Revisiting Old Memories - A Short Getaway - CycleBlaze

October 5, 2021

Revisiting Old Memories

Suzhou to Luxu (Fenhu Development Zone)

The second objective of this trip was to explore the hinterlands where I used to teach in 2008/09 at a school called Sino Canada and then compare the development of the area now with the past.  Basically, to assess the changes for myself.  So today I rode the bicycle from Suzhou city center to the hinterlands.  These hinterlands are an area called Fenhu Development Zone that are technically part of Suzhou (Jiangsu province) but they straddle three different provinces:  Shanghai, Jiangsu, and Zhejiang.  As a result nowadays it is hard to tell exactly which one you are in at a given time.

The key discovery on this trip was that the provincial borders are essentially being erased and are much more porous than before.  From an economic development point of view this only makes perfect sense.  If there are political boundaries that artificially divide a development zone, then development is curtailed.  Integrating the area means development can happen all around instead of just in patches

13 years ago however, the political boundaries were a huge deal.  Since the school was so close to Shanghai province, many teachers would naturally go there on weekends or live across the border.  But at the time, you actually needed permission to do that!  Not only that, but your mobile phone number in one province wouldn't work in another and so you'd end up having to buy two SIM cards.  As for transportation, it was a massive headache.  Getting across the provincial border itself was your choice of a convoluted bike or scooter ride on farm roads, taxis that weren't allowed to cross so you'd have to get off one and take another.  Or you could take buses that would run very infrequently and were often illegal, that is the infamous 'chicken bus'.   There were also many police checkpoints along the borders and many instances of people riding scooters and getting stopped.  I became very familiar with all the backroads at the time since I actually lived in the next town within Shanghai province and commuted to work every day across the provincial border. 

Now, however, it is almost as if the line has been erased.  The biggest change was a new wide road essentially replacing the old farm roads and going right beside the school.  There are no checkpoints on this road either and it brings lots of traffic.  Before there was almost no traffic.  It is as if all of a sudden the school was on the grid.  Now it is as easy as hopping to the street and calling a taxi and you're in Shanghai just like that.

Looking out over the lake on the old bridge
Heart 0 Comment 0
On this side of the border (the Shanghai side) it is like being in a time warp. No development at all, this old industrial shop has been like this over 15 years
Heart 0 Comment 0
Eventually this will change, we hope
Heart 0 Comment 0
The old access road across the provincial border. Those trees have grown within the last 10 years and have created an artificial tunnel as it were. There are multiple cameras (the first one seen here) to snap your image if you ride across. What is missing is the guard house that used to be where the light is that housed watch officers. They built that around 2009 and it disappeared about 5 years later.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Access to the old 'hotel' that is Zplashes Resort where teachers at Sino Canada used to live. I imagine they still live there. At the time it felt deserted and haunted. Very strange things went on. Don't even get me started about the secret karaoke rooms. We thought the owner was mad for thinking this would become a high-traffic resort area but clearly he knew about the future development plans for the area that we did not.
Heart 0 Comment 0

Today's bike ride started out in the center of Suzhou at the Novotel Hotel and then gradually turned into the hinterlands.  As it did so the scenery got more and more beautiful.  This is really the best area close to home for riding, and I was pretty thrilled to have picked it.  Given the circumstances as they are in the world, you need to make the most of what is available.

Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

I got rerouted towards Zhouzhuang, that is a famous water town.  There are many of such places in the area and I've seen them all so there is no point getting excited about it.  For this holiday it was absolutely slam packed and I had no desire to go in.

Another very interesting discovery. Zhouzhuang is essentially an island with only one road in and out. But my GPS kept directing me to this 'stairway' that crosses a river. I only found out now it goes into Shanghai province so this was unexpected.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
These villages would be on the Jiangsu province side of the river, and part of Kunshan
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Zhouzhuang. Saw it from the road and that was good enough.
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0

After that sudden realization I was in Shanghai province I figured why spend another night on the road, why not just bike back home and save on hotel costs. 

Well it isn't so simple as that.  Due to the complex and incredibly random nature of the provincial borders, I was actually more than 60km away from home and it was getting dark.  Originally I was going to stay in Fenhu development zone in Jiangsu province so why not just stick to the plan.

This provided the opportunity to find out about this new road mentioned earlier that goes right by my former school then double back around and stay in the development zone.  What I saw was rather shocking, the place had transformed immensely.   The mushrooming of buildings all over the place, shopping malls, McDonald's, Starbucks, and various new roads along with traffic made it feel like a completely different world than last time.  I actually got lost and my friends were right, I wasn't able to recognize the place.  

New developments around the lake
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
Heart 0 Comment 0
The hotel I stayed at
Heart 0 Comment 0

Today's ride: 55 km (34 miles)
Total: 140 km (87 miles)

Rate this entry's writing Heart 1
Comment on this entry Comment 0