The International Affairs Office of the Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences sponsored a visit by international faculty to traditional Chinese river towns in Jiangsu and Zhejiang from 2 to 4 April, 2012. While there, the international instructors enjoyed an early spring vacation to culturally rich Suzhou and its nearby small river towns.
After traveling by comfortable high speed train to the recently opened Suzhou North high speed rail station, the group had a lunch of local delicacies before going to the acclaimed Humble Administrator's Garden, which is frequently described as the most typical classical Chinese garden. As it was early spring, such flowers as yellow forsythia, red camellias and pink peach trees were in blossom, giving a fresh feeling to the garden. A pair of Mandarin ducks swam in the pond, beneath new willow leaves sprouting from venerable trees. The excellent preservation of the structures and the smooth stone walkways made a positive impression on the international faculty.
That evening was spent in the charming Jiangsu river town of Zhouzhuang. Staying at a small canal-side hotel enabled everyone to experience the night life of a river town, where canal boats carried passengers beneath twinkling lights. After a dinner of river fish, the international professors explored Zhouzhuang on their own. The next morning was ideal for quiet walks and photography with mild temperatures and clear skies. Strolling through Zhouzhuang before tour groups arrived enabled the international instructors to see firsthand the way of life of a small river town, including fresh food sellers, craftsmen and artists. The stone arched bridges throughout the town were a visual highlight of the trip.
The group then travelled by bus from Jiangsu to the northern part of Zhejiang, to Wuzhen, a well-developed traditional river town divided into an east and a west section. That afternoon and early evening featured an extended visit to West Wuzhen. A large pagoda situated immediately beside the Hangzhou to Beijing Grand Canal was a highlight, as were colorful yellow rapeseed fields, narrow stone-paved alleyways, and elegant visitor facilities in traditional structures. West Wuzhen was an exciting place to visit by day, yet continued to be attractive in the evening, with brightly lit bridges, hotels and businesses after dark. That evening during a long festive dinner, stories were exchanged about the day's happy experiences.
Finally, on the final day a visit to East Wuzhen revealed a different side of the old Zhejiang river town. The stone buildings and bridges had an ancient feeling, with traditional decorations and patterns. There were special crafts factories open for visits, including a dyed cloth factory and a distillery of local Chinese alcoholic spirits. The international instructors group enjoyed the canal-side lifestyle at a teahouse, while others saw a traditional theater on a small square. After returning to Suzhou North high speed rail station, to await their return train to Beijing, the international instructors shared their positive impressions of Suzhou and the river towns. They felt that both Jiangsu and Zhejiang were cultural treasures with a large variety of attractions and a pleasantly traditional atmosphere. In every sense, the Suzhou area river towns trip was a wonderful highlight of the 2011-2012 academic year.