In it’s 2500-year history, the city of Suzhou has developed and refined many times over. It is known for its light, elegant, delicate cuisine and women. Marco Polo, when he visited in the late 13th century, declared it the “Venice of China.” Admittedly, every water town in China seems to bear this moniker, but I think Suzhou is the original.

Suzhou strikes me as particularly ugly upon arrival. Massive, congested highways and bland, expressionless buildings. Never judge a city by its facades, of course. Tucked into pockets, Suzhou’s gardens and old walking streets are magical.

At this time of the year, people come from all over China to eat hairy crab, a prized delicacy harvested from the lake nearby.

If 1 billion people like something, I figure, it can’t be bad…

You have to pull away the organs– heart, liver, etc.– in order to get to the edible parts. “No, that is not good to eat,” the woman helping us said, seemingly each time I pointed at a segment of my remaining crab.

I am lucky to have a lot of “roe” (which I think is actually liver) in my crab. This is the best part… Finally, the crab is tasty, but very scarce, and a whole lot of work to get to. Something to try that I probably wouldn’t choose to order a second time, not least because of the cost– one 200 gram crab costs about 30 dollars!

On our tour of Old Suzhou, our “guider,” Billy, leads us through gardens where rocks, trees and water have been arranged in perfect harmony. Everything symbolizes long life, prosperity and abundance.

The sky darkens as our boat steers down one of the main canals. Red lanterns come to life, and streams of tourists pour along the cobblestone banks.

While on the boat, “fighting noisily and playing on board are forbidden.”

The laborious process of silk making emerged from this bastion of Chinese culture. Silk, you may be interested to know, is not vegan. In order to extract the silk fibers, manufacturers must boil the silk worms’ cocoons, killing the aspiring moths in the process.

Beauty

Is neither tradition nor change,
But somewhere in between.

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