Canals evoke the image of romantic travel in me. We passed through part of China’s extensive canal network during our approach to Shanghai. It looked very much alive, with barges and low boats carrying raw materials and finished products. Old wooden sampans moored beside decaying buildings or under low bridges illustrated the long history of China’s canals, dating back a thousand years or more. So I was looking forward to visiting Zhouzhang, one of the area’s famous Water Towns and threaded by canals.
The town itself is quite attractive, with narrow pedestrian (and bicycle) only streets of local brick, but the effect was ruined by the aggressive shopkeepers occupying almost every building. They all sold the same thing, silk crafts, wood carvings, paintings, pig trotters. Worse were the restaurant touts, each advertising the same meal, each trying to get you inside.
There were some pleasant spots, the Quanfu temple with its outlook on to the lake, the lute playing at the Ancient Opera Stage (before a performance of Chinese opera drove us off) and, best of al, Zhang’s House, a maze of rooms and small garden scenes.
We took a gondola ride through the canals, which was very pleasant, until the driver started singing badly and demanding money for it.
Our pogo-stick bus ride back to Shanghai was interrupted by a detour to a silk shop where we were treated to a fashion show complete with catwalk an coloured spot lights. Hilarious really. None of the foreign tourists bought anything, but I think the Chinese enjoyed it.
Maybe the smallpox button in the hotel room didn’t give me that virtually extinct disease, but I have had a very sore throat all day. Not surprising with all the pollution and Chinese habit of sharing phlegm. So I wasn’t in the happiest of moods today and the touts didn’t help.
I found the canals we passed during the bus ride back to Shanghai far more evocative. I think that Suzhou may have been a better choice to see these, along with the gardens. Next time maybe…