If you have watched Mission Impossible III then you know that Tom Cruise ends up in Shanghai catapulting off buildings and then escaping and running along some canals to save his fiancée. Those canals are actually about an hour outside of Shanghai in a little place called Tongli.
Today started with a visit to Suzhou which is often referred by the Chinese as the “Venice of the East.” Suzhou is a 2,500 year old city renowned for its traditional gardens, ancient canals and silk production. In 1997 Suzhou’s classic garden was designated as an UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Chinese garden was developed as a synthesis of two concepts linked in Taoist philosophy – scenery and serenity. The thought was that the contemplation of nature in isolated meditation led to enlightenment. We stopped at the Garden of the Master of Fishing Nets which is said to be the finest of all gardens in Suzhou. The best known building is the “Pavilion for Watching the Moon,” from where the moon can be viewed in a mirror, in the water and in the sky. It was a rainy day but still a very tranquil experience.
Our next stop was a tour of the Silk Spinning Mill where we learned how silk is created from the mulberry munching silkworms. It takes 6-7 cocoons to make one thread of silk. The entire production process of silk can be divided into several steps which are typically handled by different entities. Extracting raw silk starts by cultivating the silkworms on Mulberry leaves. Once the worms start pupating in their cocoons, these are dissolved in boiling water in order for individual long fibers to be extracted and fed into the spinning reel.
Finally, we ventured to Tongli for a gondola ride through the waterways and some free time to explore the town. Tongli gives visitors a good idea of what Suzhou would have been like in its heyday.