Saturday, November 12, 2011

A River Runs Through It

Actually, a canal runs through it. Or in Hangzhou's case, a lake.

What can I tell you? I've been MIA for almost two months now. I said I was going off coke for good in my last post. I lied. Not only have I been on a very long coke bender, in October I kind of gave up on the whole "diet-and-exercise" thing altogether. After busting my ass and watching what I eat and not seeing any results I kinda went, "Screw this poop." (I might have used stronger language than that). I know that this is not exactly productive, but I was in a funk and I have yet to get out of it. I'm working on it.

Part of working on it has been to get the heck out of Shanghai regularly. I started with a place nationally renowned for its beauty - Hanghou's West Lake.

Here's one of it's poetically named scenic spots - "Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter" - and the lake all around. There are some nice hills around for climbing...

in which you can visit pagodas, temples, and this sunrise pavilion.

There is also a island in the middle of the lake, reachable by ferry, which is a famous spot for viewing the moon. It's another one of those poetic names: Three Pools Mirroring the Moon. This is not a photo of the pools; it is instead, on the ferry going toward the causeway. You can see Leifeng Pagoda in the distance (that was the last touristy thing I did before I decided to give up and go find food, which turned out to be Macca's and I gotta say, after a full day of walking it tasted pretty dang good!) If you want to go to Hangzhou from Shanghai, I recommend the fast train. Takes about an hour and costs about 130 yuan. Once you're on the ground in Hangzhou, it's not hard to get to the can tell the taxi driver XiHu, but he's going to assume that's where you want to go, anyway.

Last weekend I ended up going with Kate and an acquaintance on an excursion to Zhujiajiao led by our expert guide, Meen. (She's actually an expert chemistry teacher, but her Mandarin skills are top notch and she has a gift for finding awesome restaurants). Zhujiajiao is supposed to be where part of one of the Mission Impossible movies was filmed - it's been so long since I saw it that I couldn't even compare to see if I recognized it. We were a little worried that it was going to pour on us, but all we got were a few sprinkles and that was enough to keep away the hordes of Chinese tourists (yay!)

At the first big bridge we came to (pictured with Meen and Kate, above) there were ladies selling fish and turtles and other things. I was sure they were going to be someone's dinner until Meen explained that this was the "Letting Them Go" bridge, and for good karma, you could buy a couple of fish and set them free. We spent some time speculating that the fish were probably thinking, "Stupid laowai! They're just going to catch us again and resell us tomorrow." But it seemed like a cool idea, so we went for it.

Zhujiajiao was full of quirky little cafe's and shops. This was one of my favorite signs.

Me and the canal. It really was a lovely little village...

...especially after dark in the orange glow of the lamps. We taxied back, but took the bus to get to Zhujiajiao; fearless leader Meen did some online research and found out we could depart from the bus stand outside exit one of East Xujing metro station on line 2. There's a bus that leaves from outside the zoo, too, but it does so less frequently. Takes about an hour to get there.

But personally, I have to say that I like Tongli best of all the water villages and old towns I've been to (not that there's been that many, but still). After Hangzhou and Zhujiajiao, one might be tempted to say, "If you've seen one water village/old town, you've seen them all." Well, it wouldn't be true, especially in the case of Tongli, home of China's first (possibly only) sex museum.

That (almost) says it all. Actually, it was a very tastefully done exhibition including pieces from China's sexual history from ancient times. If the museum is to be believed, almost everything represents something sexual. It was very interesting to learn some of the Chinese beliefs; for example, that most sexual instruction was given from mothers to daughters, rather than fathers to sons. These are "trunk bottoms" - ceramic pieces that mothers kept hidden away until it was time to give the birds-and-bees speech to their little girls.

The museum used to be located in Shanghai before it was moved out here. It's currently located on the grounds of a former school, and I've got to say, I thought the setting was fantastic.

But the town itself was great as well. I felt that the buildings kept their original flavor much more than in other areas I've been, and the canals, of course, were quaint as always. At one spot, where three bridges meet, there is a man who keeps cormorants, and for 10 kuai you can see how they help him fish.

Another thing that I loved about Tongli was the fact that it has several beautiful gardens, so you get the best of Chinese history all rolled up in one. This garden was part of the Pearl Tower.

It made a great day out, and I hated to come back to the city (a fact that I've found interesting on these day trips...when I traveled from Seoul I couldn't get back quick it's been the opposite). If you're interested in Tongli, I recommend taking the bus from Shanghai Stadium (the bus center is under stairs 5). I showed up at 7:30 this morning, bought my ticket, and was off at 8:30. Supposedly you can book online or over the phone, but the online link didn't work for me and the girls I talked to over the phone told me they couldn't do it - I got on the bus, one way or the other, and was off less than two hours later (traffic). The cost of your ticket also includes admission to four (?) of the sites (other than the Sex Museum), which is really convenient and, let's be honest, about as many sites as you're going to want to see, about as many sites as you're going to have TIME to see before getting back to the bus for your 4:30 return to Shanghers. There's an electric cart that takes you from the bus stop into the heart of old town - it's all really accessible.

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