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Gareth is an Australian who has lived in JiangSu, SuZhou (Heaven on Earth) for a few years - he is a keen observer of the Chinese people, Chinese culture and the changes that are occurring in China at break-neck speed. He can often be found on his a nightly 'perch' in front of his bar in the famous Bar Street in Suzhou, talking to the locals in his bad Mandarin, teaching the 'flower-selling girls' English, eating street food and smiling at the local chengguan (neighbourhood police). Gareth also has several other businesses in China around Business and English training. His experiences have been varied and interesting and his years in China have taught him to be wary of promises but excited about prospects, not a bad situation to be in!
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Going DownUnder in SuZhou    

By Garreth Humphris
2433 Views | 3 Comments | 6/4/2012 12:22:50 AM

Happy Commuters

My little city in China (JiangSu, SuZhou) is growing up! Amid fireworks and gleaming faux-marble tiles the subway has opened, allowing my city to further boast of it's prowess as a modern metropolis. Many provincial cities have a public subway system but SuZhou is the first 'non-capital city' to get it's own underground amusement ride! It really is a 'big boy' now!

It has taken a bit longer than expected - a few years ago a visiting dignitary advised that the city was 'not big enough’ for a subway and somehow in the following years, the city became elongated along the proposed subway line - high density building within 2 blocks of this imaginary wonder and then farmland...As construction started, the hinterland began filling, so instead of a compact ’square’ city, the place has become cigar-shaped and areas needing public transport have miraculously sprung up at the ends of long gangly arms. New university towns on the edge of nowhere with few buses for the 70,000 odd students, high speed train stations devoid of surrounding infrastructure, housing developments perched on swamps with a clear view of rural tranquility for miles.

But all that weirdness changed last week as the subway opened...now places that were a 70rmb taxi ride away are now a trifling 2rmb jaunt through darkness. The one hour cross-town bus-scurry is now a pleasant 25 minute commute of tubular proportions. And we can't wait until the other 4 subway lines are in place to get anywhere and everywhere!

It might be a bit rude talking about such an old city as a mere teenager - after all it has some 3000 years of history, about 40 world-heritage gardens and an inner city that retains much of it's past despite time, modernisation and turmoil in China - but the subway has brought a freshness to it that makes it seem a little more lively! Like a pimply 12year old punk discovering girls!

Of course, it is small - the stations feel more like a living room and for some strange reason you need to 'step up' into the train - it looks suspiciously like stepping up the height of the rail, but I'm not saying anything about Chinese engineering!

The ticket machines keep going haywire on me and I haven’t yet worked out how to get through the turnstiles without having them crash-closed into my kneecaps...there is some sort of sensor that detects the size of the person going through the narrow space and i suspect my fat legs look like 3 Chinese trying to shimmy through together ... and the escalators seem in a perpetual state of non-conformance! But these are trifling matters!

It also means I walk more. I am trotting off to the subway, wandering around my destination, climbing stairs and stationary elevators and maybe even getting a little fitter! Maybe this will be the thing that helps me lose weight! Well maybe not, the subway gives me better access to the downtown baozi markets and the open-air ’assorted duck bits’ bazaars that give tasty treats to munch on 24/7!

I am also enjoying being in the railcar with everyone else - not as crowded as the buses used to be, people seem easier about travelling and are happier to communicate with you. And at the moment, whole families are trying it out like the latest fairground attraction! It hasn't got the ’commuter sullen face’ feel about it yet - hopefully that will be a little time.

I have been taking the 'same train' every evening, so I have been meeting some of the regular customers - there is ”monkey man” who has a long face and sad watery eyes and holds onto the hand rail with a limp wrist fold-over...sort of like a monkey.

Also there is ”angry lady” who sits with a knitted brow and pursed lips staring at her phone, hoping for something interesting to pop out. Her hair is set in an American 60’s bouffant. I hope to see her smile one day.

And ’smiling grandfather’ who is alternatively carrying a small sleeping boy on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and a folded fishing pole on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

So all in all, I think I am going to like the subway...I think I’ll be waiting until the excitement dies a little and then do an 'every station recon' to see what is there, nearby and round about it one weekend soon.

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(Showing 1 to 3 of 3) 1
#2012-06-06 04:11:29 by bmccull @bmccull

Mass transit (like a subway) changes a city. It is difficult to forecast the changes though. I hope you will keep us updated on the progression of SuZhou.

#2012-06-11 08:39:15 by downunder @downunder

Visited a new friend in Suzhou just last weekend. With an interest in rail I had to take myself for a long ride to see it. Flash. But with these modern Chinese metro systems, one looks much like another. The ticketing was not that easy to use for a non-Chinese-reading-laowai.
I'll return to see more of SZ soon I think - already 3 weeks through my 6 week casual tour - a nice city though well removed from the crammed in busy nature I've grown to love in Shanghai.
Appropriate article name GH...
Cheers
Downunder

#2012-06-18 12:29:33 by doctorj @doctorj

spent a week there last year and it's a great example of the old and new of china. the free trade zone likely is what motivated the transportation ministry into moving suzhou into the underground world with its latest tube. jiangsu province is so lovely and historic and the people there speak with the most melodic of tones!

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