|Shanghai Pt 2, Zhou Zhuang Pt 2, China Pt 2
||[Jun. 1st, 2014|10:36 pm]
Travel talk, tales and tips
Was already quite hungry after leaving the Ye Chucang Residence.|
The foodstalls along the streets are a bad temptation...
The next place I headed is a pretty worth visiting place in Zhou Zhuang. It was built in the Song Dynasty around 1086 and the land space is very big and there are many things to see here. I didn't spend much time going around because it was raining quite heavily and I had to hop around buildings and hide indoors.
If the weather is good, I would recommend spending some time walking around because there are rivers, bridges, pavilions and lake, a majestic complex with nice scenery.
I love visiting China, but there is one thing which I will always try to do when I am in China, I always try to walk near a guide. It is very interesting when you walk near guides in attractions, because you get to listen to unknown stories and facts which you don't get in travel guides.
I walked into the main temple and I saw the Goddess of Mercy statue:
Something doesn't look right here...
I am not a Buddhist/Taoist but I felt something not right, and it was when a tour group came and a tour guide started to talk about the statues. Just as I expected, the tour guide flagged out the difference between the one here and the one people would normally see, and true enough, the statue of this Goddess of Mercy is not standing on the lotus flower and instead is standing on the head of a creature. The creature is known as ao (鳌), a legendary fish-like creature which is believed to help to bring fortune and hence this statue is good for people who are actually praying for wealth and business. As the chinese idiom goes 独占鳌头, it means that you will always be ahead of others and be in the lead. Also heard an interesting tale that the Goddess of Mercy was originally a male, but when it was spread to China, it was feminized because many women started worshipping because of her benevolence and compassion.
And on the opposite end of the temple, a giant Buddha statue made of bronze 3 tonnes heavy, the biggest indoor Buddha statue in the Jiangnan region.
After visiting the temple, I started to have a sweet tooth and decided to look for something sweet for snack.
I found the Dragon Beard Candy!
A very delicious and delicate sweet, this candy is not cheap in Singapore but very cheap here in China. The locals actually have other names for it: the Chinese cotton candy or the silver silk candy. It is not an easy task to make this candy as it tests the skills of the candy maker. The outer layer is made from a dough of sugar in solid state which is then pulled, twisted and stretched until they become long strands like that of the dragon's beard before they are tangled with fillings like peanuts. Very sweet and tasty but it should be consumed as soon as possible as it has a very short shelf life and melts under moisture and high temperatures.
I made my way by walking northwards before and before I could cross the bridge to the other side of the town, I saw this building:
Guai Lou, also known as the Bizarre Tower.
The name of the place caught my attention, and I decided to check it out to understand why it was called that way. I was quite puzzled because the building seems perfectly normal from the outside.
I finally understood why it is called bizarre tower as I got to the entrance where the ticket office was. There was a big board explaining and I realised that it is actually a house where one will experience all the optical illusions like those you see in the trick eye museums that you see in many countries, hence I decided not to waste money and visit and save it for food instead.
I crossed the bridge in front of the bizarre tower and reached the north of Zhou Zhuang, Once at the main plaza, there will be a few stone blocks laid along the banks of the river. Among the few there is one which says:
The number one water town in China! Hope I made the right choice!
At the location where the stone block stands, you can smell something which is so fragrant that could make your head turn.
Hmm what could it be? It's a famous shop which has been opened for centuries.
I thought I could resist temptation but I relented. I could also remember that the bus driver told us before alighting that should we want to try the local delicacies of Zhou Zhuang, we shouldn't give this a miss.
The famous Wanshan braised Pork Knuckle.
I was thinking how to order when this lady told me the price varies in size, and the knuckles are sorted accordingly to the size and price in trays. I picked one a size bigger than the smallest one and the lady just whipped out a pair of scissors and began cutting the meat from the pork knuckle. I have eaten the fried pork knuckle so many times but it's my first time trying the braised version. Wonder how it would taste like...
She gave me a bowl which had the meat nicely cut and the bones removed.
I quickly put one into the mouth and I was like wow, pork has never tasted so good before! The meat was so tender and every piece cut has got a mix of the tender meat and also the fats, with the fragrance of the gravy made it such a wonderful combination. I finished the bowl so quickly and I was thinking if I should get another one, but in the end I decided that I should save my stomach for other food I wanted to try.
