Shantang Street Echo Coffee & Bar for Tourists in Suzhou City

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R.P. BenDedek Shantangjie 2017
Taken outside the Echo Coffee & Bar

As the title of this article suggests, today we are going to look at a particular place within the general area known as the Shantangjie or Shantang Street in Suzhou City, Jiangsu Province, The People’s Republic of China.

This article appears for two reasons. Firstly, I promised the Echo management that I would publish a photographic story, and secondly because I want to write a little about my hectic life over the past month.

Right now I am preparing to leave China for good. After fourteen and a half years of living and teaching in China, I am about to say farewell to this absolutely marvellous country.

During the last few weeks my life has been extremely hectic for various reasons and on four particular occasions I have found myself at the Shantang Street.

And so begins my little photographic excursion.

This first photo was taken late at night in 2007 in the Shantangjie. You can read about Shantang Street at Wikipedia or on this Chinese Tour Site. You can also read my first article about a visit there.

The 1000 year old Shantangjie in Suzhou City. This particular photograph was taken in 2007 at night after all the shops had closed. This and other photographs taken at the time have I think a surreal look to them. If you click on the photo you will be taken to my original article.

The buildings on the right in the photograph above back onto the canal and the buildings on the right in the photograph below face the Shantangjie.

Behind the shops in the Shantangjie is the canal and the Echo Coffee & Bar is on the left of the canal in the photo below. According to internet sources the Shantangjie has existed for a thousand years and according to locals, the buildings have existed for 500 of those years. You can take boat rides on the canal for a fee, although I prefer the boat ride which leaves from up near the city gate or Changmen.

Echo Coffee Bar 01
Out of frame to the right and on the other side of those buildings is the Shantang Street as seen in the photograph above. This photograph was also taken in 2007. Do you see those people sitting around just ahead of the boat on the far right? They are waiting for a boat ride. (I personally didn’t think much of that ride). In the Shantangjie directly opposite that passenger waiting area is an entertainment stage which is shown at the end of this article.

The entrance to the Shantang Steet area can be seen in the top left frame of the photograph below. Just a 100 or so meters away you can find the City Gate.

Echo Coffee Bar 02
The top left frame shows me with some students in 2007 and behind us on that bridge is the entrance to this famous area. If you click on the photo you will see that sign as one big photo. The top right frame is of the city gate (now a tea shop). Bottom left is to the right just after you pass under the Shantang sign, and bottom right frame is a statue located opposite Shilu mall and  I will mention it again  in another photograph. All are within minutes of that spot where the boys and I are sitting.

Over the last month I have been to Shantangjie several times. The first was to attend a graduation dinner held in the Jiangnan hotel on Guangji Lu and the hotel is to the right of the bridge you see over the canal in the second photo in this article.

A few days later I went to Shangtanjie to buy some gifts for my 16 grandkids. The street is full of gift shops and eateries. Between the Jiangnan hotel and the canal, at the bottom of that bridge previously mentioned is another restaurant whose name I have forgotten. Recently I was there to farewell a volunteer teacher whose parents had arrived to meet her.

June 30th, I went back to the Shantangjie with one of my private students, and we were accompanied by another volunteer teacher by the name of Erica.

Echo Coffee Bar 03
The top left frame shows the view from Guangji Street from the Shilu underground station (Exit 12). At the end there is a street. Turn left and you walk to the Shantang Street. Straight ahead however is that statue shown and mentioned in a previous photo. TOP RIGHT shows the beginning of the Shantang street and BOTTOM LEFT shows you the street. BOTTOM RIGHT is the bridge to cross the canal and it is located halfway down the street.
Echo Coffee Bar 04
As you cross over that foot bridge in the bottom frame of the previous photograph you encounter this scene to the right. This photograph was taken on June 30th 2017. If you click the photograph you will go to another article which shows some night time photographs on a different canal and tour.
Mao Wenwen
Mao Wenwen from the Echo Bar was once my student at SPIA. Click on the photo to see a photographic article about the School.

The day after the student graduation dinner at the Jiangnan Hotel, I went out for dinner with a student and afterwards we went up to the Shantang Street for coffee and by sheer chance stopped at the Echo Coffee & Bar to get a cappuccino.

As I was explaining to the waitress that I wanted a really hot cappuccino, she said ‘wait a minute’ and a second later another waitress appeared. That waitress turned out to be Mao Wenwen, one of my former students. She was there to translate for the waitress.

Mao Wenwen reminded me that when she was my student I would often refer to her as Mao Zedong. I do that sometimes – calling students by the names of famous or infamous people.

My friend Johnny did not order a drink but when ny coffee arrived it did so accompanied with a glass of iced water for him. It was a hot humid night! Paying honor to me as her English teacher Mao Wenwen provided me the coffee free of charge (courtesy of the management). She also invited Johnny and me to come inside and take a look around, and once I did, I decided that I wanted to come back to take photos. Receiving permission from the owner, all I needed was the chance to get back.

On June 30th, while out with Yushun and Erica, I found myself a little frustrated with their complaints about it being too hot to go out to the Dong Yuan (which was the actual purpose of the trip) so I ended up saying, “Well I may as well drop in and take those photographs of the Echo Bar.” And so I did.

