Friday, March 30, 2018

Xitang Water Village.


The last stop on our sightseeing tour today was Xitang, a small ancient water village located about 90 kilometers (56 miles) from Shanghai.  If you look for tours to Xitang from Shanghai, you'll find that a lot of them start in the late afternoon because it's popular to be in Xitang when it's dark and the village is all lit up.

We left Zhongzhu Monastery just a few minutes past 3pm which would give us about an hour to make it to the train station in Hangzhou.  But traffic in Hangzhou was incredibly bad so even though we had an hour to just drive a few miles to get to the train station, Melody was actually very worried that we would not make it in time to catch the train.  And we barely did.  By the time we arrived at the station, we actually had to run and I mean run, to get to the gate.  It was quite a distance to run and thankfully, Melody knew exactly where to go because this station is as big as all the rest!!


We got to the departure gate and it was closed.  Locked.  We still had a few minutes before the actual departure.  The guard was standing nearby and Melody pleaded our case and thank God for the nice guard.  She let us through.  So, we ran down the escalator and literally boarded the first carriage.  When then made our way to the last carriage - #15 where four empty seats were ready for us.  Oh my God!  That was quite something.  We all plopped down into our seats and let out a big sigh of relief!  I could see the stress of the situation slowly beginning to drain from Melody's entire body.  She apologized to us for what happened, thanked us for being so understanding and then told us she was determined to not be "that guy", referring to the man at the Hongqiao station who arrived at the departure gate just seconds too late and was denied, by the guard, to go enter.  We were all so happy to have made it and you know, none of what happened was her fault.  These things happen and you deal with them as best you can.  She told us that in fact, she was so worried that we would miss the train that she actually had the driver on standby, waiting for us outside the Hangzhou station, ready to drive us to Xitang if he had to.  As soon as she had caught her breath, she called him with the good news that we were on board the train and off to Jiashan which is the city that you take the train in to if you are going to Xitang.

It was barely a 40 minute ride from Hangzhou to Jiashan on the high speed train.  I will sorely miss the convenience of high speed train travel when I get home.



The moment we exited the station, our car and driver were ready to pick us up and take us the rest of the way to Xitang.  The first part of the drive took us past the modern city.  These days, the urban landscape of China looks like the urban landscape in any other part of the world.

It's late afternoon and traffic was slow but not bad in comparison to what I used to experience when I commuted back and forth to work from home and downtown Washington DC.


It was 5:30p by the time we arrived into Xitang - 2.5 hours after we had left Zhongzhu.  Our driver actually dropped us off at a bridge that you have to cross over to enter the village itself.  Just before the bridge is a small ticket office.  The entrance fee was 50 RMB.



The history of Xitang dates back to what is known as the Spring and Autumn Period (770 BC-476 BC) and the Warring States Period (476 BC-221 BC).   In Xitang, you will find are well preserved groups of buildings from the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) and Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  The village is also known for its large number of covered corridors, lanes and bridges.

Xitang is the type of place that is perfect for a stroll but it would also be nice to come here with someone who can point out all the historic buildings.  Melody didn't really have much to tell us about Xitang though she did take us down some of the narrow alleys and lanes so we could see what the place is like when you're not walking along the main areas.  We noticed that tucked alongside the alleys and lanes were quite a lot of small hotels, guesthouses, and hostels.  It would be nice to spend a night here.



Xitang is also known for having a lot of bridges that crossover the main canal.  We walked to the top of one to check out the view.  Quite lovely.





The bridge offered up the perfect backdrop for some tourist photos 😁



Then we headed off to a small local eatery where Melody treated us to some local snacks.  According to Melody, the owners and Miki know each other well which explains why we came to this specific place.  The owners were a lovely, older couple and they tended to us as if we were family.  Seconds after we sat down and food started to appear on our table.  First dish was liangfen (凉粉), a cold noodle dish.  The noodles are typically made with mung bean starch.  The noodles in this dish were flavored with a bit of sesame seed oil and topped with green scallions, cilantro and roasted peanuts.  Cantonese don't eat cold noodles so this was definitely a different taste experience for us.  I found it quite refreshing.


We had all eaten quite a big lunch so a snack was just perfect for us.


We also got served a bowl of wontons.  Can't go wrong with these dumplings which unlike the liangfen were served warm.



Just after we entered in to Xitang, we had come across a vendor selling blackberries.  Bro could not resist so he bought a basket's worth.  Those we also shared at the table.  Last but not least, we had some more dumplings. 


We also got a drink with peach slices that is supposedly a specialty of the region.  Considering it is spring now and peaches were picked at least 6 months ago, the peaches had to have been preserved.  To my untrained palate, the drink and the peaches tasted like canned peaches (minus the tinny taste) and the drink itself was like the heavy syrup from the canned peaches, watered down.  It was okay but nothing I would go out of my way to get.

By the time we finished eating, the sun had long dropped past the horizon.  It was Golden Hour and this is prime time for photographers.  Alas, it was not to be my moment because I could not find a vista that I wanted to take a photo of against the dark blue sky.   Probably a good thing anyway because now I would focus on enjoying my early evening stroll through the village.



