As I mentioned in the last post, Tiger Hill is a very old site. In 825 CE, it was connected to the city of Suzhou by a new canal, the Shantang Canal, which was paralleled by a new street, Shantang Street (these parallel streets and canals constitute the traditional Suzhou “double chessboard” pattern, two interlocked grids, one of water and one on land). The end of Shantang Street nearest to the city has been turned into an official tourist attraction old street, combining historic buildings with cafés, silk shops, tea, Shanghai Lady cosmetics, paper cuts, and various other Chinoiserie.
However, Shantang Street is 7 li (2.2 miles) long and most of it, while protected, has not been turned into a tourist playground.
There are a few grander buildings on Shantang Street near Tiger Hill that have been fixed up and opened to visitors. As I was walking down the street, a few tourists came to visit these in cars with drivers and tour guides, but visitors were few.
Most of Shantang Street is residential. A few small shops and businesses (I saw a barber chair or two) serve locals. When I went into a shop for a water, the proprietor was working on embellishing a wedding dress. It was more workshop than shop.
I saw very few people along most of Shantang Street, and those I saw were mostly elderly, enjoying the sun on a very mild January day.
As I walked farther along Shantang Street, to the section not near either tourist pole, many buildings were empty and in worse repair.
Rather than fully renovated historic buildings, this middle stretch saw the traces of old, grand structures fully integrated into ordinary life.
Just before the tourist stretch of Shantang Street, the street suddenly gets much busier.
The street becomes a very lively market
There are a few tourist items, especially stone beads, but mostly this is where people do their daily shopping.
And if things aren’t too busy, it’s a good place to play a hand of cards or to kibbitz.
If you search for pictures of Shantang Street, most won’t look anything like these, but the Shantang Street of laundry, handwork, and shopping is probably much more true to its nearly 1200 years of history than the historical fairyland with café latte that most people visit.