Authors: Will and Nick
The second day tour of the weekend saw us venture to the ancient water town of Zhujiajiao, a region with an even longer history than the gardens of Suzhou that we visited the Saturday prior. Getting off the bus was a stark reminder of the levels of pollution possible in Shanghai, with some students requiring face masks to get through the thick plume of smog throughout.
The narrow strip of Zhujiajiao was littered with market retailers selling a variety of trinkets, Chinese memorabilia and various bric-a-brac. Signage outlining ‘No bargaining’ was common throughout the stalls, this was an obvious deviation from the norms of market negotiations in China and with it carried a greater level of authenticity.
The food was familiar, an assortment of meats (every part of the animal), desserts (sticky, elaborately shaped lollipops were most common) and roasted nuts (pictured below) were all prepared through largely traditional methods.
The main feature of the canals, the Zhujiajiao gondolas, allowed for fantastic views of the village, whilst the gentle rocking of the boat was either wonderfully relaxing, or sickening, depending on who you asked.
Whilst not a direct attraction, the undisputed highlight of the water village was the discovery of the various dogs Zhujiajiao had to offer, naturally, a photo or two, and a quick pet (snuck in the absence of their respective owners) was a necessity.
Another highlight of the water village was the doctor fish (or feet fish). While an experience like this is a typical cliché for tourists, it was an interesting and strange experience nonetheless. There is something inherently unsettling about having lots of tiny fish nibbling at your toes, but in practice it feels something like the sensation of ‘pins and needles’.
China has a unique feeling of chaos in their contrasting levels of development. An illustration of this can be seen in the suburbs just neighbouring the water village. Deviating from the flow of tourists, stepping through and behind the rows of authentic and historic architecture opens up to a whole new world. We found ourselves walking through an open, clean and heavily developed urban landscape, not unlike the proverbial ‘concrete-jungle’. The buildings had a modern almost Scandinavian architecture and the street design shared similar characteristics of the modern and pedestrian friendly streets of Copenhagen. The small shops and cafes were very well presented, everything was clean, sparse and grand. But most strangely was that it was completely deserted. While you can still hear the bustle of hundreds of Chinese and foreign tourists merely a stone’s throw away, in this urban metropolis you could also hear a coin drop. Throughout Shanghai we have seen iterations of this paradigm displayed everywhere. In the countryside, gigantic and modern apartment buildings stand tall and conspicuous among the agricultural fields. In the heart of the city, the modern and considerably developed architecture and buildings contrast considerably with the bamboo scaffolding used to build them. If anything, Shanghai and its surrounding towns and cities has a romantic feeling of being in the epicentre of a country right in middle of an exciting economic and developmental boom.