Of all the architectural elements in Xitang, the most distinctive feature is its covered corridor which runs more than 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) in length.  The corridor runs alongside the canal so you can take in views of the water and the boats that ply it while sheltered from the sun and the rain.


We walked down the Corridor of Misty Rain.  I love how Chinese give such glorious names to the most mundane of things.  This is the equivalent of someone naming a sidewalk.


As you might expect, every building that fronts the corridor is a shop or restaurant.  It's very commercial and touristy here.  Luckily, there were only a few people around when we were strolling here but I can imagine how packed it would be on a weekend night!



The iconic Chinese red lanterns were hung up everywhere.  They are really pretty and I got a bit obsessed with taking photos of them.

Besides the covered corridor, the narrow alleyways and lanes that shoot off of it are another feature unique to Xitang.  It would be fun to really explore them.  I suspect that you can traverse through sections of the village just by using the lanes, avoiding the corridor area all together.  Of course, we had to check out a few of the lanes....curious to see what they would lead to.




One of the lanes dead ended in a courtyard where a pair of very colorfully decorated buildings stood.  There's some quirkiness and charm hidden in the alleys of Xitang!





It was really hard for me to take photos as my zoom lens is really slow but wherever I was able to find a solid surface to prop up my camera on, I was able to at least take an okay shot.





Did I tell you I got a bit obsessed with taking photos of the Chinese lanterns?  😁








Tomorrow night is the official full moon but it was full enough tonight to help light up a shot.  I had to get the one of the lanterns AND the moon!



We weren't hungry but had we been, there were plenty of vendors frying up batches of stinky tofu.  From the looks on their faces, I could already tell that neither Bro nor SK would enjoy the bite of this delicacy which would be best described as an acquired taste.


Our walk took us past a small section of the village that took me completely by surprise.  Housed inside ancient buildings were at least a dozen if not more clubs that were blaring out music so loud that we could barely hear ourselves think.  Each was trying to outdo each other in terms of volume.  Oddly, when we peeked inside any of the clubs, we never saw any people dancing.  Everyone was just seated at tables, presumably drinking but with music that loud, there is no way you could hold a conversation.

To me, it was ridiculous that in the heart of this tiny, ancient village there is essentially a club district of this scale.  They need to relocate these establishments elsewhere.  Seriously.



I could not wait to walk past this area.  It seemed like an eternity before my ears stopped ringing from all the loud noise.  I felt really sorry for the vendors with shops anywhere near these places.  Those poor people must be deaf by now, having to put up with this noise night after night.  It is Friday night though so maybe these places only come to life on Friday and the weekends.  One can only hope.

Once you're away from the covered corridor area, the rest of Xitang looks like any other pedestrian only shopping area and it is all about shopping here.  I think I would have enjoyed Xitang more had we come much earlier in the day and we could have explored the more *off the beaten path* areas. 






Our time in Xitang ended on a very funny note.  Apparently, many of the commercial establishments here employ young people to essentially perform at the entrance as a means of getting people to come inside.  He's basically a human advertisement for the shop.  Melody spotted this teenager....at least I think that's how young he is.  His shtick is that he dances to get customers to come inside and he's so good at it that he's become very popular and well known.  He's cute if you're a teenage girl so not surprisingly, he's a hit with them.  I think Melody says that he even has his own YouTube channel (?).  Anyway, there was a crowd of girls each taking their turn to have their photos taken with him. Melody was among the lot of his swooning fans.  I urged her to have her photo taken with him but she was too shy so I volunteered to approach him with her and then as soon as she sat down next to him, I got up and walked away.  Melody had handed her phone over to SK who did the photo taking duties.  Yes, Melody, wife and mother with a young daughter waiting for her back home, channeled her inner teenager for just a few minutes tonight!  We had to fan her down as she walked away from him.  Only kidding but she was giddy with joy!


It was about 8:00p when we left Xitang to return back to Shanghai and also most 10p by the time we reached the big city.  It had been a really long day and there were parts that I really enjoyed but overall, I don't think I would do this tour again because if you look at it, we spent an extraordinary amount of time on trains and in cars and comparatively much less on actually seeing the sights.  I would do the places separately - you need at least two days to cover Hangzhou and one for Xitang.  Both Hangzou and Xitang can easily be reached by public transportation from Shanghai.  You can always hire local guides if you want someone to show you around each of the two places - more needed in Hangzhou than in Xitang.

We had enjoyed our time with Melody and she really had to put in quite a bit of effort to make sure we stayed on track and on time so we tipped quite generously.  I've also hired a car and driver from Miki to shuttle us around tomorrow and Melody has kindly offered to act as interpreter for us if we need to communicate with the driver so I basically decided to add a bit more to her tip for that reason as well.

For now, I'm happy to be back on our apartment in Shanghai.  Time to relax a bit and get ready for tomorrow.  We have flowers in our future!  Fingers crossed there will be flowers in our future!