Today was primarily a travel day but finished with some beauty and tranquility. We flew from Xi'an to Shanghai and from the airport in Shanghai were bused to the city of Suzhou, another so-called smailler Chinese city (around 10 million). There, we were joined by a local guide, Allie, who informed us that Suzhou is famous for four things: Chinese gardens, canals (some call it the Venice of the east), incredibly artistic silk embroidery, and beautiful ladies. But don't get the wrong impression, it's also a modern high tech center - 1 in 3 PCs are made here.
We visited two of the approximately 500 gardens, all of which are quite old. China had a multi-tiered civil service examination system that was derived from the principals of Confucius. The civil servants were referred to as scholar-bureaucrats, many of whome retired to Suzhou and were the creators of these gardens. The names of many of these gardens are intended to reflect moral teachings of Confucius (although apparently these bureaucrats may have been less than moral pilars in actuality).
The first garden we saw is called the Humble Administrator's Garden (humility being an important virtue). As can be seen from the crowds, this is a popular spot for the Chinese - both local and tourists. It's easy to see evidence of the essential elements of a Chinese garden: vegetation, limestone, architecture, and water.
In the evening, after dinner, we visited the Master of Fishing Nets Garden (fishing being a humble occupation). As we walked through the garden, in the various buildings and pavilions, we were entertained by performs of Chinese instruments, opera, and story telling. As in Xi'an, they were very talented.
Tomorrow, we will be spending some more time in Suzhou and then making our way to Shanghai.