Hangzhou right next door to Shanghai

13 Jul

One aspect of Shanghai that is under-appreciated: all the great locations not far from the big city. So, besides travel in Shanghai itself, there are other major tourist destinations that are easy day trips. Locations that come to mind are Putuo Shan, an island off Shanghai’s coast, Ningbo, another coastal town, Nanjing, an ancient former capital (Beijing means ‘north capital,’ Nanjing ‘south capital’), Suzhou, famous for its canals, and Hangzhou.

The last on that list we made a day trip for, at a cost of $30 dollars round trip using the subway and fast train. The bullet train takes only 45 minutes to arrive in Hangzhou, and within 15 minutes after that you can be touring the famous West Lake and surrounding hills. From the Hangzhou train station, just take the K7 bus (2 RMB, or $.30) which takes you right to, and along, the lake shore.

Hangzhou at one point was a national capital of China too, namely during the Southern Song Dynasty. That period was known as a heyday of Chinese culture and arts. In other periods, when it was not a capital, Hangzhou still maintained its allure as one of the best places for pleasure and relaxation. Marco Polo said he ventured through Hangzhou on his travels through China and found it one of the most alluring of the Chinese cities he visited.

Hangzhou flowers in bloom

There are numerous sites in and around Hangzhou, but if you only have a day, definitely make time for West Lake. For 45 RMB, or about $6.00, you can ride a passenger ferry into the center of the lake to its small islands. On the main island, Xiaoying, you’ll see the ‘three pagodas reflecting the moon,’ which are portrayed on the back of the Chinese 1 RMB note. Long ago during the age of emperors, fire would be put into the miniature lighthouses, the glow of which would reflect on the lake water and appear as if there were multiple full moons shimmering over the lake.


Water Towns

11 Jul

The one thing about a place like Shanghai, or other cities in China, is you feel a lot has been lost. In the rush to develop, many historical places — and there were so, so, so many in China — have not been protected as well as places in, say, Europe. Old houses became sky rises. Cities grew like a Las Vegas, as if nothing was there but desert, but in fact, for China, there had been amazing structures, neighborhoods and history. This is not necessarily a value judgment, as there are likely many reasons for China’s chosen path to development. But at the same time, as I said, you get the sense a lot has been lost. Shanghai in particular is a city of small pockets of historical architecture. Most is brand new. One newspaper article I read from 2007 (which is long out of date for a nation like China) said in that year 549 skyscrapers touched Shanghai’s skies, and 300 more were under construction. To make room for all those skyscrapers other more traditional buildings and structures inevitably have been replaced.

 …which is why the Water Towns, not far from Shanghai, become all the more special. There are a number, but the one that Shanghai City Central Hostel recommends is Zhujiajiao. Long ago, Chinese emperors called for an unprecedented canal to be built connecting the city of Hangzhou (not far from Shanghai) to Beijing. It runs more than 1,100 miles, the largest manmade river in the world. The purpose was to expand trade across China, which it quite successfully accomplished. Trade towns popped up along the canal waterways. Zhujiajiao is one of them and it still maintains a wonderful feel of the past. Thank god there’s no sky scraper in the middle of it.

Zhujiajiao Water Town near Shanghai

Rather the town is a beautiful huddle of whitewash walls and black tile rooftops. The town has a history of 1,700 years, but the style of buildings seen today date from the Ming and Qing Dynasties, which were the last two dynasties of China. Just as any town on a highway, Zhujiajiao had a post office, tea houses (a Chinese version of a cafe), a variety of stores (likely boat repair shops as opposed to car mechanics and gas stations), and even manors for the well-to-do businessmen and upper class living or passing through.

Zhujiajiao Boatman

Apparently, there are other water towns, the most famous of which is Zhouzhuang. However, I’ve heard that it is more of a tourist trap, costing an entry fee. Zhujiajiao costs nothing to enter the town. If you want to use the boats it costs something like 60 RMB one way. But the boats, while fun, are not necessary. You can easily walk along the stone pathways and over the variety of beautiful bridges. There are also entry fees into several of the historical locations.

On the canal

Shanghai Acrobatics Show

8 Jul

I attended my second-ever acrobatic show, this time in Shanghai. I spoke to local Chinese gentleman also in attendance, and he said few Chinese attend acrobatic shows in this city. Most audiences consist of foreigners. His observation seemed accurate as most attending the event this night were people from outside China. This differed from my experience in Beijing where there seemed to be a more even mix of Chinese and foreigners. Then again, this could have just been one night in Shanghai.

Regardless of who was in attendance, I had a lot of fun getting some shots of the acrobatic show. Usually, photography is not allowed, but I was a lucky exception. Most of the stunts were different from what I had seen previously. Two that stood out for me was the stack of women and the chair man. If the latter’s name was Mao, you could call him…Chairman Mao! No exaggeration though, his balance at such a height, with so many moveable peices, was incredible.

Other fun moments was the hat routine, which involved acrobatics and juggling of, I would venture, no less than 50 hats. It is much more entertaining and amazing that it sounds. Especially the trick where it looks like the guys’ heads fall off, but then magically reappears. Another stunt involved incredibly flexible women.

And the most bewildering of the stunts was the five motorcyclists in the cage. The photos I took are abstract, and it’s incredible to think these lights represent 5 people. It was a pleasure to discover acrobatics could provide a chance to take abstract photography — to turn people into rays of light. I chose a photo here that would include the shadows of a couple riders, so one could get a frame of reference to the size of the cage and what is happening.

The show is held every day at the Shanghai Huxi Theatre starting at 7:30pm. The show lasts about 90 minutes. Tickets range between 100 and 200 Chinese RMB, or about $15 to $30. Note that when you stay at Shanghai City Central Hostel, it is only about 3 minutes by foot. That close!