Category Archives: Recipes for Resilience

A Significant Encounter in the Water Village

On the second day, there was a trip to one of the water villages around Shanghai. The city is built on the delta of the Yangtze River; the surrounding countryside is crossed by many small rivers. To the west of the urban area, there are several ancient towns which preserve much original culture. We were going to Zhujiajiao, about 50 km from the city.

sampan in water village nr Shanghai

We began our explorations in the Kezhi Gardens. Our guide led us through the living areas, now displaying various examples of the crafts once practised there, to a large room which housed a model of the original design.

resilience village model

I was stunned – it was an exact depiction of the imaginary ‘resilience village’ which I’d described in ‘Recipes for Resilience’! The establishment used to house not only an extended family, but also students learning about plants. The ethic was that the whole community would work on the fields and vegetable gardens, as well as studying, in order to have a balanced life.

Although the place had undergone changes – at one point it was a junior school, and is now an exhibition – the small craft workshops still housed skilled artisans. You can watch paper-cutting, calligraphy and embroidery; pick up some pretty souvenirs.

calligraphy and paper cutting

Paper cuttings
Paper cuttings

Some of the extensive fields survive as a demonstration area on the other side of the lovely formal gardens. I saw rice ready for harvest for the first time; it certainly seems to give a good yield of grain.

A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
A bronze buffalo beside a rice field
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens
Vegetable patch in Kezhi Gardens

The garden itself was lovely. There was more space here than in the Yu Yuan; the water features were more intricate and the pavillions grander, with higher levels. You can see more pictures here, and read a brief history.

Too soon we had to continue our tour, emerging to take a walk along the riverfront and down the narrow colourful alleyways. These were lined with small stalls – the weather is quite warm here, even in November – selling all manner of enticing articles. Often the craftspeople themselves would be there, working on their next piece as they waited for customers.

riverfront water village

We paused for roll call by the famous Fang Sheng bridge, and were let off to explore. Across the bridge was an area of new development; modern apartments and shops, with the ubiquitous Starbucks. Part of the old bank was artificially preserved to ensure the survival of the old culture; the rest seemed to have managed it unaided.

The old and new in Zhujiajiao
The old and new in Zhujiajiao; the man in the boat is clearing weeds from the river

Zhujiajiao water village is one of the closest to Shanghai. If you’re feeling adventurous, you can get there by public transport. Most city hotels provide small bilingual cards at Reception, instructing taxi drivers on returning wandering guests to the right address; make sure you pick one up if you’re going exploring without a guide.

Next week: Towers, silk and shopping in Shanghai

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Sights of Shanghai

I find writing a book quite intense, especially towards the end. When the final draft of ‘Recipes for Resilience’ left my desk for that of Magic Oxygen publishers, I was in the mood for adventure. My colleague, Linda Benfield, had booked us on to an RSD tour of China – luckily I’d met my deadline – and we flew to Beijing on the 6th November.

Flying over Gobi desert
The Gobi Desert makes Siberia look busy

From there, we had to manage the transfer to Shanghai ourselves. It looked daunting; there wasn’t a lot of time to achieve it. There were some films on YouTube describing the route to take; down the escalator and on to the shuttle train to Domestic Departures. We didn’t have to collect our luggage after all, possibly since both flights were with Air China and booked together. It’s this sort of detail that I value a tour company for.

Shanghai airport signs

If you’re arranging your own programme, leave a good couple of hours for transfer in case of misunderstandings. The queue at Chinese Immigration can be quite long too. Have your arrival card filled in before you get to the desk.

Our fantastic tour guide, Kevin, was at Shanghai Airport to meet us. We drove to the Golden River View Hotel through the rush hour smog arriving, with just enough energy after over twenty four hours of travelling, in time to dine and get an early night.

The smog had gone in the morning; we learned it was rarely as bad as the day we’d arrived, when it reminded me of my Midlands childhood. There are moves to increase the proportion of electric vehicles, as transport accounts for about 30% of the pollution, and to explore the use of natural gas and renewables instead of coal.

RSD Travel has mixed reviews, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that their sightseeing agenda is relentless. We had very little time at the excellent hotel buffet before boarding the tour bus for a look at the Jade Buddha Temple; we learned to get up earlier in future. RSD provides more of an adventure than a holiday, but after fourteen days we really felt we’d seen China and at a very reasonable price.

The Reclining Jade Buddha
The Reclining Jade Buddha

The Yu Yuan came next; beautiful formal gardens in the centre of the megacity. A natural setting is created in such gardens. Trees, ponds and winding paths combine into different vistas, viewed from small pavillions or cloistered corridors. There are rarely any statues, only ambient rocks suggestive of various shapes in a very effective manner.

Yu Yuan gardens Shanghai

yu yuan gardens shanghai

At lunchtime, we were released into Shanghai Old Town to do some free range shopping; you could easily spend an afternoon here picking up quality trinkets for gifts.

Dragon tortoise guards shanghai old town

If the waterside teahouse doesn’t tempt you, there’s a Starbucks not far away.

Teahouse in Shanghai old town

One last trip before dinner, to the spacious, gated French Concession area. People practised Tai Chi, and what we later learned was square dancing, in the empty road. Others flew kites in the park.

Tai Chi in the French concession Shanghai

After dinner, back on the tour bus for a river trip (optional extra). Like most places in the city, the boat was crowded, so we paid extra for seats by the rail. It was well worth it; Shanghai waterfront illuminations are legendary.

Night tour boat Shanghai

Night lights Shanghai
The Oriental Pearl Tower stands in space-age splendour

All this, and jet-lag too – Beijing time is 8 hours ahead of the UK. Next week – A Significant Encounter in the Water Village