway. There were four different sculptures in red, blue, green and yellow, blended into little buildings. I could see no indication of what the buildings were for, and they appeared to by unfinished inside. The coloured sculptures certainly called attention to them however.

On the ride back I found tall blue fish, ponds made of man-made coral, beautiful sculptures of women reading, lovely abstract wood and metal rectangles, and cute golden pigs. None of these had any signage, or indication what they were for or about, they appear to be simply there for the population to enjoy. As is often the case, the locals seem to completely ignore them, and I got very odd looks when I was observed photographing them. But then, that is one thing I have noticed here in China – tall obviously foreign men with beards are enough of an oddity that I get stared at wherever I go.

It is amazing how beautiful this bike ride was. I was able to ride through parkland along a lake most of the way down, and once the construction is finished the parkland will extend the whole way, and there was beautiful parks, pathways, and gardens the entire way back on the other side of the road. Remember this is “Suzhou Industrial Park”; it was built to house industry and businesses. We could learn a thing or two from the Chinese about how to design a city.