Today was the last full day for us in China and the second to last day of our year long adventure. I spent much of the day wandering around the streets of Suzhou (with a population of only 2 million). We are staying at the City Centre Hotel which is an incredible place with beautiful open air gardens in the courtyard and a variety of two storey buildings. We have all three rooms in the upper level of one of the buildings. It is a great place to stay and central to the action of the city. Within three blocks are hundreds of restaurants, shops, movie theatre and so much more.
As I wandered around the streets I noticed so much action everywhere. One lady with a microphone headset was talking to those ordering at her fast food stand through a loud speaker. If I could understand Mandarin I would have understand half of every conversation. Other shops had music blaring while many more had people calling passers by to check out their deals over loud speakers. Jewelry shops had men sitting out front pounding pieces of metal with anvils and hammers. They had music playing and would pound the metal to the beat of the music. Each time they pounded the metal you could hear the clank, clank, clank of the hammer.
People were scurrying about everywhere in the pedestrian area as scooters honked to warn people they were coming. Cars would toot their horn a dozen times down each block to clear the way. Horns go off everywhere in the city. About 5 to 10 percent of the people also wear face-masks in an attempt to filter out the bad air from the smog that rests so heavily on the big cities of China. It was interesting to see the pig and other designs decorating some of the face-masks I saw.
Vendors seem to have two to three times the number of employees that are normal in North American stores. The quiet reception desk of the hotel had 4 ladies ready to help, the hairdresser had 10 busy working and as many ready to greet people at the door. Restaurants have many people to greet, take orders and prepare food for customers. This is probably due to the cheap cost of labour in China.
In the late morning a group of elderly people were dressed up in red and green performing some drumming and dancing. One man crashed cymbals while a lady beat on a drum. The rest of the twenty ladies all danced with large green fabric ribbons. They were doing a performance or something relating to raising awareness for AIDS. That was all I could understand from their signs. It was great to see so many older people making use of their time to perform dances which were probably second nature to them.
I will admit I did get a few dirty stares as I walked around for 45 minutes with Zakary tucked in my jacket, Teyauna holding my hand, Eli and Orin in front of me. Usually I get plenty of smiles and amazed stares because of all the kids but this time Orin was insistent that he could not put shoes on due to his infected toe. As a result he was wearing shorts and flip-flops even after I insisted he wear more appropriate clothing for the 8 degree Celsius weather outside. He couldn’t be swayed though. Walking through the sheltered alleyways there wasn’t much wind but once on the wide open streets it got chilly. I had a few old ladies chastise me in Mandarin Chinese for my son but I just smiled and kept walking.
We walked past a small primary school located down a narrow alleyway just as the kids were getting out of school. Each of the kids are carefully let out of the locked gate to their waiting parents outside. There were many people all clustered in the small street and vendors were there to take advantage of the gathered groups of people. They were selling skewers of meat and other treats to the parents and the kids as scooters zipped down the tiny street. It was a crowded space and I had to keep the kids close to me so as to make sure they did not accidentally get integrated into the Chinese school system.
Some shops and restaurants I have seen are less than 6 feet by 10 feet, using every square inch of space to search our and sell to customers. Everyone seems anxious to earn and make money. I had one man follow me for 5 minutes trying to get me to buy two jackets for 250 yuan ($44). That dropped to 200 yuan ($36) by the time I last saw him. These street sellers have business cards showing photos of all the various watches, clothing and other items they have to offer. He was more persistent than most and almost had me convinced I needed the bargains that he had.
Walking around the cities of China in the early evening seems very safe with all that is going on. It is an incredible experience but I sure will look forward to going back to my clean aired small community of 20,000.