Thursday 5th October 2017

Duck gut on a stick and other delights

Yesterday I ventured into old Suzhou with a team of university colleagues, and it was not long before we were confronted with China during a holiday week: the place was absolutely packed with people.

The main shopping street was absolutely packed, although the other streets were almost empty

We meandered our way along Pingjiang Lu, a narrow pedestrian street by the side of a canal, literally surrounded by a sea of people, almost all carrying some kind of local delicacy and chomping away on something as they walked along. A bowl of fiery red objects turned out to be chicken’s feet, one of the dishes that I had sampled on my visit to China back in 2004 (and not one that I shall be rushing to reacquaint myself with).

Chicken’s feet, a delectable morsel for the locals here

While waiting for one of our colleagues who had to queue for a long while for the public toilets, we noticed a girl in front of us nibbling on some stringy objects impaled lengthwise on wooden sticks. I commented to one of the group that they looked like a type of worm, but he then asked her what she was eating, and her matter-of-fact answer was, “Duck gut”. Apparently, duck intestine grilled with chilli sauce and strung on a stick is a popular dish here. None of us rushed to buy some.

Eventually we turned out of this human river into a quieter side-street, again by a canal. A sudden splashing sound revealed an aged man swimming along through the distinctly dingy brown water, obviously doing his daily exercise routine. How anyone could survive the pollution in what may well have little better than an open sewer is an interesting question. Perhaps he is now immune to everything after extended exposure to every possible form of microbe.

The quieter side street

An old man swam past through the dingy water

Our final destination here was the Couples’ Garden, one of Suzhou’s renowned ancient yuanlin, or ancient private compounds that were originally designed to balance Confucian ideas of urban social duty and Tao concepts of worldly retreats in nature. The clever use of the limited space makes these gardens extraordinary, with their ponds, ornate bridges, pavilions and artificial rocky hillocks, all crammed into a tiny area.

The Couples’ Garden is a visual delight

A Chinese opera was being performed in this pavilion

All in all, the day provided a fascinating glimpse of ancient China with a full in-the-face introduction to the teeming masses of the modern Middle Kingdom.

We avoided the Starbucks coffee outlet

But ended up going to the Beast Master coffee shop instead!

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