Noel and friends trying to stretch silk for duvets in Suzhou - much harder than you'd think!
Up early this morning to drive to Suzhou
, north of Shanghai
. Distance-wise, it's only about 90 kms away but due to weight of traffic takes around 3 hours. Sitting in slow moving traffic is something to get used to in China. Also, even if the traffic isn't heavy, you often don't go over about 60-80kms/hr because of the state of the roads. The major roads are pretty good, but some of the smaller ones are shocking, even though the drivers pay tolls on nearly all of them. The building thinned out between Shanghai and Suzhou, but you never actually felt like you'd hit "the country", it's housing and industry all the way.
Doing the washing in the Grand Canal, Suzhou
First stop was the government owned No. 1 Silk Mill, which opened in 1926. We saw silkworms eating their way through mulberry leaves right through to sale of the end products. Noel had a go at stretching silk to make the duvets, and found it surprisingly difficult. The silk fibre itself is very strong. The factory also sells pillows filled with silkworm droppings, which are apparently good for insomnia - not sure that claim really needs to be tested. After lunch at the silk mill (along with a small and select group made up of about 40 other tourist coaches) we went to the Humble Administrators Garden, a world heritage site covering about 11 acres of land and dating from 1509, the Ming Dynasty. The garden should be quite peaceful and calming apart from the sheer volume of visitors wanding around. Furthermore, the Chinese do not tend to be quiet and contemplative, somewhat different to their forebears. Our local guide had her licence checked by the "tourist" police to make sure she was legal. It gave her quite a fright, she'd never been checked before and was quite upset by it all. Getting off the bus was also quite an adventure - as soon as you step off the coach you are ambushed by street vendors selling everything from fake watches to hats and fans. They are generally pushy but not aggressive and leave you alone after you say "no" a couple of times and keep walking. We think they're also regulated, because they tend to be moved on by police if (from what we can gather) they are not in the right place spruiking.