Are there any music shops in Suzhou?
Last week I went searching in the rain for a music shop in Suzhou, China. I'm keen on buying one of the native flutes here, though I still hadn't come across any in my travels. A difficult Bing search (Google is blocked) led me to believe I was headed to a street full of music stores. But as is tradition in these foreign lands, you never know what you're going to get. Here's what the scene looked like when my DiDi (Chinese Uber) driver dropped me off:
Hmm... It did end up being close to my intended street though, so I walked and found the location that Bing maps was leading me to. It didn't take long to realize that there were no music shops here aside from a very closed piano store. I decided to try my luck and keep walking down the street for a bit, but first I found a $3 umbrella to get a bit of shelter from the elements. As I was walking I heard a flute in the distance - the first one of the trip! I followed the sound until I honed in on the source. In a tiny parking attendant booth, there was an old man playing a Dizi. I knocked on his window and held up my phone with the translation, "where can I buy one of those flutes around here?" The jolly old man laughed at me and started yelling in Chinese with a smile on his face. I looked at him and said nothing - my choice couple of phrases were of no use here.
After some time haranguing me in Chinese, he passed me his flute and let me try it. I played a bit in the parking booth, quite enjoying the fact that at the very least, I got to play some music in this place. He smiled in his worn chair and we continued our conversation. We tried to look at a map on his phone but it was near impossible to triangulate a location I could use in my travels. Then he looked up and kept repeating something that sounded like "johngianjeeay". Gwan jian jeeay... Guan gian jeeay! Guan cheean Jie! He pointed to the blank map and said it again. It had to be a street. I remembered that I'd seen "Jie" on some street signs. Then I asked him to spell it for me and he scratched the Chinese characters on a piece of paper.
I can't read Chinese characters and he didn't know the Pinyin (the Romanized Chinese alphabet) or didn't understand me... So there I was with a photo translation app on my Samsung galaxy trying to decipher this old man's cryptic symbols on a piece of looseleaf paper in a parking booth. It was no use. I asked him to point me in the right direction and took off walking in the rain.
I wandered in and out of interesting shops all day, amazed by the number of people out and about in the pouring rain. Everybody had an umbrella and sopping shoes. After a few hours of searching, eating weird street food, and buying tea, I was getting cold and tired. Then I turned a corner and saw the sign 'Guanqian Jie'. Qi is pronounced "chee". Guan Cheean Jie.
It felt like some sort of miracle. The simple discovery of a street yielded an emotional response as strong as a cherished memory. This is what traveling is all about.
Stoked, I walked up and down the length of the street and didn't find a single music store. My phone was dying too... and if it did, it would've been a struggle to get back. So I found a Starbucks and requested a DiDi to take me home. Either way, I had a nice Chinese adventure.
While I was waiting in the Starbucks I looked out the window and saw another sign that said Guanqian Jie - there's more than one! All I could do was sit there and imagine the music store being 10 meters away or something; just out of grasp from a long day's adventure... but hey, sometimes it's just not meant to be.