Oct 6, 2010

Journey to the Middle Kingdom: Xitang and Shanghai at Night

With heavy hearts we left Suzhou on a brilliant afternoon taking the local express bus to Xitang, another little town south of Shanghai.
It was drizzling when we arrived. As usual, petty traders of all forms and functions were there - umbrella sellers, trishaw riders, tour operators, 'hotel' managers etc. With all deliberation, we weaved through all them good-natured samaritans and walked to the...

Gates of Xitang.

What's so special about Xitang is that it's a smallish water town, like a miniscule Milan with Oriental touches. They even have gondolas, but all manned by folks in their 60s to 70s. Some gondolas are even motorized - the Chinese innovation.

I Liked the tranquil feel exuded by this century-old town, especially when we arrived late afternoon during a light shower.

We had an early dinner overlooking one of the canals.

Then out to photograph the sunset at Xitang. My compact digital camera seems to love China, snapping shots I never expect this 3-year old 7-megapixel Panasonic is capable of (disclaimer: some iPhoto edits were done on these pictures).

The following morning we woke up at 6am to photograph dawn. From this you can see that we're obviously late.

Very late, in fact...

The town is rather photogenic - microscopically it's quite dirty actually - centuries of dust consolidated in gaps between tiles and bricks, and your chef cooking the plat du jour just beside the river which they wash their clothes and mop their floors.

But, well...

After that we head back to Shanghai. For me it was the last day of my trip while for my "new" partner (did I tell you I changed partners during the trip?) they're just about to begin their Expo adventure.

We met a Shanghai in bad mood - after-work traffic congestion, and a typhoon just passed by the coasts of the city pouring water upon us. We managed to sneak to the antique street to find it all closed...

Then to YuYuan for dinner, photographed during an intermittent lapse of downpour.

After that rain literally barraged on us. The streets were transformed instantly into monsoon rivulets and here comes the petty umbrella sellers again. We hailed 10 cabs, all of them occupied. And we refused the unlicenced ones. After our shoes are completely soaked, we decided it's the same walking back and standing there. It was 4 blocks away.
Back at my hotel I was worried about my flight next morning - if it got delayed I might not catch my flight back to Taipei. While I hung up all my clothes and shoes to dry, without hope against the weak air-conditioning, I waited for the airline to call me.
Fortunately only Dad called to ask if I was having fun.

I insisted on taking a walk on The Bund, Shanghai's most prominent waterfront and the site of countless historical events in modern China. And thank god I dragged my partner there. The place was absolutely breathtaking. And thank God it rained before - crowds were much less and I love the reflection on the floor~

The opposite shore and HuangPu River reflecting all the neon and LEDs.

The trip to The Bund is a grand finale to my journey. I walked back listening to the radio broadcasting about "Modern Chinese Socialism" and all the country's optimism crammed into the next day's paper. China is indeed the next in-thing and future place to be, no doubt about that. We may hold prejudices against its people, its government, its undemocratic system, and perhaps the red tape, but sooner or later we would have to work with it. China is destined to be the next economic giant.
While Mainland Chinese still fares behind in creativity, innovation, and critical thinking (expecially in politics), they retribute these qualities with hard work, perseverence, and the Chinese spirit of never giving up even we overseas Chinese are proud of ourselves. We may live better lives or had better education, but are we as competitive as them in, say, 5 years ahead? We would be flung far behind by these tireless Mainland Chinese if we still assume ourselves to being the superior.
With that in mind I end my final trilogy of Journey to the Middle Kingdom.

My flight back to Kuala Lumpur departed on time and arrived a little early.