Paradise on Earth

Shanghai may be the place to be in 2010 as World Expo fast approaches, but as Quan Zhenyuan writes, there is a lot more to the surrounding areas and cities than meets the eye. 

NANJING – THE HEAD OF THE DRAGON:

Nanjing is one of my favourite cities in China. Its history has played a very important role in the history of China and was the capital city for several very important dynasties. When you look at a map of China and look at the Yangtze River as a dragon, Nanjing is the head of that dragon. And from a feng shui point of view, that has played a significant role in Nanjing’s history.

Many Chinese consider Nanjing a depressing city as a result of its history of tragedy including the massacre of hundreds of thousands of people during the Japanese occupation in 1937. But for me, Nanjing combines beautiful natural scenery against a backdrop of very important historical events in China. A visit to Nanjing gives a very clear feeling of Chinese culture and history.

The first must see in Nanjing is Zhong Shan Ling (Purple Mountain) which encompasses the tomb of Hong Wu – the first Ming emperor – along with its sacred avenue lined by giant stone animals and mythical creatures. The park also includes the mausoleum of China’s modern-day father, Dr. Sun Yat-sen.

nanjing_kunqu_webQinhuai He is inside the city and shows another side of Nanjing – the city’s rich past. This is the part of the Qinhuai River which passes through Nanjing and during past dynasties was home to the famous “flower boats”. For a price, beautiful women would sing from the boats while old men poled the boats downstream and for an even greater price, the old men could be left on the bank.

Nanjing is also famous for its Kun Opera (pictured left) – one of China’s oldest staged art kasyno poland forms and the most significant to originate in the region. Kun opera was developed more than 500 years ago and is considered less shrill and more dance oriented than its successor Beijing Opera. 

GETTING THERE

Nanjing is around 300 km from Shanghai. Trains and buses leave several times a day between the two cities.  The D-class train takes around 2.5 hours.  

HANGZHOU & SUZHOU – HEAVEN AND EARTH

“In heaven there is paradise, on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou.”

So goes the famous Marco Polo quote describing his impression of these two eastern seaboard cities. Hangzhou’s West Lake invokes a special emotional and spiritual feeling amongst Chinese people.

A travel guide told me once that if 100 couples were to walk around the lake, 99 would be married by the time they got back to the start. The lake is also home to the White Snake Lady fable – the equivalent of China’s Romeo and Juliet. This is one place in China where you truly come to relax and it is only one hour on the tourist train from Shanghai.

Hangzhou is renowned for its Longjing tea – China’s best quality green tea. So I recommend a tour into the countryside to see the tea plantations and to enjoy great local hospitality. Stay with a local family, rent a bicycle for half a day and take pleasure in natural, freshly cooked food while you enjoy the tea. This is quite a different experience from sipping tea at the West Lake’s many coffee shops.

linyinsi_1_webThe Lingyin Si Temple (pictured right) and Fei Lai Feng is a popular with young Chinese people who go to the temple to pray for good luck. When we think about Buddhism in China we often think about Tibet but Hangzhou has played a very significant role for China’s Han Buddhists. For me though, the best thing to do in Hangzhou is absolutely nothing!

Enjoy a cup of tea in one of Hangzhou’s many tea shops, relax and just enjoy the atmosphere.  

When I think about Suzhou I have an image of little bridges, flowing water and beautiful girls with umbrellas. It is famous for its gardens. One of the best is Zhuo Zheng Yuan (Humble Administrator’s Garden). Although there are smaller gardens in Suzhou and possibly quieter ones, this one is the best representation of the Suzhou style of garden.

Suzhou is famous for its silk and boasts a comprehensive national silk museum. 

GETTING THERE

Hangzhou is 200km from Shanghai. There are trains every half an hour between the two cities leaving from Shanghai’s newer south train station.

Suzhou is only 80 km from Shanghai. Trains between the two cities depart every half an hour. 

ZHOUZHUANG

zhouzhuang_webSuzhou is surrounded by many water villages including Zhouzhuang, which is accessible directly from Shanghai and is one of the best examples of the characteristic architecture of the water village. It gets very touristy during the day so the best time to visit is in the evening or early in the morning where you can see the local people going about their daily business.  

GETTING THERE

Zhouzhuang is only 60km from Shanghai. Special tourist buses to Zhouzhuang and other nearby water villages depart regularly from the Shanghai Bus Tour Centre at Shanghai Stadium.

*Quan Zhenyuan is the director of Beijing Matric Culture Communication Company which has published several English language guide books through its China Through the Looking Glass series. The China Through the Looking Glass series are written by foreigners for foreigners and include Nanjing, Hangzhou, Zhou Zhuang, Mu Du and Wuxi in Jiangsu and Zhejiang as well as a guide to Sichuan.

Contact the author at: roseq.china@gmail.com

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