Thursday, October 11, 2012

Wuzhen China, the Venice of the East

Wuzhen water town This is Wuzhen, China.  Wuzhen lies on  the Hangzhou-Jiaxing-Huzhou Alluvial Plain.  There are no real hills here, only interlaced rivers and canals made in a distant past.  Wuzhen is new on the China tourist scene, which is exactly why it has popped up on my radar as a unique spot.  It has only recently been added to the list of attractions available to outsiders by the Communist Government of that country.  Wuzhen has long been compared to Venice, even though it's been here for even longer with records of inhabitants from 7,000 years ago.  There are around 12,000 full time residents of this town which hasn't changed its look or its lifestyle in at least 1,000 years.  It's an amazing step back in time that is waiting only a little over an hour from Shanghai.

There are some unique venues in Wuzhen that will give you a unique view into the lives of these people who to westerners appear to be standing still in time.  One of these unique places is the Hundred Beds Museum.  It is one of the only places in the world that displays ancient beds--even those of royalty.

  You can learn some important facets of the local culture at the Folk Culture Museum where they will show you things such as birthday and wedding traditional ceremonies.

  You can learn both the art of performing and the art of making the puppets at the Shadow Play Museum.
Other local shops and traditional items made and sold include:

  The Sanbai Wine Workshop where rice wine has been made the same way for centuries, and the Tobacco Workshop where they have been producing dried red tobacco for hundreds of years.  There is also the Foot Binding Museum where you can learn about the ancient art of mutilation for beauty, if you're into that kind of thing.  There's a silk shop, an ancient foundry, the Paste Company that makes soy paste and other products.  There's an ancient learning academy and even foliage dyeing.  There are many ancient traditional arts and handicrafts that make this stop a must for anyone who is into history.  A lot of China is trying to jump with both feet into the 21st century.  This is a refreshing trip back in time.

Wuzhen has an entire culture that lives and works on the water.  This is one of those towns, like Venice, where single oar skiffs (similar to gondolas) are the main style of transport.  The bridges over the waterways also remind the westerners of Venice.  But, they are all much older.  It is rumored that Marco Polo came to this town once.  He was supposedly the one who dubbed it the Venice of the East.


Wuzhen is a traditional town where it's not unlikely that you might see silk fabric that has just been dyed and painted drying in the wind.


The dwellings sit directly on the water and are entered and exited largely from the waterways.  


There are temples to visit that have operated in the same fashion for thousands of years.  This is some of the most authentic culture in China.  You don't see this everywhere.

Meeting areas, like parks are along the water.  They have benches so that people can gather and visit.  There are some parks along the water where the locals  gather to play Mahjong and have lunch.

Wuzhen is a beautiful little town where you can learn about an ancient culture by walking right into it.  There are several tours that you can take that will provide an interpreter.  There are buses that will take you there on any given day leaving from Shanghai Stadium.  Do you pack an overnight bag?  I'm not so sure.  There are one or two options for staying overnight.  It depends on how much you want to delve into the experience.  The city is ancient, so the accommodations are not going to come with a wet bar or wifi.  The restaurants won't serve burgers either.  This is a place where you step into their culture and when in Rome, do as the Romans do.  If you aren't prepared for that, then make it a day trip.

So, step back in time and enjoy this little piece of ancient history not far from Shanghai.  Spend the day, or more in the fabulous water city of Wuzhen.

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