I took a walk around the Xuan Miu Temple (玄妙觀) in the evening when I came to Suzhou the first time in 2005. Suddenly I was captivated by a heavenly voice floating out of this little tea house (茶社). At first I wasn’t sure whether it wasn’t just a recording because the place didn’t look too promising. But I did take a chance and poked my head in, and found this couple singing to a small audience of people having tea. The cheapest cup of tea cost 20 yuan, and a request for a song also started at 20. I thought I would give it a try, bought a cup of tea and sat down. I wasn’t disappointed. They sang folk songs (小調) and commentaries (評彈) in the Suzhou dialect, which I could hardly understand. But the singing was just so enjoyable, particularly the小調, that I stayed for almost two hours in sweltering heat. Since then I come to the tea house if I could, every time I am in
But this time, the tea house was not there anymore. In retrospect I should have anticipated its demise because there were not too many customers each time I was there before. Perhaps with the changing times, this type of art is appreciated by fewer and fewer people, and mostly older folks.