Jun 15, 2012
When Kato Miyuki first arrived in China five years ago, she couldn't speak a single word of Chinese. The Japanese native relocated to Suzhou in the neighboring Jiangsu Province with her husband, who had been offered a job in the Suzhou Industrial Park. To move to Suzhou, she had to quit her doctoral studies at Aichi Shukutoku University back in her hometown.
Everything was new and very different from what she had previously known about China. "In Japan, not all the TV news about China is positive," she says in fluent Mandarin. "I was even warned that Chinese people might not be that friendly to Japanese."
To her surprise, she fell in love with Suzhou, its culture and people shortly after she moved to the historical city. She was more than excited to find all the historical buildings hidden in small alleys scattered around the city.
"In my hometown, most of the old buildings were torn down to be replaced by new ones," she explains. "I love how Suzhou is planned - all the old buildings in the city center are well preserved, while you can also find modern skyscrapers on the outskirts."
To her, every old building has a story to tell. To learn more about the stories behind those buildings, she even learned how to ride a bicycle so that she could go through the alleys more easily.
And, in order to communicate with local people, Kato made an important decision to go back to school - this time to learn Chinese.
After years of hard work, she can now not only speak fluent Mandarin but is also able to write beautiful articles in Chinese about what she sees and feels in Suzhou.
"I always love writing," says the graduate student of at Suzhou University, who is now a freelance writer at Jiangsu Whenever, a Japanese community magazine providing useful life tips to Japanese residents in the neighboring province.
She also launched a blog in Japanese, http://blog.goo.ne.jp/suzhou-haochi, to record her life and experiences in Suzhou.
"It was difficult to find information about Suzhou life other than some general traveling tips on the Internet," she says. "I want to show people what life in Suzhou is really like. Other than those renowned ancient gardens, there are many beautiful places to go."
For an authentic taste of city life in old Suzhou, Kato strongly recommends a stroll down Pingjiang Road. Quiet, leafy and slow-paced, the street is lined with old Chinese houses as well as restaurants and teahouses serving traditional food and drink, upscale cafes and a few hostels.
"The changes (on Pinjiang Road) are amazing," she says. "When I first came to the street in 2005, there was not even one coffee shop. However, now there are at least 20 cafes and is always filled with foreign tourists."
A food lover, Kato likes to write about her dining experiences the most. She named her blog "hao chi," which literally means "yummy" in Chinese.
"I used to be a model so I have strict standards for what I eat," she says. "I eat only three times a day, so I can't just eat anything. Good food is very important to me."
Her favorite local dish is the Suzhou-style noodles, which, according to her, is very different from Japanese ramen, both in terms of the way it is cooked and the eating customs.
"In Japan, we sit down, order the noodles and pay after we finish the dishes," she says. "However, in Suzhou noodle restaurants, you order and pay before you sit down and wait for the noodles to be served. Sometimes you have to go get the noodles by yourself."
This is also what Kato is likely to write on her blog, so that newcomers to the city wouldn't be as clueless as she once was.
You can also find articles about all kinds of restaurants in Suzhou, from traditional Japanese restaurants to Chinese food chains, from French bistros to Italian fine dining places, old and new, on her blog.
Her ultimate goal is to go back to Japan to teach Chinese and Chinese culture. "I want to let people know the real China, especially the good parts," she says.
Kato carries a Canon digital camera wherever she goes so that she can capture all the beautiful moments of her life in Suzhou at any time.
"I feel like living in Suzhou is the best time in my life," she says.
About the Column
This series focuses on individuals who have lived in Suzhou, Jiangsu Province for a while and have a tale that’s worth telling. Age, gender, nationality and race are all unimportant in comparison with what adventures the subject has been up to, the experiences they can recount.