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Suzhou 2009

© 2009 Steve Rogerson
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A diary of a work trip to Suzhou, China

26 October-2 November 2009

Monday 26 October

I flew from Manchester Airport on my way to Suzhou in China on a work trip to attend the Advantech World Partner Conference. It was a longish journey, changing planes at Dubai before flying to Shanghai and then being driven from there to Suzhou. I'd been to Shanghai before but never Suzhou, so knew little of what to expect. The hotel was close to the city centre.

I flew Emirates. It has been a few years since I last flew with them but from what I remember last time the economy class was not too bad with decent food and good legroom. Of course, that had changed or my perception had. The seats felt really crowded and were uncomfortable. Food quality was not that good either. But they had a choice of over 200 movies to watch on the flight so I watched the latest Star Trek film again.

Tuesday 27 October

I arrived at Suzhou quite late in the day. I decided to have a brief explore before bed so headed for a bar I'd read about online. This was Jane's Pub Bar at 621 Shiquan Street. The bar didn't sound anything special but I had its address and the street in question is noted for having a number of bars, so I thought I'd check out the area. Jane's was OK. I had a pint of Tiger and a bite to eat and played a few games of pool before returning to the hotel for a swift half.

Wednesday 28 October

The best way for getting over jetlag, I have found, when travelling east is to try to stay up till your normal bed time on the first day, then let tiredness knock you out and you're in zone. It seemed to work fine at first, this time. I got to bed just after midnight and fell asleep as soon as I hit the pillow. I slept solidly till I woke up to go to the loo at 5am, and then couldn't get back to sleep. This is annoying because given the lack of sleep I have had over the past two days with travelling means I am going to be very tired this evening.

This also meant I had an early breakfast. On this trip, I am not on full expenses so I will have to buy a number of meals myself. Breakfast is not one of them and is free for me, so went into convention mode and stuffed myself.

One of the nice things about eastern hotels is the wide range on offer as they try to cater for eastern and western tastes. My breakfast in order was therefore:

1. Bowl of fresh fruit, kiwi juice and coffee
2. Wonton noodle soup
3. Yoghurt
4. Bacon and eggs
5. A banana

After breakfast, I went for a walk round some of Suzhou, looking at shops etc. I bought myself a local SIM for the unlocked phone I take to places like this. I got it from China Mobile, a prepaid SIM and I had to sign six different forms to get it!

I noticed in my wanderings a Chinese bottled beer in supermarkets that I'd never heard of. This was a 4% beer called Mons. Luckily, this evening at my first official function - the conference welcoming party - they were serving it. It was lucky in two aspects, one that they had it and one that I didn't have to pay for it, because I'd have hated to have wasted money on anything that bland. Very light coloured with hardly any taste at all.

After the welcome party, I headed for a bar I saw an advert for in a local what's on guide saying it sold American craft beers. It is called ZZ8 Loft and is an upstairs bar on a busy road junction (the address is Unit 203, 215 Shishan Road). The bar is quite small with half a dozen stools at the bar and nine tables with seating round them.

There were goldfish in a large bowl on the bar.

All three beers I tried were imported from the USA in 12 fl oz bottles. The bar also sold Erdinger Weizen white and dark, Schoefferhoff Weizen and Crystal, Heinekin and TsingTao from bottles and Carlsberg on draught.

The first I tried was Ruedrich's Red Seal Ale, a 5.5% hazy red beer from California. It was very hoppy to the extent that the hoppines broke through even when it was cold from the fridge.

Next up was Dead Guy Ale Rogue, a 6.5% beer from Oregon. This had a very malty smell, and on taste an initial bitter hit gave way to a lasting malty and bitter mix. Also a red cloudy beer, with sediment, so bottle conditioned. The barmaid said people who normally drink the Carlsberg all night are drunk after two bottles of this.

Finally, I had the 5.2% Brooklyn lager, again a cloudy bottle conditioned beer with a hoppy smell. It had a nice hoppy taste with a colour more brown than red. It was good though not as good as the first two. Despite its name, this is not a lager.

The bar also sells Brooklyn IPA, which the barmaid said was the best seller, which probably explains why it was sold out.

I then headed for Dream Hollywood at 777 Shiquan Street. This is another upstairs bar, but with live rock music. It has Paulaner wheat beer light and dark on draught. I suspect the beer comes from the Paulaner brewpub in nearby Shanghai, but it was too noisy to ask.

Thursday 29 October

Thursday was my first day proper at the conference.

I spent Thursday evening at a very unusual bar, in fact it was not just a bar but a combined book shop, library and bar. Called The Bookworm, it was a cosy bar with the walls lined with books. It is just off Shiquan Street, which is full of bars. There was also a pleasant outdoor seating area. The menu had a range of western and eastern foods, and beer. On draught are Sapporo from Japan, Tiger, Carlsberg and Guinness, and the bottles range from Erdinger and Hoegarden to Newcastle Brown and Boddingtons.

