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.