Portland has a big sister in China!
A Sister City, that is.
Meet Suzhou. She’s home to about 4 million people, a beautiful network of willow-lined canals, and a Classical Chinese garden of such elegance that it has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. She’s also been famous as a center of silk production since the Song Dynasty. Who says you can’t pick your relatives?
I’d heard about our sister city relationship with Suzhou when visiting the Lan Su Chinese Gardens (which are modeled after Suzhou-style gardens) in Old Town a few years ago, but hadn’t thought much about it until noticing that the city was just a quick 25-minute ride by bullet train from Shanghai. I dropped an e-mail to the folks at the Portland –Suzhou Sister City Association and told them of my possible trip, asking them if they could give me some advice on an upcoming trip.
Well. After very enthusiastic, encouraging communication from 3 different people from the PSSC, I bought a train ticket and booked a hostel. By the end of the first day, I wish I’d planned to stay for a week. After living in Beijing for two and a half months in Beijing and having just come from a weekend in Shanghai, this city of 4 million seemed so peaceful that I felt like I was backpacking in the Cascades.
At the recommendation of the PSSC, I found the canal and garden district in Old Town Suzhou and spent two and a half days wandering the little alleyways and high-arch bridges over the Pingjiang Lu canals. The cultural value of this 800-year old district has been recognized by the local government, which has worked to preserve and restore the alleyways.
The highlight of the trip for me was meeting up with a fellow Portlander who had been teaching English in Suzhou for the past several years, whom the PSSC folks introduced me to via e-mail. She invited a few friends to have dinner with us and I got to hear stories from some Reed College grads and a native Suzhou-ian about city life and how it’s changed over time.
I loved visiting my big sis! Thanks to the PSSC for the encouragement and advice on this trip. Any Portlanders who are interested in taking a road trip to this beautiful town should take advantage of this great resource!