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Today we visited Wuzhen, a small ancient water village in northern Zhejiang Province. It is one of the best preserved ancient villages in all of China, and has become a very popular tourist destination. Because of its canals, Wuzhen is sometimes called "Little Venice." Although Wuzhen was founded in 872 AD, legend states that people have inhabited this area for over 7,000 years.

 
We arrived at about 11:00 AM, and the parking lot was already filled with tour buses and hundreds of tourists. Interestingly, although Wuzhen is an actual village with living breathing residents, they charge a 100 yuan (about $15) admission fee to enter. This was included in our tour, so our guide went and purchased our tickets. While she was doing that, I purchased an 80 yuan (about $12) ticket for a boat ride through the canals, that wasn't included on our tour. This ticket is for an entire boat that can hold a maximum of eight people. While these prices might seem a bit high just to look at a village, the massive number of tourists in Wuzhen clearly indicates it is worth it.

The boat ride really shouldn't be missed. You will notice many things that you might miss while walking through the crowds on the sidewalks. Only seconds into the boat ride, it was clear that people really do live here, and their underwear hanging out to dry was an amusing reminder.

It really seems a bit weird to see crowds of people looking through windows into people's homes. Villagers cooking, cleaning, eating, drinking, working, playing Mahjong, and going about their daily routine, all on display for the tourists wanting to catch a glimpse of life in this quaint little village. Many of the villagers keep their doors and windows closed, and who can really blame them.

Our boat ride ended only a few feet away from the restaurant where we ate lunch. Despite being right along the main drag, the restaurant was almost empty when we arrived. I think they mostly cater to tour groups. About half way through our lunch, a large group of Chinese tourists, led by a woman holding a flag and using a megaphone filled the restaurant almost to capacity.

The food was excellent, but as usual, they brought us much more than we could possibly eat. We had beef with onions, pork with green peppers, chicken with corn, stir-fried bok choy, steamed buns, rice, and watermelon for dessert. The picture below was actually taken at the end of the meal. As you can see, despite my best effort to finish everything, we fell way short.

After lunch, I walked around the streets and back alleys of Wuzhen. One of the more interesting places we visited was the former home of one of Wuzhen's wealthiest residents. He was a big fan of wood carving, and nearly everything in his house is intricately carved, including much of the house itself.

Walking through the streets I noticed vendors selling what looked like bright green buns. I asked my guide about them and she told me they were a popular local snack called Qing Tuan, which literally means "green cake." They are made using rice, bean paste, and a special grass to give them their green color.

Qingtuan

Qing Tuan are usually eaten around the Qingming Festival (around April 5th), because the grass they use is only edible in spring. Since this was officially the first day of summer, I assume either they were using old grass, or more likely, some green food coloring. Despite being out of season, and still full from lunch, I decided to try one. It was very sticky, chewy, sweet, and tasty. It reminded me quite a bit of Daifuku Mochi, a Japanese confection made with almost the exact same ingredients, minus the green.

I started noticing that many of the buildings were significantly more popular than others, and that people were posing for pictures in some rather odd places. It turns out that a popular soap opera named "Si Shui Nian Hua" was recently filmed here, and some of the buildings were arranged as they appear in the show.

There was a library, complete with fake books, and a sign telling visitors to leave the fake books alone. The sign was only in Chinese, so our guide had to tell me what it said. I guess they aren't too worried about English-speaking fans of "Si Shui Nian Hua" trying to snag a souvenir from the show. Other popular soap opera spots included a desk where the star would write letters, and a chair where one of the characters would frequently sit.

Wuzhen Canal

After leaving Wuzhen, our guide took us to back to the Holiday Inn in Shanghai. This time I was given a room with a great view overlooking the Shanghai Railway Station. This station has a massive video screen on top which shows train schedules and videos, most of which are commercials. At night, the area around the train station was brightly lit with every color of the rainbow, and it was very busy late into the night.

We went downstairs to Yue Garden for dinner. Once again, the food was great. My mother really liked their Scallops with Sweetened Lemon Sauce before, so she ordered them again. I wanted to try something different, so I ordered Eels in Soy sauce, and Chinese Green Vegetables with Garlic. Both were outstanding. However, I will admit it was a bit strange staring at a big bowl of eel.

Yue Garden Shanghai - Eels

I really like eel, but usually when I eat it, it is only part of a dish, or perched atop sushi rice. Despite this dish's somewhat odd appearance, it tasted great, so I ate until I was completely stuffed. Still, I think only people that really like eel should order this dish. If the thought of eating eel makes you even a bit squeamish, you should probably order something else.

 

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