Friday, May 04, 2007

Xitang

Today the plan was to go and visit a "traditional" Chinese village called Xitang (pictures here). I got up at 6am as we had to catch the bus at 8am from the stadium about 6 stops away on the metro.

After just over an hour on the bus we arrived in a really run down town, walked a little down the road then the narrowest street I have seen in some time. So narrow we had to hide in a door way as one of the tuc tuc style bikes pasted through.

Xitang is a maze of small streets separated by rivers, with a large collection of bridges of all shapes and sizes. The bridges are both useful as Xitang sprawls over the river but also beautiful adding a real magic to the place.

Just walking around is amazing the sights and smells, the constricted space on the pavement and the crowds of tourists give the place an otherworldly, sad but proud feeling. The bridges and buildings are wonderful to look at. The places stinks, and not just the tofu, rotting garbage and the river smells and looks horribly polluted.

There are many little exhibits to view whilst walking about, a wine museum informed us the Chinese have over a millenia of wine making tradition. There is a Buddhist temple, a place called the Drunk Room home to some excellent calligraphers, and a grand house complete with courtyard, rockery and splendid Chinese architecture.

The trouble with chopsticks for a western guy is that whilst the Chinese have used the sticks since they were young, I am struggling with the sticks themselves and with the fact its normal to chew food and spit bits out, something that is no-no in the UK is normal practice here. Today i was trying to eat shrimp, I found it very difficult Lulu torn off the her in her teeth, spat it out, did the same with the tail then stripped the rest of the shell in her mouth and spat it out. I found it difficult and unusual, ended up eating mostly the salad and other bits.

There were many little stalls selling all sort of traditional Chinese goods, foods, and curiosities. I bought a rather natty Tea set with a spout shaped like a dragon. I also bought some nice Chinese paintings depicting Xitang in the four seasons. I also sampled smelly tofu, a rather foul smelling fried tofu, it actually tastes pretty nice especially with a little sauce on.

The poverty of Xitang is palpable, from the people working the stalls to the townspeople outside, it is very different from Shanghai. I was approached by a shoe cleaning women whilst we were sitting waiting for the bus, she cleaned my shoes for 5 Yuan then went off looking for more customers. I guess underemployment must pretty high here.

This evening we were both tired after the early morning, so we went back to the apartment and cooked up some of the leftover dumplings from the party. Along with an Elizabeth melon and some crisps.

It was early evening so although slightly tired Lulu took me out to Xintiandi. It is a modern shopping complex built inside a renovated Shikumen (stone houses) part of the old French concession. The place is full of trendy shops and restaurants and had about the most western faces I had seen so far on the trip. I think that maybe goes along with the western prices!

We grabbed a coffee, at one of the brand chain coffee houses. I had to go and order, first time ordering anything, it took ages but not because for me more due to the queue inside. I think Lulu thought I was messing about! We sat outside and had a rather deep and meaningful conversation about life which was rather enjoyable, however we were both tired. So Lulu went off home and I was so tired I went to the apartment and crashed out.
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