Monday, April 20, 2009

Xitang

Xitang rough phonetic pronunciation (shee-tong) 
Chinese西塘pinyin: Xītáng
I had the first Monday of April off from work for "Tomb Sweeping" day, which is a day for Chinese people to remember their ancestors. I was looking for places nearby Hangzhou to travel and I had decided to go to one of the water towns. A water town is normally an ancient town that is built around a series of canals with a lot of bridges and scenic views. There are a lot of famous places nearby, but some of the most famous are pretty touristy and would surely be packed to the brim during the holiday. After doing a little research, I decided that Xitang would be a good choice for authenticity and fewer crowds. Since most of the water towns are pretty small, we just did an overnight trip. Upon arriving at the bus station and seeing the mass of humanity there, I remembered my previous promise to myself to avoid traveling during the holidays, but it seems that is one of the lessons I have a hard time learning. Even when arriving in Xitang we could see that the prices were a bit inflated and there were a lot of people there. Since Xitang is quite small and not that developed, it's difficult to find a place to stay online and book before going there and a lot of places were full when we arrived. Luckily, we ran into a few young Chinese people who were looking for a place to stay as well and found a cheaper room just outside of the ancient river part of the city. Like all tourist places throughout China, you have to pay to enter the main site and then also pay again for some attractions within the main site. However, the Chinese people told us that it is possible to enter the river town for free after 4 pm and before 8 am, so we decided to wait until after 4 pm to go inside. The river town itself is all centered around the canals. There are ancient buildings and wooden walkways all around the city. Mostly there are little shops selling touristy stuff and small vendors with street food in the buildings, but many of the buildings also have beds where it's possible to spend the night.
Nice Bridge
Canal with Ancient Buildings
Canal
Wooden Walkway
Locals Making Some Snacks
It was fun to explore the side streets and try all the food. Most of the food was pretty tasty and we mostly ate street food for the dinner there. There weren't many foreigners in Xitang, but not many people staring or asking to take pictures, so there must be foreigners there somewhat often.
Side Street
Bridge
Bridge
Side Street with Shops
Wes Wildin' Out on Some Crawdad
Once it was dark, we wanted to do one of the boat rides along the canal. At night they have all the red lanterns lit up and the city is very picturesque. They have small boats that hold around 10 people and there will be a guy that will row you up and down the canals for about a half hour. It's pretty great and with a little bit of rain falling, I felt like I was in an old Chinese kung fu movie. That is until I saw the throngs of tourists hovering around the shops on the walkways. Since it was night time, a lot of the pictures didn't turn out that well, but a few look pretty good.
River at Night
River at Night
People on Walkways
Open Windows
Late Night Restaurant, or "Nighthawks" Painting, Chinese Style
The next morning we woke up early to enter the town before the 8 am deadline. It was not raining this day and the sun started peaking out early, which made for a new view of the river town.
Breakfast and Tea on Walkways
Wes and the Rising Sun
Canal and Sun Reflection
Something crazy to see while traveling in China is how even Chinese city dwellers will be surprised or interested about how some of the local Chinese people live. The disparity of lifestyles is just as great between the two groups of Chinese people sometimes as between some of us who grew up in the US or western countries and the local Chinese. It's impossible to guess what the locals think when another Chinese person will get up close to take a picture of them, like in the picture below. As a foreigner, I think we can only observe these things and can never really understand fully the dynamic between two people who are really so different, even though they are from the same country.
Old Local Man
We walked around the whole town again in the morning. Since the town is not very large, we had seen almost everything the night before, but it was nice to see it under the light of day with a little sunshine.
Boats Cruising Down Canal
Canal
Canal with Cherry Blossom Tree
Rooftops
Black and White
After spending the morning and lunchtime in the city, we decided to head back home. When we got to the bus station, we found out that there weren't any buses for several hours because all the earlier ones were sold out. To kill some time, we decided to go get a massage. Since it's a pretty small town, we figured the prices would be pretty cheap. When we found a place, it looked a little suspicious, since a lot of massage parlors double as brothels in China. However, the prices were indeed quite cheap, so we decided to try it out. They took us to a normal room and it was just a normal massage with no funny business. However, when we finished and went to go pay, they charged us double the prices they said beforehand and that were displayed out front. At first, we were refusing to pay and asking why they were charging more. They said that they had given us the special "massage" and that we should just pay it. Since we had gone in at the late afternoon, not many people were there, but now we saw some girls in fishnet stockings and some shady characters hanging around, so we could definitely tell this place was suspect. They started being more aggressive and yelling at us a little, so I finally said that let's just pay and get out of this dump. Right as I got the money out and slammed it on the counter, I instinctively put up my middle finger and flipped them all the bird right in their faces. I'm not normally one to get angry and haven't really done something like that before, but being frustrated in not being able to speak Chinese well enough to defend myself and them treating us that way really made me mad. I hadn't planned to do that at all, but just did it at the last second. I have to say it got my point across quite clearly. After we walked out, the boss came out of the shop and started yelling at us some more, but we just walked away. I have to say that I felt much better after flipping them the bird and I felt we came away on the winning team, haha. My friend said that I've been in China too long if I'm arguing so much about less than $10, but it was more the principle. For the most part, things like that don't happen too often in China, at least from my experience, but every once in awhile someone will try to take advantage of you like that. Later, when we went to the bus station, we had a really nice, humble Chinese guy come and try to speak English with us, which is always nice. It goes to show that for every bad experience you have, you have a few more good experiences with Chinese people being very friendly to you, so you have to keep that in perspective. I have to admit that now it's all over, it's more a funny story and it's funny how you might surprise yourself in certain situations. After all the side story, I'd say that Xitang is very pretty and there are a lot of beautiful things to see there. It's not so big, so you only need a day or two there, but if you want to see some ancient buildings, bridges, and local life, it's a good choice.
Xitang River Scene
As always, more pictures on picasa: http://picasaweb.google.com/wallred10/Xitang#

5 comments:

thefarrside said...

Hey Wes! Love the new pictures. Your so handsome! Sure miss you! Its fun to see & read about all the fun places that your seeing. You be safe!

Phil Dawsey said...

What is the phonetic spelling of the city wes? You need to add more educational elements to your blog rather than crass stories of birds and yelling. haha. Sounds like a good time.

Jenny said...

My favorite picture from the ones you just posted is called "Old Local Man". I'll leave it up to you to figure out why... ;)

Anonymous said...

"No funny business" LOL.

David Wei said...

Make sure to pictorially document your run-ins with brothel owners next time.