On our last day in Suzhou, we began the morning at an embroidery studio. Embroidery is popular across China, but the Suzhou embroidery technique is especially well-known for its fineness. The studio we visited is known for its Suzhou embroidery art, so instead of embroidering fabrics to be worn, they embroider canvases to create magnificent works of art.
Each piece takes a minimum of three months to create. Some of the pieces we saw took a whole year to complete. The artist begins each work by sketching the design on a canvas, and then she follows along the sketch with yarn. The studio uses over 500 different colors of yarn, and the works are entirely made of silk. The artists use a tiny needle to do the embroidery, which explains why it is so fine (and also why it takes so long to complete each work!)
This district in Suzhou is known for their exceptional embroidery skills. Women learn how to do embroidery from their mothers and they pass the craft down to their children, so it is a very important part of their culture. The son of the woman who runs the gallery explained that customarily, only women are allowed to do embroidery. Some people are naturally better at embroidery than others, and those with natural talent need about 5 years of practice to do embroidery at the level we saw at this studio. Others who are not talented can practice for 10 to 20 years and still never be quite good enough.
This Van Gogh-inspired work is worth $15,000.
It's hard to tell from the pictures, but each of those works is completely made of thread! We snapped a quick picture with the lead artist who runs the studio (first row, second from the left) before going shopping!
Since most of the works we saw at the gallery were worth $10,000+, we went to a nearby embroidery store to find some more reasonably priced gifts. The entire street was filled with different embroidery shops! I also stumbled upon some (very inauthentic) knockoff CHANEL scarves!!
Side note, at lunch I tried jellyfish! I think this officially tops the list of weirdest foods I've tried (is jellyfish weirder than whale?).
After shopping and lunch, we went to a massive pearl market. China is known for having gorgeous, high quality pearls at pretty reasonable prices. I've always been obsessed with pearls, and thanks to both of my stylish grandmothers and my mother, I already have a pretty decent collection of my own! But, you can never have too many pairs of pearl earrings! This market had at least 50 different vendors, all selling unique varieties of pearl earrings, necklaces, rings, and more! I'm not the best negotiator, but I was able to bargain down the prices for some of the pearls I bought! I'm sure the vendors got a kick out of me timidly trying to haggle with them, but the language barrier makes it pretty difficult! I met one lady at a pearl store who spoke a little English and was so excited to meet an American! She told me that her daughter, who is 11 years old, has always loved America and New York City, and she is moving to America in September to go to school! The pearl market was my first real shopping experience in China, and despite the language barrier, it was a blast!
Our next stop, Hangzhou, was about a 2 hour drive, which gave me some time to reflect on the trip so far. China is a pretty amazing country, and it's quite different from how I expected it to be. We're very lucky to have Lena and Mrs. Jiao as our translators, because every few of the people we've interacted with actually speak English. But, they are always so excited to meet us and welcome us into their factories, shops, and restaurants. I'm very impressed by how proud the Chinese people are of their nation, their history, and their culture. They really believe in and love their country, which is quite a shock to the system being that nationalism in America is so polarizing at the moment. I'm also surprised by how developed China is in terms of infrastructure. I expected to see a few major cities and rural areas everywhere else. There are actually quite a lot of suburbs, though not the type we are used to. Instead of seeing single family homes spread across a large area, there are massive apartment buildings clustered into tiny spaces. It's a very strange layout, but it makes sense considering how populated this country is.
For dinner, we took a (much appreciated) break from traditional Chinese food to enjoy some Thai cuisine!
Tomorrow, we will be touring a couple of textile production factories, and in the afternoon we will be going to a fabric market!