Venice of China

Yesterday we went to the ancient town of Zhujiajiao (zew-zhay-jaow) the Venice of China. We found out about it from the show The Amazing Race, they were here a year and a half ago. It was a long weekend for Dragon Boat Festival and just like Murphy’s Law it had to be cool and rainy all weekend -in the place that hardly ever rains. It barely rains for a few hours at a time and even rarer rain for days… well that was the forecast this weekend 3 days of cool temps and rain! Figures!

It rained Saturday and Monday; we lucked out on Sunday.  We went out to the ancient town Sunday and it was warm and the 50% chance of rain held off. It was about a 1 hour taxi ride outside of Shanghai. We arrived in the small village that dates back 1500 years and some other findings suggest maybe even 5000 years ago people settled here. The small town is on a network of small canals and many stone and wood bridges crisscross the water. Our first walk brought us to the area where you could hire a “gondola” to go down the canals. We took a ride with a local gondolier who expertly rowed us through the winding canals. Unlike Venice they do not serenade you or wear the little “outfits”. Some wore the traditional Chinese cone-shaped hats though. It was a lovely view of trees, bridges, restaurants and small  stone buildings some with ornate ornaments on the roof. When we returned to the starting point we walked along the water and stopped in a few shops selling trinkets and typical souvenirs.

Since we are in China there had to be something unusual… if not you would be reading the wrong blog! As we walked along the stalls we came to a bridge where women stood holding bags of goldfish for sale, behind them were buckets and bowls full of turtles, eels and other small fish. Many of the restaurants also displayed their fresh catch in tanks, although some were not so fresh as they were floating upside down. We saw some snail sort of things, cray fish, dried fish and shrimp too. The best (or worst) was walking along a very narrow crowded section that had a horrible smell that just sucked your breath away… the smell was obnoxious, lingering and felt like it was choking you. It was so pungent we thought we could still smell it when we got home. We are not sure what it was, but appeared to be some small dried fish. (update: we later found out it was probably stinky tofu)

It was a nice escape to get out of the city and the constant noise. We have become accustomed to it, but when it is quiet you realize how much we sometimes block out. There were trees and some green space, the water and lots of people. As we walked along the canals one big thing was missing -the many cars, motor bikes and bikes. It was nice not to compete for sidewalk space with them.

As we walked along occasionally you would get a glimpse down an alley, through a doorway and realize this was where some people also lived, their homes were turned into and opened to people as shops by day. Missing was the fast pace and high fashion of Shanghai. This may be more of the “real” China some people are in search of. The simple life and old traditional ways we don’t see in the city. Mixed in the crowds were the locals with their weathered and experienced faces. What an eclectic mix, so great for people watching.

The best part was you had to be observant and take it all in and little things would pop out and catch your attention. If you rushed by you could have missed so many little interesting details. Even as we rushed back to our taxi (we got turned around and went 1 hour in the wrong direction, so we had to hurry to get our ride back) I stopped to look around and take a few pictures. Later I will post an album for you to see our adventures.

Definitely the best day we had in a long time -so simple, but so interesting 🙂

Stay tuned for more…

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2 thoughts on “Venice of China

  1. Freda Goulet

    Sounds like a very interesting day exploring the “real” China. It is amazing the contrast between Shanghai and this older part of China. Can you carry on a simple conversation with the local people? How difficult is it to use their money?
    I look forward to seeing your pictures.
    Aunt Freda

    • The money here is easy to use -and easy to do the quick math to figure out what that would be in Canadian. Somehow we always manage to get by with the language. John has picked up a bit…and understands some things. I know a few basic words. Yesterday booking a taxi was easier than it could be because the driver took the initiative and called the “help” number set up for people to communicate with taxi drivers. He took the time to figure out what we needed -where a few other drivers we asked didn’t want the hassle, or try and they just shake their heads NO.

      I somehow get the gist of things sometimes too… not sure how, just being observant I guess. One of my students in fluent in Chinese and she was impressed how I knew what the shop keeper was saying in Chinese when we went to the plant market! I had hoped I would learn more, but surrounded by English for most of the day leaves little time to learn. I am so busy with school I don’t have the time or energy to have lessons (they give homework and get somewhat angry when you don’t study!). I also thought sitting in on Chinese lessons I would pick some up, but my co-teacher teaches the Chinese first language students (from Taiwan, Singapore etc) so it’s not a beginner class. If I sat in on the beginner class I may learn a bit. Oh well I can get myself to school in a taxi if needed and that is all you really need 🙂

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