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Savoring embroidery, opera and crafts on ancient Suzhou street

By Fei Lai (Shanghai Daily)

09:07, December 24, 2012

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.

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