Gray sky, damp streets, crisp cool air, a mix of old buildings and modern skyscrapers, dusty autos, slow moving boats on the canal and surprisingly few pedestrians walking on the street…This is my first impression of Wuxi on my arrival.
I wondered if I had chosen the right place to sightsee. Compared to the feelings in my previous trips–exhilaration in Harbin and Sanya, curiosity in Singapore and Malaysia, depression in Hong Kong, arrogance in Shanghai, patriotism in Beijing, appreciation in Guilin, admiration in Suzhou and Hangzhou, I seemed to have difficulty in finding an accurate word to describe my feeling about Wuxi. Perhaps it would be like that about Dalian—my liking grew later on until I knew more about the city. I hoped it would be the case for this trip to Wuxi.
I spent four days in a historic city right along Taihu Lake—Wuxi. Wuxi is next to Suzhou which is famous for its ancient gardens. In fact, I dropped by at Suzhou for the third time on the third day of my visit. My tour guide friend recommended me to try the sweet pork ribs which is the specialty of Wuxi. My first meal there was the sweet pork ribs and delicious crabs. Wuxi people were just like Suzhou people, enjoying sweet taste food. While in Canton, guest is served with a small dish of soya sauce in the restaurant; in Wuxi, guest is served with a small dish of pungent vinegar. Heated crimson preserved sauce poured over the meat. The dish looked so juicy. As a matter of fact, to such a seafood buff, the crabs on special appealed to me much more. I could get 15% discount on the cheap crab dish because I was the hotel residence. You bet, I had crab dishes in the following three days. Ummm…Yum!!! Thanks to the complication of getting rid of the crab shell, it took me hours to finish my meal.
On the evening of the first day I visited the Xihui Park where festooned with colorful lanterns. Some of the decorations were big like building’s height. I hadn’t seen lantern show for ages. Mom used to take me to park to see it during Spring Festival and Mid-Autumn Day. The highlight of the evening was not the lantern show but the adventure in Jichang Garden and the Second Best Spring in China inside the park. It was the first time that I had visited ancient Chinese garden in the evening. Indeed, it was authentic to relive the night life of ancient people in the garden. The emperor Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty had visited Jichang Garden six times when he was on the southward inspection journey. So I had the honor to visit where Emperor Qianlong once visited. The garden was lit by the dim lanterns in the dark rainy evening. The wind coming together with sprinkles of raindrops brushed my face. The garden was centered with a large mirror-like pond. Several girls dressed in the ancient palatine costume were playing Chinese instruments in the pavilion. The performance attracted visitors to stop to watch. The music of Butterfly Lovers surrounded every corner of the pond area. The music and the scene transported me back to the ancient time. I wander around the garden with the help of the dim light. I observed the best spot to capture some snapshots. I wonder if it would be even darker at night since there was no bulb, no electricity for the lanterns in the old days. Wind at night could easily blow off the dim candlelight. When walking in the back yard in the garden, my surmise seemed to be proved. It was so spooky. The shadow of trees and plants seemed to be haunted. They whispered in the wind, shaking the raindrops off their bodies. I almost lost my direction to get out of the yard. No wonder people were so superstitious and believed there were ghosts in the dark back then. I trembled spontaneously. But anyhow, it was great experience to visit Jichang Garden which emperor Qianlong had visited six times.
The Second Best Spring in China was renowned. The masterpiece of the famous blind erhu player A Bing–“Second Spring Reflects the Moon” came from here. And many scholars, poets, writers of ancient China and even the emperors Kangxi and Qianlong of the Qing Dynasty had visited the spring. The spring must have been the source of inspiration. One of the greatest man of letters Su Shi, aka Su Dongpo composed several poems about this spring. If only my Chinese was strong enough to understand the deeper meanings of the ancient Chinese literature.
If you come to Wuxi, you won’t miss visiting Li Garden and Yuan Tou Zhu by Taihu Lake. Li Garden is derived its name from the alternative name for the lake which is “Lihu.” Legend dates back to 2400 years Grand Master Fanli helped Guojian, the Duke of Yue, eliminate the state of Wu. He then took the wise move of stepping down and returning to the seclusion of Wuli Lake together with Xishi, one of the four stunning beauties in ancient China. Li Garden is one of the most famous gardens for lake scenery in China.
The lake is indeed HUGE!!! It looks enchanting with its tranquil and limpid appearance. A 1000-meter long corridor winds around the park and has brick inscriptions in the handwriting of famous ancient calligraphers, such as Su Shi and Mifu. With ponds, a walkway, mini-bridges, mini-pagodas, carps and fishes swimming in the water, lotus sleeping in the pond, sylphlike and graceful willow trees dancing in the breeze, the garden appears full of life and like other gardens I visited, it was a mysterious maze. I really wish I could visit the ancient garden in the winter—that’d be another spectacular scenery.
Taihu Lake is a well-known scenic spot in China. Yuan Tou Zhu, aka Turtle Head Peninsula, located in the northwest shore of Taihu Lake. The name came from its shape projecting into the lake as if a swimming turtle tossing its head. Being in Yuan Tou Zhu, you can see the best view of Taihu Lake. Mr. Guo Moruo, an eminent writer and poet once wrote a poem in praise—“The supreme view of Taihu Lake scenery lies in Turtle Head Peninsula after all.”
I first took a ferry to Fairy Island On Taihu Lake from Yuan Tou Zhu. Wow, so many tourists were waiting in queues at the pier. It’s no kidding that China indeed has large population just by seeing the heads of people in the queues and scattered in the tourist spots. Fairy Island On Taihu Lake used to be called Tortoise Island. The island seems to be a celestial tortoise floating quietly on the lake. I was trying to avoid the crowds of people wherever I went. However, there were quite a few COPY CATS—wherever I got a spot to take the shots, I would find people follow me standing at the same spot to take pictures. I reckoned I could not be inconspicuous to take pictures. On the island, I could see endless Taihu Lake. Oh my! I couldn’t believe this boundless water area called lake instead of being called sea. I always enjoy seeing endless natural scenery—ocean, desert, sky, universe, jungle etc. This was the first time I had seen the Biggest Lake ever in China. Standing at the edge of the lake in the drizzle, I felt so small compared to the endless lake. In order to save time to do some sightseeing in Yuan Tou Zhu, I chose to take hovercraft to return. The speedy hovercraft splashed the wake on the wings. It was so cool that the white splashes flew by me. I walked along the Taihu Lake in Yuan Tou Zhu which was considered to be the best spot to enjoy the natural beauty on Taihu Lake.
(To be continued…)