lundi, janvier 26, 2015

Wuzhen (乌镇) with the Parents

Dad and mum in Wuzhen

I wonder sometimes if the parents regretted our growing up. Because, on those evenings when I hugged my youngest child as he slept next to me (which he does when Hub is away), I always wished that I could immortalise the moment in time and not let it slip away. But of course, children grow up and we should be thankful that they do so, only I couldn't stop myself feeling sad that soon I will have no more babies to hug and kiss, nor will I have anyone calling me "mummy" in the cutest of voices followed by the tenderest of hugs.

This, I guess, is middle age. Your babies are growing up really quickly and your parents are visibly ageing and exhibiting various health hiccups. It is not exactly the most gay period in a person's life, yet at the same time, if you have played your cards right, you should be most comfortable in your 40s in both material and mobility.

I love you all, my Babies, and I hope that you will never have cause to doubt or forget this in your lives. Just like I know that my parents love me and I am thankful for that.

The parents came for a short visit last October. I last saw them in Singapore in July and August, but we were so often out of the house doing some activity or traveling around the region that I felt frustrated about not seeing them as much as I would have liked to. Therefore I invited them to come stay 11 days with me in Shanghai, so that I may bring them out a little, cook for them, be with them.

Wuzhen when you arrive by boat and a map of the town

Mum's bow legs seemed to be getting from bad to worse. Climbing and walking long distances were definitely out of the question, and it was fortunate we did the bulk of our Shanghai sights 3 years ago when they first came to visit, and this time I have 2 drivers so we always had someone to drive us around. With the kids at school, we had to look for a trip that could be done in the day which would be interesting enough for everyone. Mum had already visited Zhujiajiao, Suzhou and Qibao, while I last brought MIL to Tongli near Suzhou, so we were more or less left with Wuzhen which is near enough to Shanghai.

Wuzhen by day

I've always wanted to visit Wuzhen (乌镇) and when mum said that she would like to do so too, I got Driver Ju to drive us there. Ideally, one should spend the night as Wuzhen is divided into 2 sections that are a small distance (about 1km) away from each other, with one section that is smaller but older and the other larger, newer and cleaner - hence there would be quite a bit to visit and discover. But we had to return home to the children and dad was going to go on a short trip to the South the day after to visit his relatives.

Many stone bridges

Pretty covered wooden bridges and grand stone doors

We chose to do the bigger and newer part of Wuzhen. It was clean, organised, with only one smelly tofu stall (at least we only saw one). Once you enter the walled village/town, you could choose to get on a boat that will bring you across to the main part of the sights and from there you navigate between lanes and bridges, duck in and out of courtyards, shops, eateries, museums...

Nice wood and stone work and very clean too
I found the old water village really pretty. We were lucky to be there when there were few tourists and the weather was nice which made the outing very pleasant. We made our way slowly around (often with dad looking out for mum and holding her elbow etc), buying little snacks to share and taste, and lunch was in a small restaurant specialising in healthy cuisine that was part of the Wuzhen Clubhouse. Thinking about this I get all emotional because I really miss my parents, 19 years make up a long time to be away from home and the family...

Streets, library/bookstore, courtyards
Wuzhen is part of Tongxiang in Zhejiang Province, about 2 hours by car from Shanghai. It is  divided into sections where different crafts and trades are displayed, and is known for its stone pathways, stone bridges and wooden carvings. The restaurants that were situated along the canal were tempting as the idea of lunching with a view of the water, old houses and bridges was enticing, but healthy should be more important when you have 2 senior citizens and the only "health" restaurant around was smack in the middle of 2 lanes.

The healthy lunch at the Wuzhen Club restaurant

When I visited the tiny shoe (for bound feet) museum alone, mum spent her time trying on cloth shoes (normal sized, of course) as dad glared at her from the side wondering if she was about to make another "unnecessary" purchase. It was quite funny catching this scene as I walked out of the museum, and I had to employ quite a bit of diplomacy to diffuse the situation and make both sides happy. Well, mum couldn't find the colour she wanted in her size and I knew of another shop (in Wuzhen itself) that sold the same shoes for half the price (online), so I told mum she would get what she wanted when we return home and in the meantime we should just move on. (Thank goodness we managed as promised the next day!)

