Book reviews are not usually my thing, but having recently finished Haruki Murakami’s epic three-volume novel, 1Q84, events conspired which were a little too coincidental to pass over. For those unfamiliar with Murakami’s work, he is one of Japan’s most famous authors whose work is humorous and surreal, often focusing on themes of alienation and loneliness. Many of his novels focus on the mundane lives of ordinary people who are suddenly catapulted into deranged circumstances. Read more
Under the principle of “one country, two systems”, Hong Kong is defined as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of China. It borders the neighbouring city of Shenzhen immediately to the north (where I lived for two years previously) which is physically divided from Hong Kong along the Sham Chun and Sha Tau Kok rivers. I recently visited the border town of Sha Tau Kok (沙頭角) on the Hong Kong side… Read more
Shenzhen is one of the most modern cities in China, having rapidly developed over the past 30 years since its inception as a special economic zone. Walking around its streets there is little to see in the way of history or culture but scratch beneath the surface and there are a few intriguing glimpses of the past to be found. Read more
My third port of call on my journey around Zhejian province was the ancient water town of Wuzhen. Located a little off the usual tourist trail Wuzhen is famed for its Venice-like canals, ancient stone bridges, wooden buildings, and delicate carvings. It’s said to be over 1000 years old and while its roots may lie in trade and agriculture the town is almost completely focused on tourism today. China and tourism usually equates to ultra-tacky souvenir stands and bus loads of noisy tour parties but in stark contrast this was surprisingly tasteful with the restoration not being over-done and enough room for the crowds to mingle in relative tranquility.
I arrived in the afternoon from Suzhou after one of the most hair-raising bus rides I have ever experienced in China whereupon we were unceremoniously dumped in the middle of what seemed like nowhere. A short walk and taxi ride later we arrived at the entrance-proper of the town. Here you checked into a guest house and paid the entrance fee (80 RMB) which I imagine is what partly keeps the masses out. A room in one of the traditional houses cost 450 RMB per night (more if you want one overlooking the water) which is pretty good value for what you get and included an interesting take on the traditional English breakfast (albeit the portion seemed to be sized for a midget).
If the town is picturesque by day then at night it really shines with subtle lighting accentuating the old wooden buildings and calm waterways. Walking along the 2km+ of canals is a wonderful experience on it own with endless buildings and courtyards to explores. Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the food which was over-priced and nothing to write home about. This is probably due to the town being controlled by a single organisation.
Around the town you could see various examples of traditional crafts being demonstrated by local people such as basket making, wood carving and silk dying. The above shot shows cylindrical vats of a special black sauce being brewed – it looked a lot like Marmite but with a totally different taste.
Of all the places I visited on my previous trip Wuzhen was definitely the best. Highly recommended for those seeking a taste of old China in an accessible location not far from Shanghai.
Note: I wrote more about silk production in Wuzhen in a later post along with a video detailing the process.