And about 20 metres away from the shop at the main plaza one will see the archway entrance of Zhou Zhuang and also the Quanfu pagoda.
The main plaza.
Something sounds strange here. In the beginning we visited the Quanfu temple and now we see the Quanfu pagoda. Shouldn't the two be together? Actually it was quite funny that the pagoda was only built in recent years and it was built to conceal the view of the water tower! Hence there is no relation between the pagoda and the temple and was just a mere convenience to name the pagoda similar to the temple, and also, the name of the street where the archway and pagoda stood is known as Quanfu Road.
One thing to note here: Remember in the previous entry my point of entry into Zhou Zhuang was via a boat ride which cost me 50 RMB (~10 SGD). The ticket includes the boat ride and admission to various sights. You can also enter Zhou Zhuang though the archway and there is a ticket booth by the side selling the admission ticket for 100 RMB (~20 SGD) inclusive of admission to sights. So now you know which is the cheaper alternative, and you have to choose either way because tickets are not sold at sights and admission is based on the admission ticket into Zhou Zhuang.
I walked back as I wanted to head to another attraction and I came upon this shop after I crossed the bridge:
The green thing is actually known as Qing Tuanzi (青团子), green rice balls. They are made from glutinous rice flour and green mugwort juice and stuffed with red bean paste. I ordered a serving and she was nice enough to offer me the yellow rice balls to try which was made from sweet potato. I thought it was enough until I saw someone in the shop having beancurd and I ordered one too.
Another sweet meal. The beancurd was so memorable as the texture was so soft and so different from what we used to have.
A view of Zhou Zhuang over Fu An Bridge.
The next attraction is one of the most important attraction in Zhou Zhuang, Shen House.
This house was built by the descendent of Shen Wanshan, who was the first millionaire of Jiangnan. He was one of the cleverest man who took advantage of the waterways in Suzhou to do business trading in silk, tea and spices. What is impressive about the Shen House is that it has over hundred rooms and are divided and connected by aisles and arcades.
The aisles along the living quarters had bronze murals depicting the life of Shen Wanshan.
The kitchen section of the house, there people can also get to try the green rice balls.
The study room which was built for his children.
A small narrow lane with rooms facing each other. This is the servants quarter.
After leaving Shen House, I walked along the North Shi street to the next destination. You walk past all the shophouses selling souvenirs and packed food for friends back home, I wanted to get something back home but was lazy for the fact that I didn't want to carry anything extra under the rain and I was afraid those boxes would become soggy if soaked in rain water.
Within five minutes of walking, I reached the entrance:
To the Zhou Zhuang ancient opera stage.
Though raining, this is a cool place where one can enjoy a cup of tea or coffee and enjoy the performance of traditional Kun opera. Performances are staged pretty frequently in the afternoons and there are Chinese and English subtitles provided by the electronic boards by the stage.
Happened to enjoy a short performance standing under the rain.
After heading out from the show, there is this spot not far from the entrance where you would see many people gathering here and taking pictures and blocking the entire walkway.
They are taking pictures of this bridge, twin bridges.
This bridge looks very common and typical of any bridge in Zhou Zhuang, it is actually two bridges built together and is the most famous bridge in Zhou Zhuang and also the symbol. One might ask why is this bridge so famous that everyone who visits Zhou Zhuang has to see this bridge? It has to do with a painter named Chen YiFei who painted this bridge and exhibited it in a gallery in New York named 'Hometown in Memory', gained the attention of people and was later chose as a first day cover of United Nations' stamp in 1985.
I realised that I only had about 20 minutes left and I had not much time before heading to the bus drop-off point to wait for the bus. Before leaving Zhou Zhuang, I decided to visit this final place:
Tomb of Shen Wanshan.
He has great influence on Zhou Zhuang so obviously before leaving the place I should pay the tomb a visit. The weird thing I couldn't understand initially was that the tomb was hidden in a faraway corner from the hustle and bustle of the town, and also why it was called an underwater tomb. I heard that Shen Wanshan did not die in Zhou Zhuang, and when he died his relatives brought his body back and buried him at the current spot where it is in front of the Yinzi River, which Yinzi means Silver, and there is a spring that is running in Zhou Zhuang which under it laid the tomb, hence it was pretty deep and was called the underwater tomb.
And here I was, waiting under the Fortune Bridge for the bus to head back to Shanghai.
More back to see in Shanghai.