Cloth shoes shop outside the lily shoes museum; mum with her new cloth shoes

People dining by the water
There were quite a number of little inns in the bigger town (and many looked pretty charming, like in the gungfu movies). I was told by Driver Ju that it should get more crowded later on in the day as most tourists usually start with the smaller town and finish with the bigger one, eventually spending the night in the latter. I should return with the Hub and kids another day, maybe spend the night there too. I'm sure we would love the romantic feel of this ancient village at night, especially if we should manage to dine in a little restaurant by the water...(I've not given up on the idea, of course)

A number of the traditional trades were displayed in the old town, from wine making to blue cloth production, hand-sewn cloth shoes, traditional sweets etc. One of the things about being middle aged is that I have lost my penchant for buying souvenirs everywhere I go; when you have spent a few decades accumulating souvenirs that you have nowhere (else) to store/display and that you will most probably have no use for whatsoever once you've acquired them, you learn (eventually) to stop buying them. I just make sure I spend my money on decent accommodation, comfortable and safe means of transportation, good food, interesting experiences and a good guidebook when I travel nowadays.

Blue cloth maker, rice cake seller, soy sauce shop

I have also stopped buying gifts to distribute to friends, family and neighbours. It is futile spending precious time trying to hunt down a suitable gift for everyone when the goal is to visit. Besides, most people travel quite a lot nowadays so there is no need to share (or show off) your trips like before. Parents were of course from another era, and you could see that they really needed to buy something (usually edible) to bring back; it reminded me of the time we travelled to Perth when I was 12 and dad literally filled up a suitcase with Cadbury chocolate to bring back to everyone else who couldn't go on the trip. I myself brought back huge boxes of Turkish lokum to share with my 140 colleagues in MND HQ back in 1995, and that seemed like light years away now.

By the water

There are so many more places near Shanghai, not to mention in China, that I have not visited because we are so afraid of the crowds. It is a pity, of course, but unless you haven't heard of or been in one of those notorious crushes, you wouldn't be so foolish as to brave going anywhere when the Chinese themselves are on holiday. Paralysis is personified on those occasions and wave of humanity has true meaning then. OK, maybe I exaggerate, and I am definitely making excuses for not having visited much of China. Maybe in 2015 and 2016 I will plan more short trips on long weekends: Beijing, Nanjing, Lijiang, Jiuzhaigou, Chengdu...?

I have however noted, in the past 4 years, that the Chinese are traveling more and more both within China and out of the country. Many of my Chinese friends have husbands who used to earn 10 000 rmb a month up to about 10 years ago, after which they started seeing salary increases of between 10 and 30% annually and today the same guys are earning between 100 000 and 200 000 rmb per month! If they were based in Shanghai and had had the foresight to invest in real estate, then their wealth would have doubled, tripled and more. Even the average Chinese in Shanghai wouldn't have done too badly as I often discover. Many would have seen their old family homes bought over by property developers and given cash and/or new flats in exchange. They would earn pretty decent salaries today and since the majority would only have one child, life is usually comfortable. The old lady pulling out weeds in our garden has a son who owns 2 large cars that he rents out to foreigners and she is only working because she loves being out in the open and having something to do. And where our villas and garden stand today, her house and fields used to stand.

Parents in Wuzhen (I think I look more like dad)
Back to Wuzhen, it was definitely worth a visit and I hope that the parents had enjoyed it. Hopefully after Ma has had both legs operated on she would be able to walk better and we could go on other visits in the years to come.

I do not know how many more years we are going to stay in Shanghai, and therefore how much opportunity I  still have to discover Northeast Asia. However, for those of you who know me, I try to make the most of my time wherever I am whether I would be there 6 months or 6 years. My only constraints are time and cash, and in these recent days, the drastic devaluation of the Euro is definitely not making things easy for us. Greece may not be the only one who needs to battle against austerity soon. 


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