Sunday, October 09, 2005

I am a Tourist: Jiading

I very much enjoy Shanghai. Really. I'm committed to living here, with no plans to leave. And I genuinely appreciate Shanghai's transportation system, where the subway is easy, and taxis are a cheap supplement when you're headed to the outskirts of town, or when you're just feeling lazy.

At the same time, three months of never venturing more than a mile from a Shanghai Subway Station was getting to me. From what I understand, there's more to China than just that. So with the week-long National Nationalist Holiday and all, I decided to make a quick day trip to a neighboring town. I decided against the booming neighboring cities of Suzhou and Hangzhou, which are historically famous tourist destinations - they're a little too far, and probably far too packed with Holiday tourists. So I decided on visiting the city of Jiading, just 12 miles Northwest of Shanghai, along with my apartment-mate. Jiading is not particularly a tourist destination for either Chinese or foreigners, and that was part of the attraction.

It's my first time taking a bus in China, and I'd love to report it's vastly efficient and got us there in record time. Instead, it took about an hour and a half to reach the destination. A little arithmetic gives a speed of 8 miles an hour, or a pretty slow speed for an express bus. To be fair, it was during a holiday. But I think the problem is China doesn't quite share America's system of large highways going every which way. Most of our journey was on side streets (competing with the pedestrians in the road), or on stretches of farm road with a 25mph speed limit, where the older tractors on the road used a lever system to turn left or right, a little like a Model T. If the bus had actually stopped for red lights, it would have taken even longer - instead the driver just leaned on the horn and plowed through, without slowing down.

On the other hand, this transportation-isolation does allow Jiading to maintain its own identity, instead of being absorbed into Shanghai. Streets are wider, and have a more laid-back feel than anywhere in Shanghai, with enough space to accomodate pedestrians. This is particularly true in the historic center of town, which is cented around a large pagoda and bordered by a canal.

We ended up going to Wei restaurant, a Japanese-Korean place. Like every other good Korean restaurant I've been to, the service was slow and slightly odd - when I ordered some Katsu, they went down to the market to buy some pork! Afterwards we wandered the area. The Canals are criss-crossed by a number of bridges, and the whole area is host to a lot of restaurants, shops selling clothes, and street vendors selling jewelry or snacks.

A lot of the traditional architecture remains. This includes Shikumen, a traditional style of brick apartment complex centered around courtyards, placed right against the canals. To me it seems like the area should be prime real-estate, but a lot of the houses are poorly maintained.

Finally I wandered the Dragon Meeting Pond, a 450 year old Garden. Although we walked in to a couple taking their wedding photos, the garden seemed to be mostly empty. It has a central pool and is generally very likeable - Yuyuan Gardens in Shanghai might be nicer, but all the tour groups there bug me. The people at Dragon Pond seemed to be taking it mellow, with some kids playing and adults fishing.

We took the long bus ride back, arriving at the Shanghai Stadium just in time to catch masses of teenage girls lining up to get into the "Super Girl" concert, which celebrates the top 12 competitor's of China's answer to "American Idol." I didn't go, but I enjoyed taunting the un-talented, un-cute winner.

All in all it was a fun trip. However, the moral of the story is, next time I travel outside of Shanghai, it'll be by train!

A few other issues: First, please realize that if you click the pictures on this blog you'll see a larger, full-size picture. Also, don't believe the hype about Chinese censorship - it exists and it's terrible, but it's not a hundredth as bad as US Newspapers make it sound. More political blogging can be found in China. Also, my 510 number is now much, much improved, plus it now auto-forwards to my home phone or cell. Let it ring five or six times, though. Hope to hear from y'all - from California or Hawai'i it's best to call me at night, or use World Clock to check the local time.

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