A China Travel Guide: Discovering Suzhou

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

So here I am with the first travel post from my recent trip round China! I've split it into several posts so that I can tell you about each part of trip in good detail- well aren't you a lucky bunch! If you're planning to visit China at some point then I hope these posts will help or give you some advice about staying in China. Of course, if you have any further questions, just comment or send me an email!

I was lucky enough to be accepted to study Beginner's Chinese at a Summer school via my university. I studied at X'ian Jiatong Liverpool University in the buzzing, vibrant city of Suzhou (which anyone can study at fyi, so if you're interested click right here!). Now I'll be honest, it's not a country that has been on my bucket list or that I've always dreamed of going to, but when the opportunity arose- I simply took it! You only live once and I'd rather not look back and say I wish I went to China...instead of hey, I actually went to China! And I'm glad I did because I had the experience of a lifetime.

Suzhou is located in the Jiangsu province just a 30 minute train ride from Shanghai. Though it's not one of the most well-known cities in China- it's still got a population of 1.3 million and has a lot going for it. Me and other summer school students were assigned student accommodation called the Parfait Apartments situated a 10 minute bus ride from the university.

View from ma crib and my snazzy room (with unmade bed yes).

The first few days were spent settling in, getting over my jet lag and getting my head around the 6 hour time difference, getting to know my surroundings, taking in everything and beginning lessons (phew!). Once I got over all of that I began to really love being in China. We had 5 lessons a week from 9am-12pm with two afternoons of free time and the rest where we did cultural activities (tai chi, dumpling making, and calligraphy).

Of course in classic Lucie fashion, I forgot something vital in my suitcase. Bras. I've been wearing bras since I was about 14 and at this age, I STILL do stupid shit like this. I literally arrived in Suzhou with one bra, the one I was wearing which I didn't want to keep wearing in this humidity, obviously. I ran off to the local Marks & Spencers (really) and managed to find some in there. Once I'd got my head around the Chinese sizing I went up to the till to purchase my two-pack of M&S bras. I realised I'd actually still picked up the wrong size. The cashier saw I looked confused. She asked if I wanted to her to fetch me the right size, she said: "is it too small?" I said, "nooo no, I need bigger than that!" She looked at me in shock and said "BIGGA? You need BIGGA bra?". I guess big boobs isn't all too common in Suzhou.

The university looking snazzy

Me and some of the Chinese summer school team lookin' fab.

On our first day of free time we went into the city center to the Old Town, the Humble Administrators Garden and did some exploring. I'd definitely recommend visiting if you're in the Suzhou area, it's such a beautiful space, has a cheap entry fee and it's the perfect way to while away a few hours.

The Old Town is scattered with markets and stalls a-plenty, souvenir shops and places to eat and a stones throw away from the commercial district where you'll find make up stores, fashion stores (even a Marks & Spencers!) which are open till the late hours. There are tons of things to see and do so you can simply walk around this area and soak up all the sights. 

If you do plan on visiting China for the first time, just be prepared for an initial culture shock, lots of scooters/bikes/tuc-tucs that beep all the time, more people than you've ever seen before and a lot of staring. We seemed to attract a strange amount of looks and people coming up and asking for photos of us, as if we were famous- it was funny but all so bizarre at the same time!

As for eating out, it's extremely cheap to do so in China. You can get an evening meal for as little as 25RMB (about £2.50). There are tons of places to eat in China whether you're looking for Thai food, traditional Chinese or Western food. Most of the time I ate Chinese food as I really wanted to immerse myself completely in the Chinese culture. So basically: a lot of rice, noodles, meat, soup, vegetables, dumplings (!!!) and other delicious food. China is also well-known for it's street food which is well worth a try but for those normally sensitive to certain foods anyway, just be careful and choose wisely! A lot of the time I would either have a friend translate things on the menu, use my phrase book or I would just point at pictures and hope for the best which meant sometimes what I ended up eating would be a surprise (good or bad...).

As for the rest of the week we spent a lot time napping and recovering from jet lag, eating and trying Tai Chi for the first time! We had a professional teacher who taught us a routine while traditional Chinese music played - I loved it and found it so relaxing...even if I was slightly, ahem, uncoordinated...oh and I learnt how to use chopsticks- not bad for one week already eh!

I'll be back soon with a post on my weekend in Shanghai! Stay tuned.