In Shaoxing, A Water Town, Wines – and some (very tired) Whines

Shaoxing old and new11:10AM – We arrive in Shaoxing, a once-upon-a-time water town along the Hangzhou Bay estuary, former capital of the State of Yue, and in 2010, the world’s capital of malware.  The area around Hangzhou and the southern terminus of the Grand Canal still has a half dozen or so examples left of these little canal-side market towns, each one billing itself as the true “Venice of the East.”  Shaoxing is actually a pretty big city along the Hangzhou–Ningbo urban belt, with little pockets of water town-charm scattered within.  This makes it less of a favorite among the tour bus crowd, and therefore our first choice.

Okay, there’s another reason we came here:  in addition to our general rule of avoiding China’s disastrously-managed UNESCO sites, we wanted to try some Shaoxing rice wine, China’s home-grown alternative to baijiu.

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TowersA great day so far12:37PM – After strolling along some quiet canals, dodging honking death at a few intersections, and taking the two obligatory “contrast evidence of China’s past with its current blistering development” pictures seen at far left and above, we duck into the 600-year-old home of a Ming Dynasty poet to feed Owen.  So far he’s having a great day, dispensing friendly hoots to all from his high backpack perch.

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Canal boatsMe? Tired?2:18PM – Now all three of us have had lunch (twice for Owen), with two bowls of shrimp and fish noodles and one bowl of Shaoxing wine served up for the 家长 (jiazhang – parents, lit. “family chiefs”).  The chiefs think the wine is a little sweet for their taste.  After lunch, it’s time for a boat ride along one of the canals.  It’s been a while since his morning nap, but Owen dismisses his fatigue, refusing to miss a thing.

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Bird-skin boatFinally, a nap?2:47PM – The boat ride begins with much fanfare.  Our pilot sings as he paddles, and Owen smiles cheerfully to his adoring fans lining the canal sides.  But the gentle rocking of the boat and the rhythmic splishhhh, splishhhh of the paddle are hypnotic and irresistible; after so much bravado, Owen is unconscious before he knows it.

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These people must be greeted3:25PM – Quickly back awake and annoyed at what just happened to him, a still-weary-eyed Owen is once again greeting one and all as he swoops through their neighborhood.  He’s determined to put on his best face and not let anybody’s first encounter with a baby foreigner be anything less than a thrilling experience.  But along these canals, an endless string of elderly women—washing clothes, boiling water, or simply standing in their doorways—make for a non-stop performance schedule.  But as fatigue sets in, adrenaline seems to take over.  The little guy is a comically animated ball of pure energy.  Kicks and hoots and smiles for all – the show must go on!

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Hold me higher, Dad3:58PM – The backpack carrier can no longer contain him. He is too powerful. No detail escapes him, no stimulus is too small for his enthusiastic reaction. The lanterns hung along the street, bright red and floating just above arms-reach, are a particularly powerful source of energy. But here and there, between the hoots, we detect a small whimper.

5:25-6:54PM – After an anxious half-hour delay, we board our train home.  Finally, a chance for the little guy to sleep.  The compartment is brightly lit and bustling, with plenty of friendly passengers—Owen cannot keep up with the commotion, and he finds this to be nothing short of completely infuriating.  For the next hour, he rages against physiology, but with each passing moment victory slips farther from his little grasp.  We can’t be happier to be getting off at the first stop and be on our way home.

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The face of exhaustion.

7:28PM – Pre-bed oatmeal dinner.  The picture says it all.

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3 Comments

Filed under Foreign-er Travel, Jiangnan Style

3 responses to “In Shaoxing, A Water Town, Wines – and some (very tired) Whines

  1. Grandma Alice

    What a delightful and descriptive post. The final picture of Owen so exhausted makes me tired! Hope he and his “family chiefs” slept well.

  2. Auntie Jess

    Awwwww, that last picture… remnant tears, full blown tiredness and some weary gobbling. The life of a small circus performer is so hard!

  3. Such great pictures and wonderful story. I so look forward to all of your posts… you have endearing qualities in your writing… please keep them coming. We see the world through your eyes and it is wonderful and exciting….
    You are absolutely right….the final picture of Owen says it ALL….how fitting…

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