Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Tiger Hill - Doing the "tourist thing"

I'm not much of a “touristy” tourist. If I read that something is THE place to visit in a city, I normally put it well down on my list of excursions. I just don't want to be go where all the other tourists go. In fact, often when telling locals about the places I have visited, I often get worried faces and expressions like “OHHHH we don't go there.”

It was like that here in China. I went shopping where the Chinese go shopping, and I wandered the same streets they did. Oh, I went to see the old historical part of Suzhou, and I went to the Bund in Shanghai, but I didn't go up in the Oriental Pearl Tower, and so far I had not visited any of Suzhou's famous gardens. Today however I gave in. The worn and very “Dog-eared” map I have been using to find my way around Suzhou, has on the cover a beautiful picture of Tiger Hill and a caption announcing “NO.1 sight of suzhou”, and a lot of the teachers I've been working with have also recommended this spot to me. I figured that on a Wednesday morning I might avoid the “tourists”, so I went to have a look. Of course in Suzhou, the “tourists” are mostly all just Chinese who are not from Suzhou. I'm not sure if the residents of Suzhou really consider me a tourist or not. I expect they just refer to me as “That crazy foreigner who takes pictures of doors.”

Tiger Hill isn't too hard to find. It is not far from the city centre, and considering that the part of Suzhou I have been living in is so flat, that the speed bumps are considered “hills”, this actual hill is pretty easy to spot. After locating it on my map, and using the excellent directions from the Teachers, I boarded the bus and was able to track my progress by watching the large leaning stone Pagoda on top of Tiger Hill grow larger out the bus window as I got closer.

It costs 60 YUAN admission, but it is worth it; there is a lot to see, and you can spend a better part of a day exploring the grounds. I do have one complaint, recommendation or observation however. Although the excellent signage around the grounds is all in English as well as Chinese, it really would have been useful to have an English brochure to follow. I was asked if I wanted an English guide, and I believe it was free, but I prefer to explore on my own, and the map on my ticket was only in Chinese. I've run into the same thing in the Tourist Information Centres – the sign over the door is in English, but do not expect to find any English information inside. I know there are not TOO many English tourists, but obviously if the signs and maps are in English, someone recognizes the need for it. It can;t be too hard to produce a few in English.

A large group of Chinese “tourists” were just entering the grounds at the same time as me, and as they all scrambled to get that perfect shot of the large Pagoda on top of the hill, I slipped quietly down a side path and started walking around the lovely paved walkways and forest paths around the base of the actual hill. I found a little pagoda hanging over the canal where I watched a woman cleaning out her mop across from the park. I walked through a lovely little Bamboo grove, and through I little tea house (I believe). I came upon a nice waterfall with a screaming little girl. I believe she was simply have a temper tantrum, because when her father pointed out that a very tall odd looking man with a beard was approaching, she shut up immediately. He probably threatened her with “The Hairy Scary Man” would get her if she didn't behave, but when I went up to her and said “Hello” and asked her why she was crying, she decided I wasn't so scary, and gladly shook my hand and posed for a lovely picture by the waterfall, giving me the obligatory “V” sign with her fingers – what is with that anyway?

After making my way all the way around the base of the hill, I started climbing up the paths and stairways to the top. As I climbed I came upon a museum of stone/rock sculptures, various houses and buildings all with interesting displays and explanations. I was fascinated by the different styles of carved wooden chairs in each building. There seemed to be a different style chair in each building. All through the park were beautiful gardens and peaceful areas to sit and just relax and contemplate life. I often saw people just sitting and reading, and some of the Teachers mentioned that they can purchase a “Garden Card” that gives then unlimited use of these attractions. I can see the value of this, as it would be a lovely place to visit just to have a peaceful place to relax.

Part way up the hill I came across a beautiful Bonsai garden with hundreds of potted trees displayed on pedestals. It was fascinating to see the many different trees trained and trimmed to beautiful shapes. You could see on many of the the wires forcing them into the desired shapes. This was probably my favourite part of Tiger Hill, and I spent an hour here all by myself wandering among the little trees admiring them. The bus load of Chinese tourists were obviously more interested in the pagoda, because I had the Bonsai garden almost completely to myself.

When I finally made it to the top of Tiger Hill, it was actually a bit anticlimactic. The large multi-storied pagoda is very spectacular, all made from stone and leaning slightly to one side, but it is closed to the public and you cannot climb it any more. The view from the top would have been speculator. I walked around taking a few shots from various angles, but it is actually quite difficult to take pictures of the pagoda because of all the trees around it. The nicest pictures are taken from other areas of the garden with the pagoda in the background. I should have realized that because that is exactly the shot displayed on the map that brought me here.

I enjoyed my visit to Tiger Hill, and now that I have seen how nice it is, I'm going to have to visit some of the other “Tourist” attractions around Suzhou to determine if Tiger Hill really is the 'No 1 sight of Suzhou”. I've heard that The Humble Administrator's Garden is lovely?

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