Echo Coffee Bar 05
Top left frame shows the descent from the bridge. Although you can go straight ahead, you must go right to follow the canal. Top right is Erica standing in front of the Echo Coffee Bar, and bottom left is a shot from the doorway looking back to the bridge. Bottom right is the first thing you see when you enter – a colorful array of ???

At first glace the Echo Bar is a small place, but that is only because it is sectionalized. Around the bar there are a few tables and chairs, but beyond them is a set of stairs which lead into another section. You can clearly see the doors and steps in the bottom right photograph above. Because it is separated from the bar area by glass doors, the interior is really cool, especially with the air conditioning. That first area also contains a bandstand beside which is a door leading into a garden.

Echo Coffee Bar 08
The left frame was taken from inside the coffee bar and that figure looking at me is Mao Wenwen a former student of mine. Looking the other direction you see some tables and a guest. To the left of the guest are some stairs and here is where we enter the Rabbit Warren.

In the top left frame of the photograph below you can see the bandstand and beyond that the door to the garden.

Echo Coffee Bar 06
Top Left frame shows the music area to the right of the door I entered. In the far corner is the entrance to the garden and other places. Top Right frame is looking back to the entrance and you can see Erica standing there. Bottom left she is sitting by the door with Yushun a brilliant 13 year old student I tutor. Bottom right is of a different room which is entered by a different door. The place is full of rooms. As the bar fills up management opens up more and more rooms.

I was immediately impressed that the room was connected to a garden and then more impressed to find other function rooms off the garden area.

Echo Coffee Bar 07
The Left frame is looking from the Garden doorway in the first room past the bar toward the garden area and other rooms. The photo on the right is looking back to the doorway on the other side of which is the music station. I’m sorry that I can’t provide more photos of the garden but on June 30th 2017 we had an extremely humid day and because I forgot to keep wiping the camera lens, most of the outside photos came out blurred.

More shots outside the entrance to the Echo Coffee & Bar

Echo Coffee Bar 09
All of these photographs were taken from the doorway of the Echo Coffee Bar. We came to the place from the direction of the top right frame. Follow the left frame and you come to the bridge at the other end of the canal.

We never did get to the Dong Yuan that day. When we first arrived at Shilu there was some discussion about where to eat despite the fact that I had advised them that we would be eating in a Muslim Restaurant. A little cheesed off with the ongoing discussion I eventually headed off to MacDonalds whilst announcing that I was going to have a burger and that the other two could eat wherever they liked. When we finished lunch we headed off to the Shantangjie so that I could buy some more gifts, but in the end I just ended up taking photos of the Echo Coffee Bar. We nevertheless had a good day.

The Echo Coffee & Bar seems like a funny name in English but it’s name in Chinese indicates that it is a ‘coffee and alcohol bar.’ You can purchase all manner of hot and cold beverages both alcoholic and non-alcoholic and if you are hungry they do have a menu of dishes to choose from. You can sit outside the front doors or in the bar area or further inside in the air conditioning or in another air conditioned room beyond that room, or even in the garden. It is a nice place. When next you are in the Shantangjie don’t forget to look for the Echo Bar.

In all I have been to the Shantang Street four times in the last month and I still need to go back to buy some things. Despite finishing my teaching duties on June 15th, I have been so busy that I actually can’t recall exactly how many lunches and dinners I have attended. This evening, July 5th, I was again out to dinner and I have another to attend on Friday 7th July.

Over these last few weeks I have also continued to provide my private students (for whom I charge no fee) extra lessons until I head off to Inner Mongolia on July 11th.

Echo Coffee Bar 10
We saw this shot earlier and I just had to provide a bigger photo. Any idea of what we are looking at? Certainly pretty!

From July 11th to 24th I will be in Baotou Inner Mongolia and in Beijing. I have some very good friends that I wish to see before I leave China. From July 25th to August 10th I will be back in Suzhou doing a little more tutoring while organizing all my gear for my return to Australia.

On August 11th I head off to Wuhan to stay a few days visiting with friends before moving onto Shenzhen to farewell a few former students I taught in Honghu in the countryside of Hubei Province, the capital of which is Wuhan City.

If you are lucky to arrive at the right time during the day, you may be privileged to witness some free entertainment provided from this stage in the Shantang Street Suzhou. It is directly opposite the ferry waiting area.

Before my visa runs out on August 31st I will need to cross the border into Hong Kong and take a flight back to Australia where I will begin a new phase of existence – or simply die from being old and weary.

I hope you have enjoyed this little story and the photographs and I hope that when I get back to OZ (that is Australian for ‘Australia’ – Aussies are people – Oz is the country) I will be able to provide a few new photographs of Baotou in Inner Mongolia, Beijing, Wuhan and Shenzhen.

Until then, thanks for your visit and
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Finding Myself in China: A Politically Incorrect Story

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Author: R.P. BenDedek

R.P. BenDedek was born in 1953 and grew up in Brisbane Australia. From 2003 to June 2017 he taught conversational English in The People's Republic of China. Along with photographic stories from China he has been writing social and political commentaries since 2004. He was the temporary editor of Magic City Morning Star from 2009 - 2016 and currently has a column at iPatriot.com. He is the author of a chronological history of ancient Israel titled 'the King's Calendar: The Secret of Qumran' and author of 'Finding Myself in China: A Politically Incorrect Story.' He is divorced; has 5 children and 16 grandchildren. He is a 4th generation Australian from a racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse family. He has no time for Sociopathic Ideologues or Useful Idiots.