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Savoring embroidery, opera and crafts on ancient Suzhou street
By Fei Lai

THE ancient water town of Suzhou in Jiangsu Province was often called the Venice of the East because of its canals and old cobblestone streets and buildings. The old section, which dates back 2,500 years, is filled with charm and culture.

Pingjiang Road was built 800 years ago, running along a canal, and it has been renovated into a bustling tourist attraction with an authentic feel.

Strolling along the road is like walking in a dream. The street could be empty, with only the occasional sound of footsteps. Or it could be full of beautiful blossoms dancing in a cool breeze. Its shops and cafes beckon the browser and entice the curious.

If you are new in town, a stroll down the 1,600-meter road is one way to experience the old city. It was a major thoroughfare in the Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279) and because of its ancient style, it has become the symbol of ancient Suzhou.

Each step on the stone road has an echo, that of this ancient city and with a slight hint of espresso. All the houses along the road are unique-like, yet you can still find bars and cafes inside, and that is the uniqueness of this road - a mixture of modern and classic.

It doesn't take long to walk the length of the road, but to savor it and appreciate the old architecture and culture can take hours. There are a number of distinctive tea houses where locals sip tea, watch local opera and while away the hours.

Every night at Fuxi teahouse (97 Pingjiang Road), visitors can enjoy a famous scene from the Kunqu Opera, "The Peony Pavilion." One performer, Lu Chengfang, pioneered the method of narration plus acting to help the audience understand Kunqu Opera, known as the Voice of the Valley Orchids. She is a member of the local opera protection association and her performances are praised by visitors from around the country.

Elegant Kunqu Opera is around 600 years old and originated in the Kunshan region of Jiangsu Province. It dominated Chinese theater from the 16th to the 18th centuries.

Lu, 48, works at a chemical company and performs at night. Although she was never trained professionally, she is devoted to Kun Opera and began performing in her own style since March.

"I'm glad to bring Kun Opera into people's daily life, so it's more than something that can only been seen in theaters or on TV," she says. "I will always strive to promote this old culture and let more people know about it."

Another famous women on Pingjiang Road is Lu Fuying, a master of embroidery and other Jiangsu arts and crafts. She researched Su embroidery, known as painting with silk, at the Academy of Arts and Design in Tsinghua University in Beijng. She has explored different artistic effects with subtle changes in line, color and luster and developed her own style.

She founded Lu Fuying Embroidery Art Gallery on Pingjiang Road in 2005 to promote local Su embroidery. Her award-winning works are displayed, including "Mona Lisa," "The Awakening of Spring," and "Red Plum Blossoms."

She has also embroidered portraits or many famous people, such as Deng Xiaoping, and foreign figures.

She has traveled to international art exhibitions, giving demonstrations and promoting Su embroidery.

If You Go

How to get there

High-speed trains between Shanghai and Suzhou take 30 minutes. From Suzhou Railway Station, take 10-minute taxi ride to Pingjiang Road.

What to eat

Tao Ye Pu Dessert Shop

The small shop is hidden in a lane and decorated with ink-wash lanterns. Visitors can enjoy typical, tasty desserts and enjoy a view of the Pingjiang River.

Address: 46 Pingjiang Rd

San Wei Restaurant

Signature dishes include fish steamed with fermented glutinous rice (jiu niang yu) and pork with rose-flavor and fermented bean curd (mei gui fu ru kou rou). Average meal price is 60 yuan per person.

Address: 163 Pingjiang Rd

Where to stay

Pingjiang Road has many hotels and inns, including traditional Chinese and homey style. Staying there means you can enjoy the local life from morning to night.

Mingtown Youth Hostel

Address: 28 Pingjiang Rd

Suzhou Higher Garden Hotel

Address: 62-67 Pingjiang Rd

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