top of page

Hometown Waters

Watercolor painting of canal in Suzhou China by NC artist JJ Jiang.

I drank it

It is my mother’s milk

Nourishing and vital

I bathed in it

It is my lover’s tear

Bitter yet sweet

I painted with it

It is my blood

Vibrant and luminous

I sang of it

The lyric was nostalgic

The melody melancholy

I dreamed of it

In it I saw a face of a child

Transparent and pure

I reach to embrace it

So close, but too far…

I wrote this poem in the year of 2007 when I made the decision to begin the journey into fine art, to realize one of my deepest passions, and to utilize one of my greatest skill sets. I knew I had to dig deep for this initiative to go anywhere. Where else to begin other than to paint a place that would channel my emotion and intellect with ease? That place is my hometown - Suzhou, China.

Watercolor painting of canal in Suzhou China by NC artist JJ Jiang.

It is said that a place shapes its people. I left the city of Suzhou, my birthplace, at the age of four, but my heart has remained rooted there to this day. The older I’ve become, the more I have come to adore this place and identify myself with its hidden, intimate gardens, meandering canals running beneath ancient stone bridges. Regarded for its legendary beautiful women, and its soft, sweet steamed rice cakes, Suzhou has not only captivated my heart, but is famed throughout China as a city of culture, intellect and abundance.

Watercolor painting of canal in Suzhou China by NC artist JJ Jiang.

I finally returned to Suzhou as a young college student eager to study its design and hide myself in those mystical gardens, away from the rest of the world, entertaining my own hometown fantasy of a place where time didn’t matter. These gardens have become known for their influence on poets and painters alike. I felt their pull and let this place become part of me. As I tread upon the stone slabs bordering the canals, I imagined myself walking the way of Marco Polo who strolled the city in the 13th century, writing of its grace and beauty, referring to it as the Venice of the East.

As an architecture professor some years later, I brought students to Suzhou to learn of the art and the meticulous design behind those famous residences and gardens; but privately, it was my chance again to let my heart be immersed in this gentle place of peace-loving people, so easy going and practical. Suzhou has never been known for producing famed generals or political leaders, but rather poets, literati, artists and designers. My roots in Suzhou deepened.

Watercolor painting of canal and bridge in Suzhou China by NC artist JJ Jiang.

I married and determined that Suzhou would be the first place to bring my new wife. Knowing Suzhou would help her to know me. And almost 20 years later, in the summer of 2007, I brought our daughter to Suzhou. Together we explored the warm and humid streets, through the drizzling days, over those same bridges and along the canals. Until this time in my life, my career had been in architecture but the pull toward fine art was strong, and it seemed that in this place, a new journey might be unfolding. This was a turning point for me. When I returned to North Carolina, I began to paint.

Watercolor painting of Suzhou, China by NC artist JJ Jiang.

This place has indeed shaped me, but now I see how I’ve also shaped this place. As I put watercolor to paper, my memories, my fantasies, my heart - all unfolded and came together to shape the Suzhou that developed before my eyes. The city became the object of my work over the next two years until I finally was ready to exhibit my first solo show, a collection of this work, in Artspace (Raleigh, NC). Not only was the show well-reviewed and a success, but several of these works won awards, and eventually they all sold. It opened doors to further shows and even interviews.

This place, Suzhou, definitely found its way into my psyche and has had its part in shaping who I am today, both as a man and an artist... just as I have shaped Suzhou into the hometown for which I yearn and that I eventually shared through my art.

Watercolor painting of Suzhou, China by NC artist JJ Jiang.

Watercolor painting of canal in Suzhou China by NC Artist JJ Jiang


Phoebe Shih
Phoebe Shih
Nov 21, 2021

What a touching and thoughtful reminiscence of your place of origin. It makes me want to visit Suzhou when I had little prior desire to go to China due to its pollution and human rights.

Phoebe Shih
Phoebe Shih
Nov 27, 2021
Replying to

Yes, I agree. However, I think there's always a pull towards one's place of origin (if the place is not rift with trauma) especially when one reaches a certain age. Perhaps, it's part of an ingrained evolutionary instinct, much like millions in the animal kingdom including Arctic terns, Monarch butterflies, and salmons in the Pacific. To share your place of your origin with your daughter is very special.

bottom of page