Destination hot springs

(Ninghai) Yesterday our journey took us on the road to the starting point of China’s most notable travel chronicler, geographer and explorer, the sixteenth century author Xu Xiake – who documented his colourful travels throughout China for over thirty years.

We started our morning call in Shanghai travelling the foggy roads towards our final destination of Ninghai – ending our day sumptuously in a spa hotel, bathing among small fish that nibbled away at our tows as we waded in the warm spring waters.

After crossing the Hangzhou Bay Bridge, the longest trans-oceanic bridge in the world, some 36 kilometres long – inaugurated this spring – our first stop was in Ningbo. Here we were met with a rather formal reception which ended up being rather lengthy. For about two hours government officials gave speeches and showed slides about their destination, tourist attractions and shared historical tidbits about the sites. All understandable but unfortunately we never saw the places themselves.

So most of the foggy day we ended up watching the landscapes unfold before us from the windows of our coach. Fang Fang – or Lilly – our local guide, told me stories about her family. She was brought up outside of Hangzhou in a small village. During her childhood every week or two she went out to a rice paddy where she helped cultivate the field. Her mother would have rather have her as an official – working from an office – but a determined Fang Fang wanted to go her own way finally becoming a tourist guide, moving to a tiny flat in Hangzhou, the big city.

“My mother wanted me to be fair skinned, to work inside,” she said, “working outside gave you a tan, which she looked down upon.”
Fang Fang, or Lilly

Fang Fang, or Lilly

As Fang Fang told her stories, our bus meandered, a part of a formal convoy headed by the local governor. We visited the glorious Ninghai shopping center before our bus finally took us to Qiantong Ancient Town. The smells of the town reminded me of my grandmother’s home-town, the small Hungarian city of Nagykoros. Locals burned wood to heat their homes, and these smells always seem to bring out in me a strange nostalgia for the nondescript town.

The architecture of the ancient town was striking, especially seeing how it is a mixture of a tourist dive and a functional village. Originally built at the end of the Song Dynasty, Qiantong Ancient Town was originally developed in the 13th century, and is relatively well preserved. Locals live in these historic dwellings much as they have for centuries. Most of the family names of the people who live here to this day are Tong, although perhaps today they are more impoverished than their forefathers. As tourists wandered their narrow streets the locals went about their business washing clothes in the small river, biking and playing in the streets, while others sold beautifully carved handicrafts.
At Qiantong Ancient Town

At Qiantong Ancient Town

After dusk we finally arrived at the spa hotel where we were greeted with a lavish meal of hard shell crabs, locally made tofu, sweet potato, emperor and fragrant fish. This was before the best part: the therapeutic spa.

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