Books are brought to the bar to be purchased and the barman packs them and will add the cost to your drink tab if you are staying.

The chilled atomosphere deepened when a male and female duet started playing folky type songs. The female singer I later discovered was called Linda and the duet goes under the name Bossa Nova Park. She sang covers from the Beatles to Bob Dylan and said that she is a photographer and is writing some of her own songs.

I started with a Leffe Blonde to wash down my spicy beef fried noodle dish. I then went for the Erdinger Dunkel and found the label back was in Chinese. With translation help from a local, I found the beer is actually brewed in China.

Friday 30 October

Friday was the last proper work day and we finished with a two-hour closing ceremony, with various awards being presented and Chinese dancing entertainment. They even got all the executives on the stage to sing a song. And they showed a video of clips from the conference, and I was on it twice; I must try to get a copy.

Afterwards, we split into groups to go to various restaurants - there was too many of us for one - and we ended up at a really nice one called Soochow-Household Restaurant. It's on Ligongdi Road in the SIP district. They even had a couple playing traditional Chinese music.

It was one of those where just dish after dish kept arriving on the spinning thing in the middle of the table. As well as TsingTao to wash it down there was another Chinese beer I'd never heard off. And then I realised that it was actually the Mons I'd been drinking earlier in the week but I'd misread the label.

The word "MONS" you see was written vertically on the bottle, which meant it could in theory be read from top to bottom or bottom to top. To find the real name of the beer, write MONS in capitals on a piece of paper and then turn the paper upside down.

I chose not to enter the speed drinking contest that the company organised as I don't tend to drink quickly anyway and I was so full of food I think I might have thrown up.

I spotted on the way to the restaurant the HB Hofbrau bar (50 Ligongdi Road), which I'd heard brewed its own beer and was on my list of places to find, so I went there after the meal along with a load of others from the restaurant. It is actually the second of the Hofbrau chain in China and the beer is brewed at the first in Jiangyin. They sold the lager, weisse and dunkel, and all were very nice after the TsingTao.

Saturday 31 October

Those of you who have known me a long time will know that I have a dodgy left knee following ligament damage I sustained playing football in the early 1980s. Well, I've had so little problems with it lately that I've even stopped taking the elastic bandage round me. Then last night as I was getting ready for bed I got a real painful jab through it. It took a while to settle down but did eventually. It seemed fine this morning and then twinged again as I was getting dressed.

On Saturday morning, we were taken to Advantech's factory in Kunshan. We were on the coach for over an hour and when I got off my knee was killing me. I limped to the room where we had an hour of presentations before they took us on an hour long tour of the factory. After about ten minutes, I was in agony with my knee and I thought I was going to have to drop out, which was annoying as I needed some factory photos for the article I'll be writing at the end of this. Thankfully, the knee stated to ease up and all seemed fine.

After the factory tour, it was back on the coach for sightseeing. The first stop was the Suzhou Silk Museum. As well as a museum, this is working silk factory and we saw the silk being made from worm right through to the finished product, which of course we could buy at the shop at the end - I think the coach guide was on commission. I bought a silk scarf for Tracey.

As with the factory, my knee hurt like hell when I got of the coach and then eased up as I walked on it for a bit.

After the silk museum, the next stop on the tour was Tiger Hill, the burial ground of He Lu, the father of Suzhou. We walked up the hill to the top where there is a large pagoda that leans slightly.

The two pictures above are a matching set in that the second picture was taken from the bridge in the first picture

A walk back down the hill was followed by a trip to the Lingering Garden. This is one of many ornamental gardens that can be found in the city. This one was built in 1610.

Last night, I got drunk as it was my my last night in Suzhou. After freshening up following the sightseeing, I headed for the Kempinski Hotel at 1 Guobing Lu, which is also the home of a Paulaner microbrewery.

I met the brewer, Christian Liepke, who gave me a tour of the brewing equipment. The brewing is done in two large copper kettles facing the bar and then transferred to the fermenting room, a separate room at the side of the bar but with glass walls so people can look in. When ready, the beer is stored in five large vats downstairs and then transferred as needed to three large vats near the bar, and these are connected directly to the pumps at the bar.

He showed me the brewing materials and sadly he uses hop pellets rather than full hops as he said these were more convenient for a brewery this size, which is a nonsense as many microbreweries use full hops as they know they give better flavour.

The Paulaner light and dark are brewed there and I had a glass of each with a plate of German sausages. The wheat beer is imported in bottles.

I finished the night off (till about 4am) back at Jane's pub playing pool and watching football on telly. I discovered that the bar also sells bottled beers that are a lot nicer than the draught Tiger I'd been drinking there. The range includes Chimay, Duvel, Hoegarden, Erdinger Weiss and Dunkel and Paulaner Weiss.

Sunday 1 November

I got up at about noon today and headed for the old city centre, where I walked round the temple and the shops before heading back to the hotel to pack and check-out. I spent the afternoon in the hotel bar with a glass of TsingTao next to me as I waited for the transport to the airport.


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