Nanxun Ancient Town

It’s already been a week and I haven’t managed write my reflections on Nanxun yet due to being hard at work. There is a kind of magic in stealing away two nights between work end and work beginning though, and Nanxun certainly fulfilled our expectations. After navigating some Chinese websites we had booked our train tickets and accommodation three weeks before and were ready to go as soon as we finished work on Sunday night. Monday morning held an early start; we had an 8.20am speed train departure which was preceded by a 30 minute metro ride from our station to the main railway. We made our train just in time and it took a mere 20 minutes to get between cities.

We arrived at the railway station at the far outskirts of Huzhou and awkwardly gestured our way to the bus that would take us to Nanxun, not knowing how long the ride would be or how much it would cost. It turns out that it is a mere Y9 (that’s R18, for those back home reading this) for the transport bus that was a 1.5 hour drive, most of which I slept through due to the overly early morning rising time. Des reported wonderful sights and interesting people though, so the journey was well spent for the both of us. We showed the bus driver our Chinese accommodation address and we were hurried off the bus when we got to our stop. Which dropped us in the centre of the town, once again unsure of how to navigate our surroundings. Luckily, we were surrounded by eager rickshaw drivers who seemed to be knowledgable about where we were and where to take us to get to our accommodation. So once again we hopped onto transport, unaware of the price or distance of our journey ahead. Turns out it cost Y15 (again, R30) and was maybe 10 minutes long. We were dropped off by our smiling transport provider and his electric rickshaw at the entrance to the old town near some signs.

              

Once again, the navigating began. We were clearly not outside our hotel and began ambling the already hot and humid roads of the ancient water town in search of the Inn. Luckily, we only had one backpack of spare clothes because lugging luggage would have been unbearable. Getting lost however, was a great first introduction to the old, white washed, cobble-stoned, bridge infused ancient city as we got to peer into shop fronts and restaurants as we ambled around trying to orient ourselves. We ended up in the right street on the wrong side of the river, completed disoriented but luckily some friendly non-English speaking locals were very helpful and pointed us in the right direction (literally) upon being shown our hotel address. We took the approach of showing a person the address every 20 metres or so and finally, piece by piece, found our way to the lovely Yododo Inn where we were going to stay. We checked in and dropped our stuff, briefly figured out that our key card needed to be placed into a slot in the wall to provide the room with power, and immediately headed back to the old town that was located about a block away from where we were staying. Not before Desmond spotted a birds nest near our window though, and was thrilled to see that it housed a baby pigeon that he would avidly check in on for the rest of our stay.

             

We explored some of the streets we had already walked through, albeit at a slower and more curious pace now that we were not aimlessly looking for our accommodation. It was fun to return to a few places that had peaked our curiosity the first time around and to begin taking some photos of the space we were in. It was getting increasingly warmer though, and soon our curiosity gave way to hunger and we found a small family-run restaurant to get some lunch. We knew how to order our favourite foods in Chinese, but there was also a smorgasbord of pictures on the wall to choose from. The hosts were extremely friendly, offering us green tea and bowls of soup for free in addition to the meal we had already ordered. What was even more heart warming is that the food was made so fresh that our noodles were literally made from dough in front of our eyes. It was spun out and kneaded before disappearing into the kitchen and returning as delicious tang mein (or soup noodles or ramen) for us to devour. After this lovely dining experience we surrendered to the heat and headed back to our comfy inn for a much needed early afternoon nap. We roused again around 4pm and headed straight back into the ancient town. Our afternoon explorations yielded some trinkets and tokens that we purchased, many pets and street cats that we got to stroke and a slightly more solid idea of where we were and how to navigate it. An in depth inspection of a map of the ancient town formed intentions to visit the silk museum and Taoist temple the following day and with that in mind, we had dinner at yet another warm and well hosted family restaurant and then headed back to the Inn for some evening reading before getting an early night in order to get another early start the following day.

