Saturday, November 24, 2012

Zhouzhuang (11/24/2012)

Saturday, November 24, 2012

After several days of rain, the sun came out today for our Grand Gateway outing to China's Number One Water Town of Zhouzhuang. We were very lucky.
On the bus at 7:30 and arrived in Zhouzhuang at 9:15. This time we actually had a guide who spoke English/Chinglish and she had many stories to tell. We learned that many of those fenced off areas, or "swimming pools," in the lakes are not all fish farms, but are also oyster farms for freshwater pearls.The pearls are not perfectly round because each oyster has several pearls and there is not enough room to let them grow round. Also, in this area they have the weather to allow three harvests of rice.

Zhouzhuang, China's oldest water town with a history of over 900 years, is called the Venice of China (as are many water towns, including the city of Suzhou). It is also said that one should visit Zhouzhuang to see what Suzhou looked like in the early days. The town became prosperous because its waterways made trade easy, especially with foreigners. After a rich citizen, Zhou Digong, donated his property in 1086 to have a Buddhist temple built, the town was named after him.

Zhouzhuang is now known for its bridges:
and for the Wansan pork shank dish:
The most iconic bridges for Zhouzhuang are the Double or Twin Bridges made up of the arched Shide Bridge:
and the flat stone beam Yong'an Bridge which forms a right angle to the Shide Bridge:
It is not easy to get a photo of both bridges together:
Together they are supposed to look like a key with one rounded end. They were first built sometime during the reign of Ming Emperor Wanli (1573-1619).
There is the story of painter Chen Yifei, who studied in the U.S. He visited Zhouzhuang in 1984 when the only way to get here was by boat. He photographed the Double Bridge, and later in the U.S. he painted a scene with the bridges. The painting was exhibited in the Hammer Gallery in New York, and was obtained by gallery owner Armand Hammer. Late in 1984, Armand Hammer visited China and sent the painting to Deng Xiaoping. Since then Zhouzhuang has been opened to the world.
The Taiping Bridge (first built during the Ming Emperor Jaijing reign of 1522-1566):
We visited the former residence of the once-upon-a-time second richest family in Zhouzhuang, the Zhang house. It has a richly carved stone doorway:
One of two "natural scenery" screens made from a slice of marble:
The study/office had windows overlooking the back garden:
This house is known for the river that runs through it, with a "pool" for unloading:
A garden scene:
A dance hall had a carved wooden palanquin big enough for a four-piece band:
More of the river that runs through the house, where vendors can sell goods from their boats:
Curiously, the servants' corridor had niches for candles:
where people had slipped coins behind the protective glass. Thus it looked more religious than practical.
A fan window with a view:
On the streets, bamboo sculptures for sale:
View from the Fu'an Bridge:
The tower(s) of Fu'an Bridge:
Fu'an Bridge (first built in 1355) with towers (are there two, or four?):
Our next stop was the Shen house, former residence of the son of the first millionaire south of the Yangtze River. The son continued his father's business and built his house in 1742.
The first courtyard had a carved stone doorway no bigger than at the Zhang house, but wait! In the second courtyard was a grander carved doorway!
Side corridor:
The VIP reception hall is behind the common reception hall:
It was said to keep warm, "fires" would be placed below the bed:
A statue of Shen Wansan, the first millionaire south of the Yangtze River:
Visitors were tossing coins, trying to get them in the square hole of the money container in front of the statue.
A gate to the pier made to look like a Chinese coin:
Shen Wansan has become a legend, with the story of when he was 7-years old he was "lost" for a week and his family was frantic. He came home and calmly told his family he went to Suzhou (30 km/18 miles from Zhouzhuang as the crow flies). He observed the businessmen and decided that is what he wanted to be. He was able to take advantage of the waterways to develop his trading business, and he was one of the first to trade with foreigners. As an older man, he donated money to the emperor for building the city walls of the new capital, Nanjing. He became friends with the emperor, and they spent many visits drinking and playing chess. But then Shen Wansan offered to pay for even more of the building of the walls, the emperor became worried that Shen was too wealthy and might want more power. He tried to come up with an excuse to get rid of Shen. Once they were eating the Zhouzhuang specialty of pork shank, and the tricky emperor asked what they were eating. Shen realized if he said "pork," that was the same word as the emperor's name and would be an insult. Shen was clever as well, so he said they were eating "Wansan," which was his own name. Ever after, the dish has been called the Wansan pork shank.
More Zhouzhuang eats:
Dried shrimps and whitebait:
Longxing Bridge:
Drying fish:
Bao'en Bridge:
Part of the Nanhu/South Lake Garden:
Ancient gingko tree:
Gate to Quanfu Temple:
Our guide said that one leaves their worries with the Happy Buddha when entering a temple:
Temple lake:
Temple bell:
Bell Tower:
This is the temple that Zhou Digong had built:
Prayer ribbons:
I had just been reading about corbelled ceilings!
That is the ceiling of the pavilion in the middle of the lake.
Marble boat:
Hungry koi:
Back in the town, a tourist boat:
Woodworker making a bucket:
Most restaurants in the town offered pick-your-own fish, shrimp, clams, and greens:
We went out of the historic area to have lunch in a more conventional Chinese restaurant. The giant Lazy-Susan already had the cold dishes of duck, bamboo sprouts, pickled rapeseed stems, pickled cabbage, chicken feet, and peanuts. One by one the other dishes came out along with a bowl of rice: soup with chicken and white meatballs (three flavor meatballs?), meatballs that were very light and pinkish in a sauce, a Wansan pork shank, scrambled eggs, bok choy, water shield, steamed fish (Baisi?), shrimp, puffy tofu, small fried fish (whitebait?), spicy tofu, and sauteed thin potato strips. The afters were cherry tomatoes and a crispy pastry with sesame seeds.
After lunch we trooped back to the old town for a short boat "cruise."
Turned a corner and passed under Chujia Bridge:
Washing dishes, and washing mushrooms?
Hongfu Bridge:
Fishing boat:
Tongxiu Bridge:
Some big clams:
We climbed up in Milou, called the Attractive Beauty Tower by our guide:
Milou behind Zhenfeng Bridge:
The story is an older couple owned a tavern in Milou, and they had a beautiful daughter. People came to the restaurant just to see the daughter, an attractive beauty. It was also a meeting place for literati.
The Fishing Museum, where I could actually feel how fine those fishing nets were:
Qinglong Bridge near the main entrance:
We had 30 minutes free time, so I returned to Zhenfeng Street to see a few more craftsmen, like the bamboo weaver:
Crossed the Xianyuan Bridge:
Visited the Ye Chucang house with ornately carved beams:
Puqing Bridge:
Chengxu Temple:
The small temple was selling wire/metal sculptures of gods?
Back on Zhenfeng Street, polymer figures:
See Yao Ming of the Rookets (sic)?
Painting inside of glass:
As we left town, I saw a giant Wansan pork shank:
Thank you, Grand Gateway, for a grand outing!
(Did I show at least 14 bridges?!)

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