Travel Report: Shantang Street – Suzhou, China.
December 2018. The city of Suzhou offers visitors a fascinating slice of ancient China, especially with its UNESCO gardens and restored canal streets. This really is the perfect city in which to meander, shop, watch boats bob by and cross an age old bridge or two. Having already covered the delights of Pingjiang Road, I decided to check out Suzhou’s other popular walking route, Shantang Street.
Dating back to 825, it was a famous Chinese poet, Bai Juyi, who developed Shantang Street into a place of creativity and trade. As with Pingjiang Road, Shantang Street is full of cosy cafes, pocket sized restaurants and cutesy shops focusing on traditional handicrafts. This toyshop, with its Beatrix-Potter-like animal dolls, was my favourite of the stores.
For me the thing that really sets Shantang Street apart was my encounter with this amusing man and his dazzling slide show machine. “Sit down a please, look a look a” he called. And so I did, even though I wasn’t entirely sure what I’d be looking at.
Shantang Street, Suzhou.
Without further ado, the man cut straight to the chase with a direct request for “money!”. From there my initial cynicism cleared with the revelation that the cost was a negligible 10RMB (£1.15/€1.30/$1.45). Hence I thought what the heck and scanned his WeChat QR code to pay the fee.
The subsequent five minute presentation seemed to be some kind of traditional Chinese drama. And it all played out through a peephole in the machine. There was flashing fire, a ferocious tiger, a dramatic love triangle and a series of grisly executions. None of it made a lick of sense to me.
Furthermore, my Chinese friend was also at a loss as to what I’d seen when I relayed the details to her down the phone. “I think in China this is called a peep show!” she said, and I couldn’t help but laugh out loud. In any case it didn’t matter, the whole thing had been good for a giggle. If you ever find yourself on Shantang Street, I’d certainly recommend going to see Peep Show Man.
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