OK say that ten times fast!
For the curious among you, you say it pretty much exactly how it looks. The ZH is said like the G in ‘luge’ (the sport). The J’s make stronger G sounds like ‘gee-wiz!’, but not like G in ‘gum’. So it ends up being gu gee-aa gee-ow. OK, enough about pronunciation. It is the name of a water town about two hours outside of downtown Shanghai. What is a water town you ask?? Well let me tell you…..Shanghai is basically a brackish marsh/flood plain for the Yangztee River and the China Sea. Like Louisiana, fill, concrete piers, and other creative measures have been taken over time to make the land buildable. Starting two and a half hour drive from downtown the land starts to slowly rise and there are a couple of medium sized mountains about 4 or 5 hour drive from downtown. Other than that it is flat, flat, flat. So they had to put the water somewhere as they built villages, towns, and now cities. There are a myriad of canals all over Shanghai. A group of us are plotting to find kayaks and explore the canals that run through the city. In the city they have built the canals with pretty walking paths on either side and trees and pocket parks. Further north and west, where the older villages still stand, the buildings are built right up against the water, sort of like Venice, Italy. Here there are many so called ‘water towns’.
On a recent cold and rainy day a group of us went to visit Zhu jia jiao. Even on such a yucky day it was amazing. Water, from the sea or from the sky or canal, does not slow the residents down. It is a very popular place for Chinese tourists to visit as well as foreigners. In our group were some Shanghainese natives, a family from Texas, us, a young husband and wife who both grew up in Taiwan but had lived and worked in the USA for about 10 years with their son and were returning to China to work for an American company on assignment.
At first glance the town is very quaint and appears made for tourists, sort of like Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. But once we started to explore past the hundreds of little shops selling snacks, tourist trinkets, and tea we found a village truly alive with it’s own culture. Some of the small boats punting along in the canals were for tourist rides but there were plenty who were headed out to fish or were returning with fresh fish for the market and restaurants. The art museum had a great collection of contemporary water color artists on display and big posters advertising the water color symposium and exposition that is held every spring in the village. The pictures were really beautiful and it was fun to see not only pictures of local sites but also well known European sites seen from an Asian perspective.
We visited a local Buddhist temple too. I was so glad to have our friends who could read Chinese with us! They read the signs and explained the history of the temple. It was dedicated to a ‘city god’. I assumed that this meant a ‘lesser god’ or a saint like they do in Europe. But no, this temple was actually built for a man who used to live in the ‘city’ of Zhu jia jiao. He was a doctor and apparently was quite brilliant. He cured and healed so many people in the city that others started to travel to him from outlying areas. This made the local government suspicious and they branded him a witch and had him killed. The people mourned his loss and believe his spirit is still with them. So they built the temple complex in his honor to pray to him for health and healing. It is an amazing complex of structures. Both for the beauty of the place and for the enormity of it. This is a village that is clearly of simple means and yet they dedicated so much time, money and love to building this temple and now keeping it up. You feel the positive spirit just being in the place.
Aside from tourists, and fishing, the other major industry here is silk. I always thought of silk as fabric. Something carefully woven and made into clothes or other fine goods. But apparently there are grades of silk and here they use the lower grades of silk to make batting for blankets and medium grades for the cloth covering the blanket. There were several shops selling and making these blankets as we walked around. It was fascinating watching them take a large roll of silk batting and stretch it out over the blanket fabric. They then secured the batting with ties through the fabric and batting. For a little more money you could get one that was machine quilted with patterns on it. We did not get one but now that the cold of winter is settling in I wish I had. Maybe I will need to take another trip out there 🙂 They say the village is particularly beautiful when it snows.
We ate lunch in a local tea house perched on the third floor overlooking the canals. It was lovely and all twelve of us crowded around a big round table. Chinese food is always served family style with a big lazy susan in the middle of the table. We had rice fried with egg and scallion, Chicken soup thick with fresh chicken, sautéed green beans and garlic, tofu in a black bean type sauce, steamed fish that was flaky and wonderful (still with the head on to show you how fresh it is), roasted duck, and lots of tea. It was an amazing feast. I have to give all the credit to our friends who could read Chinese. Like many places here, the headers were translated to English but the specifics in the menu were not. There were some funny ‘Chinglish’ translations given.