By: Daniel Otero
Returning to Shaoxing, Zhejiang Province after three years was the city and my real introduction to China. It was a bitter-sweet remembrance, and thinking back, my relationship with the Middle Kingdom didn’t start out too well. Actually and honestly, I hated this country the first three months. Then, I came to Shaoxing and it was the turning point to find my niche in the world. When I thought, should I stay or should I go? I decided to stay and like Nanjing, Shaoxing was the best decision I’d ever made.
You see, I was never these kinds of Foreigners to just go into the city and become a local ‘bar fly’. For me, living in a country was about the search, learning from the people, explore, learn more about the local places and pick-up a little of the local language.
This was my Shaoxing and let me introduce it to you…
Everything was pretty straight forward when I moved to Shaoxing to the western most portion of the city five years before. Living near Hospital number 7, a hospital notoriously known as a mental health ward; and maybe I had just lost my mind and the locals were trying to tell me something, ha, ha. But I decided to give it a chance.
My center was always City Square and for knowledge of Shaoxing, here it’s where it all begins. The avenue to place me in my discovery was Jiefang Nanlu. From here it was easy to understand in truth how this small city of nearly five million people was so amazingly-beautiful and ancient in its history. In the center is Dashan Pagoda, a structure with colour, dignity and style, since it was built 1,500 years before in this city with longevity of more than two-and-a-half millennia.
From its center and less than 600 metres away is Zhou Enlai’s ancestral home. For 18 RMB you will be taken to the past of the second most important man in the foundation of the 1949 People’s Republic of China.
To the south, there is Tashan Park and Ying Tian Tower. A gorgeous Tower, and while in Shaoxing, it’s not too complicated and no real worries of getting lost. A visitor can easily walk down Jiefang going south. A person can’t miss it. Another way to reach this Temple and Pagoda is to take bus routes 2 or 11 for 1 RMB. Visiting the temple and tower cost only 2 RMB and standard operating times for tourist attractions are from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
If you miss a little taste of home, there is a popular hangout for Foreigners and Chinese alike. For a nice ‘cool one’ like Tiger or Carlsberg beers, you can stop at Coco Bon Bon. Fridays and Saturdays are the best times for ‘happy hour’ before 10pm. After 10pm one can enjoy the local talents and beautiful singers, raising their voices to a romantic-funky tune in Chinese or English. Sometimes if some foreigners gather, you’ll see them going wild with some dancing [only if they are drunk enough], but for the most part, it’s to listen to the music, chat over the weeks events, have a drink or snack and enjoy the atmosphere of people just gathering to have a good time without complications.
Shaoxing Yellow Wine is also part of the culture. One of the best versions of wines fermented from rice and recognized as the local huangjiu. Recommended as good sherry to put into foods while cooking or have after a great meal (Ching-He Huang, 2008).
Back to the center are the Shaoxing canals, city of 10,000 bridges and waterways to take the traveler along a tour through the ‘Venice of the East’. And nearby is Fushan Park. Once the Kingdom of King Yue, there’s a reconstruction of his ancient terrace and here you can bask in the glory of the Fei Yuan Tower (this five story structure holds a replica of King Yue’s sword) and only a short walk away, there’s a temple dedicated to the Thunder God. Walking and exiting through the south or east of the Park there is a point dedicated to the fallen Martyrs of the war with Japan and while leaving the park, there is also the Shaoxing Museum.
Shaoxing historical sites are easy to find. Another one to see and it’s a close walk towards Jiefang Beilu and then turning into Ji Mountain. This park was the former grounds to Jishan College and Wang Xizhi [Pavilions], who was considered the greatest calligraphist in China. The School was established here since the Ming Dynasty. Here is also the Wenbi or Culture Pen Tower, a fifth story landmark that is charming and an easy walk around to the elegant premises of the Park. Like many of the historical areas, Shaoxing has many of its original architecture. Homes dating back more than 100 years and near the canals; these are common sights while exploring the city’s small paths and alleyways. Cool, isn’t it?
When visiting Shaoxing, one thing that’s a must, is the visit to LuXun’s home. One of China’s most prolific writers; and his work has been translated into 24 languages. Writer whom I first learnt about in University and a great man who wanted to teach Chinese about the greatness of love, pride and nationalism for the country. Furthermore, he was always trying to teach Chinese to shed their apathy towards others.
From Zhongxing Nanlu, LuXun’s home, buses number 2 and 10 travel [going south] to Kuaiji Mountain; also popularly known as Xiang Lu Mountain. Kuaiji was the former name of Shaoxing and five kilometres away via bus there is the wonderful Monastery and Tomb dedicated to Emperor Yu the Great since the Song Dynasty. Both sites will take a person an entire day. It’s better to give yourself three to fours on each site. In my opinion, I prefer the Monastery to the right for only 15 RMB. Compared to the least popular Tomb for 51… To the top of the mountain are 1508 steps or 354 metres. Go well prepared with water, take frequent rest since—for most of the walk is uphill and time consuming. Well worth the exercise, just to see the beautiful Lufeng Buddhist Temple at the top.
Shaoxing is gorgeous and sweet for a short trip. And, it’s like a great beer or food, when tasted, it’s enjoyed and it’s ‘good for you!’ You just want to come back in the future for more.