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Wednesday and Thursday are our weekend. Having done nothing much Wednesday, a group of us (Sam, Nichole, Steve, Jamie, and Paul) decided to go to Suzhou today, about 90 minutes away. We didn’t really have any plan other than “go, see, shop, come back”.

We got on a bus this morning at 10:00 (bus fare is $3 each, one-way). We got there just before noon, and immediately started searching for food. We had heard that there was a Pizza Hut somewhere, and we set out to find it (no easy task in a city of 5 million). We walked for at least an hour with no luck, until Jamie’s lamentations changed our plans to “the first place we see”. Luckily, it was a good hot-pot restaurant, and we had a great lunch. Then more wandering.

Suzhou is a very different city than Zhangjiagang. For one thing, it’s about 2500 years older. It’s dirtier, less organized, and generally much more interesting. It is renowned for its gardens and silk. It has much less of the “trying really hard to be modern” feeling of ZJG. It is a fascinating place that (I gather) could be explored for years. Our wanderings took us through some lovely garden areas, some back alleys, and lots of shopping districts.


After lunch, we wandered in the general direction of the silk district. We spent the afternoon poring through shop after shop. Most of them were selling tourist-oriented overpriced stuff, but there were a few shops which had good quality stuff, both silk by the bolt and all sorts of finished products. We spent the rest of the day there, wandering and shopping, before heading home.

It is a bizarre behavior of the Chinese that you will find identical stores side by side, sometimes 4 or 5 at a time. Not just stores selling competing products, but literally identical, often down to the arrangements of items on the shelves. The explanation I receive when I ask about this is that when someone has a good business, other people notice and set up an identical shop next door, hoping to capitalize on the first person’s good luck. This only makes sense in a culture like China where creativity and originality is not only uncommon but actively discouraged.

{ 3 } Comments

  1. Mean Aunt Pat | December 16, 2006 at 12:17 pm | Permalink

    The pictures are fascinating, so are the things you notice and tell us about.

    The identical-stores-side-by-side model must work at least partially, to keep on being used.

    Niki, Doug wished you a happy birthday a couple of days ago on his Live Journal. I’m terrible at remembering birthdays, but many happy returns!

  2. Brad Simmons | December 20, 2006 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    The identical stores side-by-side aren’t as weird an idea as you think. Ever notice how there’s always a Barnes & Noble right across the street from Border’s bookstore? (Except in Ames, of course). It’s because one chain always wants to make sure it’s getting in on the action of the other one.

  3. chris Leitz | December 20, 2006 at 4:59 pm | Permalink

    Alyssa and Danielle really enjoy all the gross food pictures you have posted. They were wondering how you fish at a farm. Miss you guys!! Take care of each other and have a blast!!!! Happy holidays.

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