On the weekend of September 16-17, we joined my co-worker Legend Chen (that's his way-cool adopted English name) and his girlfriend Laura on a trip to the town of Nanxun. It's small by Chinese standards, but it's still a bustling city of 50,000 plus, I'd guess. It's not listed in the Lonely Planet guidebook, which means it's a pretty out-of-the-way destination for Westerners, although it's apparently popular with the Shanghai crowd. It's only a few hours from Hangzhou, but the local dialect is different enough that Legend had trouble understanding the bicycle cab drivers. Laura grew up nearby here, and we met her friends Lu Yong Chong and his wife Summer, who live nearby and acted as our local tour guides.
The main attraction here is the old section of the city, dominated by a canal with old stone bridges, the oppulent former Governor's mansion, and a palace of sorts built by some silk baron's family. Lu Yong pulled strings to get us all free entry into the sites and took us to a nice restaurant for dinner. The Chinese are serious about Hospitality; Lu Yong was our host and everything was his treat. We offered to pay for dinner but I've learned that it's polite to graciously accept their hospitality and offer to return the favor later, rather than insist on paying.
At the silk baron's palace, Yu Long used his connections to get us a VIP tour of some rooms and artifacts that are off-limits to the public, including a wood-carved banner which was a gift from China's last emperor. The most interesting part of the tour to me was a plaque which told the story of the site's library, which was so graciously "donated" by the former owner to the goverment after the revolution. Somehow I suspect that wasn't entirely a voluntary transaction.
At the mansion of the province's former Governor, we noticed the elaborate wooden doorways had high thresholds to step over. Legend explained that in China, the high the threshold signifies wealth.
The canals aren't used much for transport these days, but they're popular for doing laundry, fishing, and making money giving gondola-style boat tours to visitors like us. The canal tour is a relaxing way to see the traditional China we often envision, with narrow streets and alleys, ancient stone bridges, and small shops and homes crowded around the canal.