25 May 2016
Today it is raining again but we are assured that the Zhou Zhuang Water Village will be romantic and mystical in the rain! We surprise the hotel restaurant staff by arriving for breakfast at 6.30 when it officially opened but clearly no-one had actually done that before. There was also a man standing around taking some photos and we wonder whether it was some kind of health inspector who had also surprised them with his appearance.
We have our own bus for the excursion today as it is over 2 hours drive out of the city, but it can’t fit down our narrow street so we need to walk out to Engineering Street to meet the bus. It is a pretty unexciting trip out of the city and we can’t see very far anyway because of the rain. Jing tells us more about culture, politics and history along the way. Later in the drive, the countryside becomes more rural with little fields and patches of crops all around. There is certainly no shortage of water, with canals and ponds all around and people out in their boats.
Zhou Zhuang prides itself as being China’s No 1 Water Village – it seems very important for things to be No 1 in China. I asked how many No 1 water villages there were – apparently only this one. The village dates back almost 1000 years and certainly warrants the title of Venice of the East: there are canals and bridges everywhere with houses and shops right on the canals, and enterprising boatmen providing gondola rides for tourists.
Jing takes on a bit of a tour first, particularly showing us the house that was owned by the richest man in China – Mr Shen. As legend has it, he was a very savvy businessman (at one point owning 80% of the businesses in the area) and was the sponsor of the first Emperor of China. It is a huge house with outer courtyards and meeting rooms for guests, and inner courtyards and rooms for the family including upstairs bedrooms for the children and windows that the girls could peer through to check out any visiting boys (girls were not allowed past the second gate of the house and this was their only opportunity to see boys outside their immediate family and close friends). Much of the furniture is original or of that time, but there is a new bronze panel down a corridor depicting the stories about the rich man and the Emperor.
We then have free time to wander around the village, it was indeed quite mystical in the rain but negotiating all the umbrellas in the narrow streets was a challenge. Emily bought a silk scarf and I found a silk embroidery of a tea pot that jumped out and said ‘buy me’ as I walked past. We tried some unusual rice sweets that were made shaped like pigs, ducks, fish, roses etc and bought some spun sugar sweets that were like very hot gingery hokey pokey.
The specialty of that area is pork (variously seen as pork shoulder, pork ankle, pork hoof and pork knuckle). Whatever joint it actually was, it was delicious. Jing took us to a restaurant were we could try a banquet of local specialties. The pork joint came out whole with a rich sauce and once we had taken photos it was taken away to be cut up for us to eat. We shared a local beer again for lunch – beer was cheaper than tea!
On the bus on the way home we learned how to say some more words in Chinese: I am from Xin Xi Lan (New Zealand) and have added ‘goodbye’ and the numbers 1 to 10 to my earlier repertoire of ‘hello’ and ‘thank you’. Then a snooze was in order as it was still raining and we still couldn’t see much. But we did make it back to the hotel in good time.
None of us needed any dinner that night but Emily, Chris, Fran and I decide to walk into the pedestrian area again to find a drink. We sit out under the ‘sun’ umbrellas (in the rain) at a little bar and have a cocktail. It would have been relaxing but we were plagued by people wanting to sell us watches, sunglasses, laser pointers and just about anything you could think of, and the latest toy craze are ‘drones’ so we have these whizzing close to our heads at regular intervals. Then it is back to the hotel to pack our bags for our flight to Chengdu in the morning.
For this and other similar tours see:
Peregrine Adventures (Comfort tours)
Geckos Adventures (for 18 to 30s)
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