Suitcase and World: Zhujiajiao and Qibao. Off the beaten path.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Zhujiajiao and Qibao. Off the beaten path.

was determined to see *old* China on this trip as I fear that will be lost as *new* China emerges. I especially wanted to see the old watertowns. Unlike Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajiao ("Jew-gee-ah-gee-ow")and Qibao ("Chee-b-ow")are not as well known….a little more off the beaten path.

I was back with Helen. It was nice to see her friendly face as she entered the lobby of the hotel. As she done for me before, she accompanied me across the street and helped me buy four pan fried dumplings for breakfast. We had to wait a few minutes before they were done cooking. With four piping hot dumplings in hand, I got in the car. Today, I would be the only tourist Helen would have to shepherd around which made be happy as it would me I would get to see whatever I wanted to see!

First stop would be Zhujiajiao which is a suburb of Shanghai…..about a 45 minute ride out of town if traffic is good but traffic is never good here so it took us nearly twice as long to get there. No matter as I would be in charge of the day so I can forgo all the stuff I’m not interested in seeing.

We arrived into Zhujiajiao and the driver deposited Helen and I at the parking lot. As we walked towards the entrance to the town, Helen and I chatted and she pointed out points of interest – not really much to see. And to top it off, it was another hazy, humid day. Ugh....I am not enjoying the weather in this part of China!

The moment we entered into the town, the first alleyway was lined with vendors. The one serving fried tofu caught my eye. I asked Helen what the vendor was selling and she said *stinky tofu*. I had heard of the stuff but have never eaten eat so I asked Helen to buy us some. It’s really not stinky at all – just crispy,deep fried cubes of salty, soft tofu that you eat with a sweet chili sauce. Not bad actually. We took a few minutes to eat our tofu.

We then crossed the bridge to the other side of town and headed down an alleyway. More food vendors!!! By now, I was starting to get greedy. Next food vendor sold rice dumplings or as we call them in Cantonese – “jung”. I had to have one of those and while I was at it, a piece of braised pork belly that the same vendor sold. I saved the pork for munching later but immediately sunk my teeth into the rice dumpling. Oh….it was so good!

Happily sated, we continued on our walk through town. We crossed over a small bridge and walked alongside the canal.

Like Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajio is crisscrossed by canals and bridges. Homes and shops line the canals and we could see local residents going about their daily lives. Though not nearly as picturesque a town as Zhouzhuang, Zhujiajiao is far less touristy and crowded. It was nice to be able to stroll along the canals without being jostled.

We toured a Chinese manor style garden. I’m not sure what manor style is but it was most certainly not anywhere as impressive as the other gardens I had already visited.

Vendors filled the pavilions and I passed by all except for one – the paper cutter. According to Helen, this guy won a national championship for paper cutting and I can tell you, his work is truly impressive. An amazing artist practicing a dying art.

Then, it was on to a boat ride through the canal. I love these rides – it’s like a quite stroll along water. It was a relaxing but short ride.

The boat took us back to where we had entered the town. We got off, walked past the stinky tofu vendor and retraced our steps back to the car.

Next stop. Qibao. A short distance from Zhujiajiao, Qibao is actually within the boundaries of Shanghai proper. The driver dropped us off and we walked past a street of vendors before we arrived into THE street that marked the old town. Yes…., there is only one street in this tiny little town and it’s lined with street vendors selling everything from souvenirs to food. We skipped the street to walk alongside the water. This is definitely not a picturesque, old Chinese water town.

Seems more like an old village being swallowed up by a modern city. Dilapidated buildings sit next to newer apartment buildings.

According to Helen, Qibao is known for its food and Shanghainese often come here on their days off to enjoy the food. By now it was lunch time and I asked Helen if I could skip lunch in a restaurant as I would much prefer eating in the vendor stalls and munching as we walked along. I wanted to eat everything and Helen was willing to oblige. Everything I wanted to sample, she bought for me – all this munching was in lieu of lunch so Helen picked up the tab for everything. I was in heaven….I could eat whatever I wanted and someone else was paying for it!

Sweet plum juice - very refreshing on a hot, humid day!

The snack man. He had everything from meat on skewers to dumplings to noodles.

The rice dumpling lady. Her specialty were sweet dumplings....not my favorite but even so, I had to try one mad of black glutinous rice stuffed with red bean paste.

To escape from the heat, we darted inside the restaurant and nibbled on some dumplings – sticky, rice wrappers with meat and vegetable fillings served in a bowl of lightly salted water. Helen warned me that the dumplings would have soup inside and showed me the trick to eating them without losing all the soup. Not as easy to do as it looked…without burning your mouth and tongue.

With happy bellies, we wandered back out on to the street and meandered our way back to the car. On the way, we stopped in a supermarket and bought some cold drinks. Back into the air-conditioned comfort of the car, I slunk into the back seat for the short ride back to town. The usual Shanghai rush hour traffic. By now, I had gotten used to it so I took the time to look at the photos I had taken. It was nice to gone off the beaten path today and visit two little towns that I hope will continue to exist even as China marches into the 22nd century.