Hu Qiu – Tiger Hill – is a famous park in western suburbs of Suzhou. The site has been occupied since the 5th century BC, and it is traditionally known as the burial location of King He Lu. There is a tall stone pagoda at the top of the hill that was built in 961 AD. It’s a big attraction to tourists and very popular on the weekend. But it’s big enough to stand the crush and it’s possible to find some serene moments in the bamboo forests on the far side of the hill.

We entered and began the climb. A woman offered me a ride in a sedan chair – where here partner was, I do not know. I told her, “wo xihuan zou”, “I like to walk” and she chuckled.

The path in was lined with bright floral arrangements, some in flower beds and others in pots. Some interesting constructs using flowers in the motifs were sprinkled here and there. Most interesting was a family of pigs dancing in a circle, their clothing being made of carnations. About ½ ways up we came upon a beautiful garden, whose center was the figure of a woman in traditional dress soaring against a full moon made up of bright yellow flowers.

Continuing our climb, we decided to use the facilities and followed the signs to the toilets. Men had two choices, a room with stalls or an alcove with an open door labeled “Men’s Urinary Room”. I opted for the former.

Working my way through the crowd and up to the base of the pagoda, I found myself alone, my companions being staged somewhere in the throng below. An attractive young Chinese woman came up to me with her digital camera and asked for a photograph. It’s not uncommon in these locations to be asked to take a snapshot for a group of people. But that wasn’t what she wanted. She wanted her picture taken with me. She took my arm, pulled herself in close, told me to smile and her male friend snapped the shot. Her girlfriend stood off to the side giggling. She reviewed the picture and satisfied with the outcome gave me a cheery “thank you” and went on her way.

Now regrouped and having had enough of the pagoda and the people, we decided to return via the back side of the park. So down we went. Unlike the front, this part of the park was quiet and peaceful. We wandered along a trim path under the canopy of tall trees. We elected to take a side path through a grove of wispy bamboo plants. The shoots of which – big, dark and course – belied the delicate nature of the adult version. Wandering along we found ourselves in a small tea plantation, rows of the bushes winding their way along the contours of the hill under tall shading trees.

Eventually the path found its way down to a canal and followed it towards the exit. The far side of the water being a row of ancient houses. A man sat chain smoking and fishing as another propelled a small skiff with two woman down the waterway.
Our departure was highlighted by the sight of many dozen soldiers in crisp green uniforms crossing the stone bridge towards the entrance. On a sadder note, two ponies stood silently waiting for someone to hire their wagons for a tour. They were probably the most serene horses I’ve seen. Mostly asleep, the older of the two incredibly sway-backed from a life of carrying a heavy harness.

The nature of these places is so strong, that it doesn’t matter how many people are around you or how thick the shabby souvenir stalls are. You still come away with a sense of timelessness and peace.