            

We snoozed the alarm once or twice on day two, but were still up and about before 9am which was long before anything opened. It turns out that the old town was actually closed on Monday and when we arrived we had to buy tickets to enter the space. This was not a bad thing though, as it meant that the museums and sights would be open and I’m always in favour of giving money toward historical sites that can be enjoyed and further preserved. We began to walk through the opposite side of the old town to the one we had seen the previous day, partially to see what there was to see but also very much in search of coffee. Turns out that coffee would be hard to find and we’d only discover a cup far past noon. The first place we entered that morning was a massive stored filled with precious stones, calligraphy brushes, statues, vases and a talking minah. It was fun to converse with such an intelligent bird who could clearly great us, ask how we were and count some numbers. Desmond was instantly enthralled and wanted one of his own, not one in a cage though, one that would selectively come visit him for some conversation. From this curious little store we headed on to the Jihu silk museum where we learned about the process of making silk and the famous silk history of Nanxun where for centuries some of the best silk in the world has been made.

             

As we continued to perambulate we walked through a market space with many different stalls with handcrafts, foods and silks on displays. A soft serve store yielded an ice cream breakfast, the perfect coffee substitute, and we got one or two small things for ourselves and to send to some friends. With the ancient town actually being open, we began to encounter various tour groups moving through the space. In China, tour groups are typically made up of Chinese individuals and we were likely the only Westerners in the old town that day. That resulted in us feeling like we were part of the ancient spectacle, as people photographed us throughout the day. Sometimes from afar, and sometimes requesting a selfie alongside us. It certainly didn’t bother me but it was a funny thing to be considered a sight in a place that is filled with so much history and beauty. Soon, we found ourselves in a big square with tour groups and a stage and arrived just in time for a performance showcasing traditional dances and a wedding ceremony. Whilst we didn’t understand what the MC was saying, it was a very interesting thing to watch and experience.

               

After that, we crossed a few bridges and in the late morning found a beautiful post office with hundreds of postcards on display. They were really beautiful and cheap and I spent a fair amount of time putting together a collection that I would purchase and send to family and friends across the globe. Briefly after this we found a coffee store, also filled with postcards on the wall and old film cameras in the windows. We settled down and tried to order our coffees and got mostly what we wanted. Despite the misunderstandings with our coffee desires, we had a lovely time sitting at the window and staring at the people going by across the waterway, sometimes occasionally spotting us and snapping a photo again. The hosts of the store gave us free Nanxun keyrings which was a kind gesture that we think of everytime we use our keys back at home. Down the road from the coffee shop we finally found the Taoist temple and spent a good amount of time walking through it. There were candles and incense being burned in the courtyard and big statues in each of the rooms. The courtyard also housed a living pond with goldfish and terrapins which were adorable and fun to watch. I bought some incense to take and burn at home but it’s so beautiful that I haven’t brought myself to burn it yet!

                

As it reached the early afternoon we headed back to the Inn to avoid the heat and I wrote my postcards whilst Desmond diligently completed his German duolingo course! It’s been fun watching him jointly improve his German whilst learning Chinese and our household is currently a multilingual melting pot as we codeswitch whenever and wherever we want. That late afternoon we headed back to the old town for a final time, gathering whatever trinkets we wanted and finishing our first rolls of film in our cameras and in China. We also began to notice that in many stores, prices would end in ‘8’. For example, Y68 or Y178 or Y18. This was strange but not unfounded since 8 is a number of wealth and good fortune and this is still strongly practiced in China, to the extent that a phone number with many 8’s will cost more to purchase than one with the unlucky 4. I spent the afternoon taking some infrared photos of the town, which requires a long exposure time to gain the infrared light and got some photographs I’m really proud of. Unfortunately, soon thereafter I dropped my filter which shattered and meant infrared photography was no more.

                

               

In the evening we grabbed some dinner before returning to the town one last time for Desmond to get some long exposures of the ancient space at night. Soon after we fell into a deep sleep after our full day of adventuring. The next morning we checked out, rickshawed back to the bus stop and caught the bus back to the train station so that the train could take us back to our now-home of Hangzhou. We got back to the city with two hours to spare before work began and quickly dropped our bags, put on our work clothes and grabbed some lunch before returning to our weekly routine. It’s really great to steal away these little explorations; they are exciting and break the expected sights and movements that one becomes used to in daily life. Nanxun was a beautiful first escape for our life in China and a really successful mini-trip. We have returned home with a silk scarf and a broken filter, a couple of postcards for the wall, some jewellery and keyrings, a few hundred pictures and lots of new happy memories of travel and adventure.