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Notes on the Geography of China: New Suzhou

The gardens of Suzhou are to the city what Mission Dolores is to San Francisco: culturally important and economically insignificant.  Here, we look at the city in which Suzhou's residents actually live.  It's changing incredibly fast: GDP per capita rose from 634 yuan in 1978 to 1,280 in 1984, 3,616 in 1990, 17,474 in 1996, 21,733 in 1998, and 35,733 in 2002.   Here's another set of vertiginous numbers: foreign direct investment in Suzhou in 2001 totalled $3 billion, including $1.4 billion from Hong Kong, $1 billion from Taiwan, $600 million from Japan, and $53 million from Canada.  Not bad for a city famous for classical gardens.

(Statistics from Chen in Globalization and the Chinese City, ed. by Fulong Wu, 2006.)

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Xinsi Road.  It's not clear who the sign is intended for.  Visitors?  Residents?  The website is that of the Suzhou Garden Administration Bureau.

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Within the city walls, there's a Manhattan-like grid of streets, traffic, and residential and commercial activity.

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Everything is laid out in rectangles, here filled with apartment buildings.

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A nearby grocery on Xinsi Road.  The English fetish is interesting; nobody inside spoke a word of it.

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A fruit market, noteworthy not only for its color but its quality.

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No more lumpy, warty, spotty produce.  This stuff is export quality, which should make American farmers very uneasy. 

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Nearby, mushrooms.

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Downtown shopping district: cell phones galore.  Everyone has one, or so it seems.

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Money to spend on bikes, too.

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In the basement of the same building, China's New Sorrow.  What was it Chou En-Lai said about the Chinese riding bicycles for centuries to come?

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Close to Pan Men, a slum hugs a fragment of the old city wall.  It isn't particularly old--the wall was rebuilt in 876, 922, 1662 and other times as well--but its location has been stable for a thousand years.

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The slum itself is odd: partly abandoned yet partly in use with air-conditioning. 

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The same neighborhood, apparently in a state of turnover.

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Wall-side playground.

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The International Convention and Exhibition Center is on the west side of town.  To the south of it is Suzhou's Hi-Tech Center, established in 1990.

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On the east side--a more sensible location, closer to Shanghai--is the Suzhou Industrial Park, a Singapore-funded district established in 1994 and now home to a score of multinational manufacturing companies.

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New housing.

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More on the way.

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Something a little less intense.

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Waiting for a ride into town.

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An American-style motel on the way.

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Highway junction just outside Suzhou. 

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Down the road a bit, a toll plaza.  You have to pity the tourist who goes to China in search of storybook exoticism.

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