Friday, June 20, 2008

Zhujiajiao, Shanghai's lakeside retreat

Our first China-related travel entry is from Michael, an editorial assistant in the office who lived in China for three years before joining Hippocrene:

Shanghai likes to call itself China's "dragon head"--the sleek, modern face of an Asian nation that is rapidly becoming an economic and political juggernaut. Visitors to this bustling metropolis will find all the wonders of city where the favorite word is "development": the bright lights and eager consumerism of Nanjing Road, the clean waters and freshly-lain sod of Century Park, and slick steely monuments on view from the Bund.

When you need a break from the rat race of China's most populous city--and when I lived there, I often did--there are many retreats neary that not only move at a more relaxed pace, but offer a glimpse of the sedate culture that existed in central China before the construction of Shanghai at the turn of the 19th century.

My favorite such spot is Zhujiajiao. Only a 90-minute bus ride away from the center of the city, it has all of the features that once dominated this part of the landscape, including gondola-dotted waterways, camel-back bridges, and Ming and Qing Dynasty architecture. It's surprisingly easy to stray from the main pathways selling tourist trinkets and find yourself on a serene residential alleyway, where locals still live and work in the area's ancient buildings.

Unlike the notoriously brusque Shanghainese, moreover, the residents of Zhujiajiao are pleasantly laid back. On my first visit there I happened upon an elderly man making cicada cages in his house, who invited me to relax in the shade of his awning for a bit and politely nodded at my attempts at conversation starters in Chinese. In the end, I just sat quietly and watched him deftly weave the tiny cages out of bamboo while I munched on roasted caltrops--a local treat, much like a chestnut, that is a must-try for visitors.

While most of these little water towns around Shanghai are somewhat touristy
(all of them lay claim, it seems, to the nickname "Venice of the East"), Zhujiajiao is unique in that it caters almost exclusively to local, Shanghainese tourists. This provides a double incentive to visit Zhujiajiao: not only do you get to see some of China's most beautiful bridges and waterways, but you get a rare glimpse of local Shanghainese people resting and relaxing with their families.

Here's some useful vocabulary, for getting to and around Zhujiajiao:

Zhujiajiao - Zhūjiājiǎo - 朱家角

Excuse me, where can I buy bus tickets to Zhujiajiao? - Qǐngwèn, wǒ kěyǐ zài nǎlǐmǎi dào Zhūjiājiǎo de chēpiào? - 请问我可以在哪里买到朱家角的车票

Is this a return ticket? - Zhè shìbùshì shuāngchéngpiào? - 是不是双乘票

When does the bus leave? - Bāshì shénmeshíhou kāi? - 巴士什么时候开?

At 10:30, from gate 5. - Shídiànbàn, zài dìwǔhào ménkǒu. - 十点半,在第五门口

(Note: Buses to Zhujiajiao leave from the Hongkou Stadium bus station, accessible from Shanghai Metro Lines 3 and 8)

Do I need to buy an admission ticket? - Yàobùyàomǎi ménpiào?- 要不要买门票?

Yes, the price is 60 yuan each. - Yào. Liùshíkuàiqián yīzhāng. - 要。六十块钱一张。

water caltrops - língjiǎo - 菱角

How much are the water caltrops? (Lit: How do you sell them?) - Língjiǎo zěnmemài? - 菱角怎么卖

They are 20 yuan for half a kilogram. - Èrshíkuài yījīn. - 二十块一斤

All Chinese words are Romanized using pinyin. For more Chinese words, phrases, or grammar, please check out Hippocrene's renowned line of Chinese language books.

Images courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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