Shanghai, September 2002, Part Four

As part of my blog I am adding edited excerpts of emails I sent on past travels.
As I prepare for C’s and my move to Shanghai in January 2015, it seems particularly apt to take a look at when I last visited Shanghai. It’s funny, but I keep thinking that I was in Shanghai “fairly recently,” but 2002 is not recently at all! I visited Shanghai for one week during a break in my graduate classes in Singapore.

I enjoyed re-reading about my adventure to Zhouzhang. I had forgotten how I had met the young woman I went with. Unfortunately, the following year I did not get back to China. SARS hit the headlines, causing panic and insecurity in mainland China, Singapore, and several other countries, almost like Ebola today.  I am hoping to visit Zhouzhang, or a water town like it, when my mom is with us in Shanghai.  

Yesterday I returned to YuYuan Bazaar, this time actually entering the gardens. They are very lovely and peaceful. I wrote in my journal and read a little in my book while in the gardens sitting by a carp pond. I heard a tour guide telling some tourists that a small pavilion situated on top of a man-made hill used to have a view of the whole city and the river. Now it has views of high rises. Sometimes progress isn’t so great. It is too bad that view could not have been preserved. I also did a little shopping at the bazaar, bought a few nice things. Then I went to dinner. While there a young Chinese woman was brave enough to talk to me. She first came to sit at the table beside me. I could see her looking at me and trying to make up her mind whether to talk to me or not. She finally gathered her courage, took a deep breath, then asked if she could sit with me. I told her okay. Then she asked me what book I was reading. So we talked awhile (though not an easy feat as her English is not so good, and neither is my Chinese) and she asked if she could come with me to the Bund. I said sure. Then we proceeded to get very lost walking around. We stumbled upon an outdoor modeling show, wore out our feet, and gave in to take a taxi. We sat down at the Bund to talk. She is also new in Shanghai, having just come from Zhejiang Province to study at Fudan University, which is one of China’s best universities. She is a very sweet girl who to me looks like Gong Li, the famous Chinese actress (of Farewell My Concubine, Raise the Red Lantern, Shanghai Triad, and To Live fame). So we made a plan today to go to Zhouzhuang, a water town outside of Shanghai municipality region.

I met Can Can this morning. We tried to catch a cab out to the bus station, but unfortunately neither of us knew WHICH bus station. It turned out there are about five. So we just asked the taxi driver who took us to a station near the stadium. It was a long taxi ride and we arrived after 10:30, when I had heard the bus departed, but it turned out to be the wrong station anyway (guess there are probably several stadiums in Shanghai too!) So Can Can suggested we try to find out how much a taxi to Zhouzhuang would cost, but none of the taxis would tell us and just tried to drive away when we asked them. So we decided that maybe if we found the right bus station we could catch the noon bus. So we jumped in another taxi and endured horrible traffic and several close calls to arrive at a bus station at the train station. There we were told once again we were at the WRONG station. Can Can asked the guy how much a taxi would be to Zhouzhuang, and he said it would be 400 kuai round trip. It seemed a lot, but then again it was just about $45. And time was of the essence, so we took him up on it.

Zhouzhuang is really cool! It is a beautiful little town and a UNESCO world heritage site. Rather like a Chinese Venice. It has canals choked with slim boats and tourists, and lots of old buildings. Apparently about 60 % of the villagers still live in the houses that line the canals. There are graceful weeping willows lining the canal, and small high arching bridges crossing the canal at intervals. The houses are whitewashed with dark wood paneling and Chinese red lanterns. The restaurants along the canal have wood deck-type chairs to sit in and enjoy the view. The boat steerers are mostly women, who wear traditional blue cotton clothes, some also wear straw cone shaped hats, and they sing traditional Chinese songs as they pole along the canal. It almost seemed too perfect, as though it were created for tourists, but it wasn’t. It is not as famous a place as Suzhou or Hangzhou, and does not get as many visitors. But that is part of its charm. Iit seems an oasis in China, Chinese and yet can transport one to a more traditional time. Not that the town is not chock full of souvenir shops and old women following you with trinkets and postcards. It is. Last year apparently Jiang Zemin visited and had tea there. I guess that makes it a legitimate tourist attraction.

Our taxi driver followed us around the whole time. Apparently if two women from out of town hire a taxi driver for a long trip, it is like renting a dad. When I ordered a coke at lunch and it was very dirty on top and was flat right after I opened it, he argued with the proprietors to take it off the bill, and eventually they did! When we had told enough people we didn’t want their postcards and they didn’t go away, he shooed them away. He stayed just in front or just behind us, sort of like a chaperone. We even took him on our canal boat trip with us! I thought he would just wait in the car. Maybe he was afraid we would dump him and take the bus back to Shanghai and stiff him the fare. More probable than the friendly father figure, but I would like to think the former rather than latter, that he was watching out for us.

Traffic was slow on the way back and we were pretty tired. It was a good trip though and I am very happy I made the trip. See I was thinking I would come back next year, because I am planning on traveling a few weeks in China next summer, and will probably come in from Shanghai again, see Hangzhou and Nanjing, and swing over to Anhui to see my friend Jill who has just started teaching at a University there. So I think I could pass through Zhouzhuang again next year.

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