I had the alarm set for 7:30. When I checked outside the fog wasn’t as bad as yesterday’s; but it was still there. It was cold; & there were wall-to-wall container ships in a holding pattern out in the harbor waiting to come in. I had a few tidbits left over from last night’s buffet, so I nibbled on that in lieu of breakfast.
I kept changing my mind about what tour to take today; & ended up with a rather strenuous full day tour entitled ‘Ancient Zhujiajiao’ (SHG-IW). [Some of us had jokingly been pronouncing it ‘zee-wan-ton-NAY-o’, like the Mexican resort town because we just couldn’t get the hang of it. But it’s really pronounced ‘shoo-JEEAH-jow’, or something close to that anyway.] The ‘cool bus’ today was #8; Celeste & Bill had a reserved seat in the front. Debbie (Shore Ex) was along with her mom, Gaye. Lianne (photog) was accompanying us & (dance host) Al was our escort. I sat in the back of the bus with all of them. Our guide was a rather funny, little guy named Charles. His English was very good; but his sense of humor was just a little ‘off’. Whenever he’d try to say something funny, he’d put it to us with a question mark at the end….as if he wasn’t sure if what he was saying was going to be considered funny or not. That within itself was funny. Our driver’s name was Mr. Tie.
The driving distance to “Z” was around 40 miles, yet it took well over 90 mins. to get there. Charles provided lots of historical & geographical information along the way. He pointed out that around Shanghai there is so much building going on that they’ve declared the ‘crane’ their national bird…….engineering equipment….crane….get it??? Once we left the metropolitan area, we drove through areas of rustic farms & lots of rice fields. Finally, Charles wound down his spiel; & it got quiet enough for some of us to get a short nap. This particular tour won out because it was a chance to experience one of the few remaining traditional waterside town in eastern China. “Z” is situated by Dianshanhu Lake; & the little town has a canal system running through it, similar to what you’d see in Venice, Italy.
We got off the bus & began a 3 hour walking tour of the town. Lots of narrow, pot-hole filled streets & tiny alleyways to explore. It was like a step back in time with locals (most of them women) lined up along the street curbs with small quantities of ‘stuff’ to sell. Some displayed their ‘stuff’ in plastic bags or tin plates/trays right on the sidewalk. There were chickens with their feet tied together, sitting quietly in plastic bags, unknowingly about to become somebody’s dinner. Occasionally there would be someone sitting on stool waiting to shine your shoes. I don’t know if the locals gets their shoes shined (they don’t look like they worry about such things) or if they had heard that there would be cruise passengers coming through their little town today.
The further we walked, the more interesting it got. I don’t know why I was surprised; but they even have a KFC in “Z”. But there’s not much else that we would consider modern or convenient. We boarded a flotilla of sampans for a cruise down some of the canals. It was an interesting perspective to see what was going on below street level. There were more enterprising older women in sampans tied up along the canals selling a variety of grocery staples. There were beggars (are they there every day or just today).
Once back on foot, we walked through a maze of alleys that housed open air markets that sold anything & everything. Rabbits, birds, baby turtles, exotic looking vegetable concoctions. The smells were intoxicating, sweet, yet overpowering at times. I suppose we’re all familiar with the lotus flower that you see sometimes floating on top of ponds. Little did I know that there’s a tuber down below there that can be cooked & made into all kinds of interesting things……none of which I cared for. I saw jars & bowls of things that I had no idea what they were. And I didn’t really even want to ask.
We went inside the Tongtianhe Traditional Chinese Pharmacy, which has been in operation since the late Qing Dynasty! It’s still very popular with the locals because they follow the practice of traditional Chinese ethics & ancient medical cultures. In the back there is a small museum of ancient medical instruments.
As we continued our walk, we came upon this bird (possibly a mynah bird?) in a cage in front of a shop. We stop to talk to the bird; & all of a sudden it said ‘ya mamma’. At first Debbie & I weren’t sure we heard it correctly. So, we called Mama Gaye & Lianne over to listen; & sure enough, someone had taught it that catch phrase! Yet, another one of those priceless moments shared with new found friends.
Ashtrays out of cattle hoofs?
Exhausted & famished, it was back on the bus heading about an hour back toward Shanghai for our lunch stop. We were served a nice but fairly sparse family style lunch in an upstairs banquet hall of the Xian Qiang Fang Restaurant. The exterior & main floor of the building looked nicely remodeled; but you could tell it was an old building by the dark, narrow & creaky stairwell we had to climb. We sat at large oval tables, set for 8 with a glass turntable in the middle. Celeste, Bill & I were at a table with a bunch of people who couldn’t have been more strange & rude. The servers brought out bowls/platters of various things (most we had no idea what they were). On occasion Charles would walk over & point out what something was. Some selections were generous so that we could have more if we chose to (usually the strange tofu looking things). Some things (for instance the potato salad & the Szechuan stir fried vegetables) barely had a cup’s worth to be shared by 8 people. Celeste couldn’t eat a good bit of what we were served because it (possibly) had shellfish in it.
I was getting dizzy trying to take photos of everything as it sped by. Our tablemates were impatient & greedy. They couldn’t care less that Celeste could only eat 4-5 items out of what was served. They got their fair share of everything; & there wasn’t much left over. It was every man for himself; & you were likely to lose a hand if you held up the turntable too long. They would spin it while you were still serving yourself.
Whole fried fish
Further back in the factory we saw how a silk comforter/duvet is made by taking wads of silk batting & slowly pulling & stretching it to the size of bedding you need. Layers upon layers upon layers create different weights/thicknesses of comforter. Although I can’t quote you exact prices (king size mid weight comforters started at $115), there were a lot of people buying at these wholesale prices.
Much to our chagrin when we arrived back at the terminal at 4:20, they had already started dismantling the tent; & temporary gangway so we were FORCED to walk the miles of winding corridors through their ginormous terminal. I had mixed emotions about this day. Legs swollen hard as a rock from all the walking, another day of dreary grey skies, rude lunch companions, hunger; BUT seeing the charm of a Chinese village lost in time, more adorable cherubic faces of the children, an appreciation for the cost of silk, a ‘sassy’ mynah bird & some awesome examples of contemporary architecture.
I asked for a half order of prime rib with spicy eggplant; but they sent it with corn on the cob instead. The prime rib was fork tender & cooked to perfection, topped with fried onion rings. For dessert I had the sugar free blueberry pie (good, but not great).