Monday, July 17, 2006

Day Off

The beginning of week three.

Yesterday nine of us took the hour-long bus ride to Shaoxing, forty-odd kilometres, several million concrete buildings and one or two rice paddies to the east of of here. After walking along the canal banks in the rain we took a city bus to East Lake, where we squeezed into wooden boats propelled by gap toothed old men who pedalled with their bare feet and steered with long bamboo poles under low stone bridges and through green and blue striped caves. Hiking back from the far side of the lake, we passed a bamboo wood, green tea plantations and a tea house clinging to the rock face next to aubergine plants and oriental orchids.

Judging from the guide book description I'd expected Shaoxing to be a pleasant provincial backwater, a bit like one of those small towns in Northumberland that have a castle at one side of town and a river at the other, and very little else in between. I discovered that very few places on the east coast of China can be described as backwaters anymore - little Shaoxing accounts for almost 70% of the region's textile trade; plush hotels, western restaurants and their indigineous imitators like Kung Fu Fast Food and Winner Pizza throng the centre of town, while huge out of town textile supermarkets and foreign joint ventures congregate on the outskirts. The concrete in front of the train station almost gleamed.

Next weekend we're going paintballing in Hangzhou with a busload of teenage Chinese students. One more strange experience to look forward to.

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