Sunday, May 20, 2007

China Day 2: Zhouzhang (April 29)

On Sunday we took the bus out to the nearby town of Zhouzhang (population: 1.25 million), a so-called “water town” with plenty of canals. Zhouzhang is also the so-called “Venice of the East,” although by the end of my trip I learned there are a few towns near Shanghai that claim this title.

Since it was drizzling out we decided to take a petty cab (aka rickshaw) from the bus stop in Zhouzhang to the town entrance gates, and I soon discovered that this is a totally common form of transportation.

In Zhouzhang I got to go into my first Buddhist and Daoist temples (when you enter temples women should step over the threshold with your right foot first), take a canal ride (um, sort of Venice like…), and tour a rice museum, although to my dismay, after the museum I still have only a vague idea of how the rice-growing process works.

At the Buddhist temple I lit a stick of incense and bowed and put it on the altar, for which I got wished good luck and got a little card with my fortune on it. There were several guys in the temple reading fortunes, so Amanda and I decided to get mine read. I don’t remember all of it, but here are some take-aways: I don’t like breakfast (hmm, kind of true); this is my lucky year; I like to travel (I’m not going to give the guy too much credit for getting this one right – I was an American in Shanghai, after all); I have a lucky face; and I am strong-willed, ambitious and active in achieving results. Very nice. And then my fortune teller explained to us that now we should make a charitable contribution.

In Zhouzhang there are also a lot of side alleys with vendors selling all kinds of stuff, of particular note – strange tan-colored taffy-like candy (may be the first time I didn’t feel like eating the whole bag) and meat and rice wrapped in bamboo leaves.

In Zhouzhang you also get a sense of Chinese history. China is old! It is amazing to think about it. Towns like Zhouzhang have existed for 1500 and more years. Yet it is often difficult to sort out what’s real and what’s not, since so many things were destroyed during the cultural revolution and then restored, and moreover, in the case of places like Zhouzhang, many things have been redone for tourists. On the little canal boat ride we got a glimpse of the parts of Zhouzhang that haven’t been redone, but we didn’t get to see anything up close.

In the evening we got to try a Shanghai specialty – dumplings – and saw a great movie (“To Live”) about life in China from the 1940s – 1970s.

Pictures: 1. Canals around Zhouzhang, 2. A rickshaw (in Suzhou, not Zhouzhang), 3. Daoist temple 4. Amanda lighting incense at the Buddhist temple, 5. me and Amanda on bridge in Zhouzhang, 6. Goofing around with the bull at the Zhouzhang rice museum

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