The Little Water Town
I�d heard much about Zhouzhuang,
China�s famous Water Town, just over the Shanghai Municipality border.
I had visions of an oriental version of Venice, or at the very least,
Amsterdam. So I set off by taxi very early on Saturday morning to
the Shanghai Stadium, where all long-distance buses (heading west)
depart from. I was at the ticket office before 7 am when I was told
the bad news. All buses to Zhouzhuang had been cancelled until further
notice due to SARS precautions. Maybe there was another way to get
there. No such luck. Even if I could get there, Zhouzhuang had closed
its doors to all outsiders, so the trip was off.
I�d been looking forward
to this daytrip all week, so I was very disappointed. But as I considered
all my other options, there was a new breakthrough. I could go to
�But I want to go to the
Water Town!� I insisted.
�Yes, Zhujiajiao is a Water
Town too. Just a little smaller than Zhouzhuang,� I was assured. It
was in the same vicinity, but because it was within the Shanghai Municipality,
it still had an operating bus service.
Needless to say, I paid
the 70 RMB (AU$13) tour ticket, and was on the next bus bound for
the Little Water Town. I had expected to be on the bus for at least
a couple of hours, but after an easy one hour trip, I arrived there
I followed the other passengers
into what appeared to be a very ordinary small Chinese town. Nothing
much here, I thought. The temptation to stop at the numerous street-side
eateries was almost overwhelming, but I had something more important
on my mind. I had to get myself a map of Zhujiajiao!
As I turned into the first
side street, I noticed a ticket booth halfway down the street. This
turned out to be the entrance to the old part of the town. Fortunately
my ticket included the entry fee, so a moment later I was in the tourist
part of town. But what about my map? I returned to the security guard
at the gate and asked where I could get a map from. He leaned over
to a nearby shelf and handed it me. �No charge�, he said with a smile.
Well, I was happy now. So
where could I get some of that nice smelling food?
one of the many ancient stone bridges.
According to the map, there
were several stone bridges crossing over two interlocking rivers.
The first one I came to was the largest. As I took my first step onto
it, 3 elderly villagers came up to me holding small plastic bags filled
with goldfish. Great! I thought � that�s all I need � to take some
goldfish all around the world with me. But I�d misunderstood! This
was The Bridge Of Freedom To Animals. So I was being asked to buy
these fish so I could release them into the waters below. How ridiculous,
I thought. It would be so much easier for these people to throw their
fish into the river and it would save a lot of time, money and trouble
for everyone, not to mention the fish! Anyway, I�d just caught sight
of some more street-side eateries, and I hadn�t had breakfast yet.
I couldn�t make up my mind
between the black pork rolled in river plant leaves, or the rice with
egg and beef rolled in the same leaves. So I bought both. They were
only 2 RMB (AUD$0.37 cents) each, so it wasn�t a hard decision to
make. Finding somewhere to sit was quite another matter. The streets
in this part of town were very narrow, much like I�d seen on the islands
of Greece, so I walked past the numerous tourist stalls and private
residences until I came to the river�s edge. Still no seats. You can
eat a hotdog or sandwich in the street, but these hot foods were going
to be quite awkward to handle on the move.
As I walked along the river,
it began to ooze that beauty and serenity that tourists seek. The
hustle and bustle was left behind and there were only residences along
the concrete riverbanks. A miniature version of Amsterdam perhaps,
and the boats amassed halfway down the stream had an eerie resemblance
to very large gondolas. Walking past the houses, I could see into
their rooms as they left their doors and windows wide open. The rooms
were dark and tiny and full of clutter. Women were washing their clothes
in the polluted river waters outside. And two young boys sat on the
steps of one of these ancient stone bridges and blew soap bubbles
at each other from Western designed toys most likely made in China.
And then, there in front
of me were some steps leading down to the river�s edge. Perfect place
to sit and eat, I thought. And as soon as my backside touched the
ground, I gazed in awe of my surroundings. Such a beautiful picture.
Something you�d expect to see in one of those paintings by the French
Impressionists like Matisse. I had the perfect view and a tranquil
setting. And the food completed the perfect Chinese picnic experience.
The boat people (are they
drivers? or captains?) had gathered together on one of those �gondolas�
and were playing cards. A few fishing boats were moored nearby displaying
buckets full of live yabbies, shrimps, crabs, eels, fish and turtles.
They also had frogs, but I could tell they weren�t alive because they�d
all been skinned. Not beheaded, just skinned. Later on that day I
would buy a couple of these little delicacies which were deep-fried
(whole) at a cost of only 1 RMB (AUD$0.19 cents) for both.
Once I�d finished eating,
I ventured further into the old town. My hands were very sticky after
my little feast, and with the help of my map, I was able to locate
one of the many public toilets in the area very quickly. This is very
unusual in China, and in Shanghai, a city of 16 million people, there
are virtually no public toilets at all. Not even in the railway stations!
That�s why it�s not unusual to be walking along the street, during
the day or night, and notice men watering some plants or washing some
walls with their natural liquid waste.
the Wang Chang Memorial Hall garden with Rachel, my interpreter.
One of the featured tourist
attractions was Wang Chang Memory Hall. And its main feature was the
large and neatly manicured garden in its grounds. Quiet Chinese music
played in the background as a few tourists trickled in from time-to-time.
The SARS scare has had that impact on the entire nation, and so it
was a pleasant change to experience China at a less hectic pace.
Another featured tourist
attraction was the town�s first Post Office. Built in 1903 during
the Qing Dynasty (China�s last dynasty), it was presented very well
in the same manner as a Post Office Museum, with one of the earliest
known posted articles, about 3,500 years old, being a message written
on the carapace of a turtle shell. But I was also surprised to read
mention made of message couriers who had war plans tattooed on the
back of their skulls, and sent off to deliver them. Presumably after
some time had passed for enough hair to grow over them, so as to hide
these secret messages.
It was lunchtime now, and
I didn�t want to go through the same problem of finding somewhere
to sit. So I stopped by a small restaurant which already had a couple
of tables with customers eating their meals. On the table next to
me, 3 young ladies giggled and glanced my way. Being a foreigner,
I was used to getting a lot of attention, though in Shanghai I shared
the spotlight with many other Westerners.
Once I ordered my noodles,
I asked for a cold beer as well. Soon I had a bottle of cool beer
in front of and � and a plastic cup! Now, being an Aussie, we don�t
get too enthusiastic about drinking beer out of plastic cups, so I
asked for a glass. After all, this was a restaurant.
�Will this do?� the owner
asked me as she held up a glass jar.
Drinking out of jars is
very common in China, as people usually take their tea to work with
them in a screw top jar. Well, I thought, this�ll be a first, and
I accepted her offer quite willingly.
The food hadn�t arrived
yet when one of the girls from the neighbouring table came over and
borrowed the soy sauce from in front of me. She was very polite about
it and I�m sure she asked if she could take it. But it was accompanied
by a giggle as she left. Moments later, the soy sauce was back on
my table, accompanied by another giggle. Girls! I thought, and got
stuck right into my noodles which had just arrived.
Being a foreigner in China
has always been a novelty, but now, because of the SARS scare, we�re
also considered to be brave.
Ummm � I can live with that.
another ancient stone bridge.
article is taken from the ebook,
400-Day LETS Odyssey
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