May 27:  Suzhou

On the train I slept maybe 12am-5am, but I really had to pee on account of the beer, and finally relented.  Bad enough walking through a train at 5am without my contacts, but then there was a line at the bathroom even at that hour.  And then of course I couldn't get back to sleep because of the spirited conversations that began at sunrise.  Actually I did sleep briefly because I had an erotic dream.

I climbed out of my bunk around 9:30am and immediately resumed drinking the beer from the night before.  I'd been planning that visual gag since 5am.  I immediately noticed that my calves were much improved, which was expected because when they get tight from a steep downhill walk it's always for exactly 4 days.

At this point most of us were starving and looking forward to lunch.  It had been almost two full days since the Monkey Burger and all I had in the interim was the soup at the school.  I was starting to crave Chinese food.  You know, the good kind back home.  Also I had the Chicken Dance stuck in my head and kept tapping it with my fingers.

After checking into the hotel we had a short walking tour, and saw an interesting clothing store.  The name was "Squirrel Shaped Fish" but there was a picture of a crocodile.  I don't know if that was Engrish or just incredibly hip.  I couldn't get my camera out in time...sorry.

Suzhou is the Venice of the East.  Canal cities are always pleasant.  We took a canal cruise, uncaptioned photos of which follow:

I realize that two photos in the above series do need captions.  In the first one Peter appears on the right, which is my only shot of him.  Another one shows an Engrish sign, although I don't know if a simple misspelling qualifies as Engrish.

We had free time after the cruise, and MJ recommended two gardens we could visit.  But almost everyone went back to the hotel because we were tired and reluctant to use taxis on our own.  There were fish at the gardens, but also fish at the hotel.  I rested a bit, then used the Internet at the hotel (free).  I tried to interact with the fish but they kept swimming away from me, and then all of them completely freaked out and hid under the bridge for a while.  I guess some white guy must have reached in one time.

I didn't want to go without dinner again so I went out in search of food.  I ran into Koen who had just come back from a chow mein place across the street.  He said it was right across the street to the left, so Terence (who I also ran into) and I went to find it.  We walked all the way down the street and saw nothing resembling what Koen described, so we got stuck with McDonalds again.  Later Koen claimed he said it was to the right, not the left.

At night we attended the performance at the Garden of the Master of Nets.  In theory this was a nice setup:  an English-speaking host led us (a big group, not just us 7) around to a series of pavilions, and in each one there was a short traditional musical performance or sketch.  But they didn't wait for one group to go all the way to the end; there were multiple groups throughout the garden and multiple simultaneous performances, and the noise spilled over and was quite distracting.  It was like a Disneyland ride where you go around in a car seeing a series of animatronic scenes and you can always hear the sound from the adjacent rooms.  Plus, one of the host's narratives was ruined by a crying baby, who was removed by its owner far too late.  Who the hell brings a baby to China?  And why is it that every time I write a travelogue, I have to go into a tirade against the French?  Here's why I'm doing it now.  Some high-haired French asshole (sorry for the redundancy) insisted on making comments to his friends (can French people have friends?) during the performances and narratives, talking over them as if annoyed that something else was going on in the room.  Americans often sound stupid when I hear them overseas, but the French seem to go out of their way to be complete pricks.  Maybe they don't know any better.  Maybe it's because they grow up in a socialist system, and with their underdeveloped brains they're easily convinced that the common good of the glorious French nation supersedes anyone's individual rights.  Like the loud and inappropriate use of the glorious French language is more important than my right to listen to a performance that I paid for.  Or like keeping Saddam Hussein in power so his food-for-oil kickbacks could continue to benefit the glorious French nation was more important than Iraqi citizens' right to vote for someone other than Hussein, and to avoid being killed by him.  One of these days we'll get to a point where it may make sense to return France to its rightful owners, the Germans.  Germany is reemerging as the top European power and it might be smart to begin appeasing them again, just in case this Merkel chick is up to something.  The French should start getting used to eating liberty cabbage with their snails.  And hey, wasn't it hot when Kellie Pickler was eating the snails with Wolfgang Puck?

Most of the performances were not exceptionally photo-worthy, but I liked this shot.

This one too.

There's a pond in the middle of the garden.  The reflections probably look better in the daytime.

My camera's good at night, but not that good.

The flute (lute?) player again from farther away.

In the gift shop I bought my only souvenir of the trip:  genuine Chinese tiger balm.  I'd earlier joked to MJ about using a balm on my sore calves, but that would have been risky.  No one can tell what a balm's gonna do.  They're unpredictable.

Fed up with the lack of drinking on the tour, I located the Aussie-owned Pulp Fiction Bar that my Let's Go guide recommends, and went there with Koen and Terence.  When I saw Strongbow listed on the blackboard, I knew I was home.  Turns out they were out of Strongbow, so we had the old reliable (and COLD for a change) Carlsberg.  We started in the downstairs bar, then moved upstairs where they had a pool table.  We would never have known there was an upstairs if not for my book.

We wanted to play pool, but you had to win the table from the reigning champion, who for much of the night was that guy on the left.  Terence is challenging on the right.

I went back downstairs later and a band had arrived.  In this shot they were doing "Sweet Home Chicago".  Orange whip?

Koen had a few beers but left early.  A Belgian can't keep up with an American and an Aussie?  I made a note to contact the Belgian Embassy and have his citizenship revoked.

At some point during the night I became pool champion by beating some Chinese guy.  I had 6 balls on the table and he was about to win, but he sank the cue with the 8, which under Aussie rules is a loss.  I was calling out the next few challengers listed on the board and no one responded, so I was about to retire as champion, but this chick Esther finally showed up.  I played terribly but almost had her beat, and then I sank the 8 in the wrong pocket.  Under Aussie rules, you have to call your pocket for the 8 and can't change it the rest of the game, so if it goes in the wrong pocket you lose.

Wall of graffiti.  The blackboard is the pool queue.  I just made that up now!

View out the 2nd-floor window onto Shiquan Street.  There are some other bars on this street, which is near the Master of Nets.

Sleeping Chinese girl.  Very sexy.

The place is empty so this must have been pretty late.

I ended up having 4 or 5 550-mL glasses of Carlsberg and two bourbon & Cokes.  A good quality night of drinking finally, thanks to me.  Nearing 3am Terence decided to order food, which the bartender had to order from some nearby place.  We waited and waited and the food never came, so we darted out at 3:30am and took a taxi home.