Folk Culture

Nicholas Quirke was faced with having to follow some of the more idiosyncratic ticket purchasing methods on 12 July 2020. It was the first breakfast he’d had in a restaurant on trip and negotiating what was and wasn’t vegan was his priority though from his experience in Nanjing he knew what to expect. He was able then to ask about which Bao he could eat and the dishes that had animal products. It was pleasing to be reacquainted with the sesame glutinous rice balls though eating 4 was really a little greedy. Glutinous rice was something he had only ever experienced in China and felt that it was something that really needed to be shared with world. Arriving at his first destination The Lion Grove Gardens, built in 1342 by monks, he had to presented his health kit, he had his temperature checked and then wasnt able to get in as he didn’t have a ticket. There was no ticket office, he had to do it online. With a little assistance from the usher, he bought the ticket and went back in. Needles to say it was an extraordinary treat, from the really beautifully preserved pavilions and halls, with their thoughtful poetic names, ‘The Pavillion of Asking Mei’ , The hall of Standing in the Snow’, decorated to perfection with coloured glass, wood carvings and elliptical windows and portals to pass through and heavenly geometric corridors, to its placid lakes and forest of rocks which, like a maze had him climbing and tunnelling through. Twice he was asked to be photographed with someone’s mother who had never seen a foreigner in the flesh. He happily posed, even though it was so hot and humid his legs were wet. He noticed that many men were carrying fans and once he was in search of sustenance and walking through the studios and food bars of he purchased an Item for himself. He found a tea house Peng had sourced where live music was played as you drank your tea. On arrival he discovered that the it was a tea house which was part of a long custom of musical story telling in Suzhou which had originated in the Song Dunasty called Pingtan, a combination of music and oral performance, including, an added feature was to sit drinking tea and from a menu chgose a song for them to sing, as he was drinking Jasmine green tea he selected an allegorical song about the white flower to be sung for him. It was a treat to be learning so much about the musical traditions, still current today in Suzhou. As he walked to his next destination, along the river bank And the ancient streets of Suzhou’s historic Pingling town he was transported into another flight of fancy that he was journeying through the Song Dynasty landscape with, boatman singing as they carried theirs cargo up the river. He was making great use of his fan to keep cool and felt pleased with himself as he purchased his ticket for the ‘Humble Administrators Gardens’, another of 4 world heritage gardens in Suzhou. There was nothing, he told himself as he traveled the glorious complex paths, corridors and bridges of the garden, that was humble about the landscape he was seeing. Everything about the design and beauty of the garden, its colours, the buildings, the water ways were breathtaking. Each section, each component completely in harmony with each other. Even the little neglected corners, which he had a fondness for, the mottled damp corners and rusting metal work were like ancient watercolour paintings. He felt quite overwhelmed by the heat and glory of the garden by the time he left and realised that he had not eaten since breakfast and so he went to a buffet style vegan restaurant which operated on a ‘eat as much as you can’ basis for only 25 yuan or, £2.75. However, he felt a little sad at the liberties some customer were taking when he saw a customer secretively filling up a flask with soya milk. It was a fulfilling meal and satisfied he strolled back to the hotel and bought himself some cold drinks to cool down as he worked and planned his next day before retiring for the night.

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