Monday, 10 April 2017

Nanxun Water Village

We wanted to visit one of the many water villages around Shanghai but had difficulty deciding on one. In the end, we chose Nanxun. Although it was one of the furthest, at around a 2 hour drive from Shanghai, it was reported to be the least commercialised. On account of the distance, as well as the fact that we had the economy of numbers, we opted for a private tour. Our chosen guide, Harris, was phenomenal. A big plug for him first up as I would highly recommend him for anyone visiting Shanghai. He was knowledgeable, had superb English and really extended himself beyond the call of duty. Although more on the quiet and reserved side, he was actually quite an elegant man with a sophisticated turn of phase. He lit up when asked about his pet topics such as tea or plant varieties.

Harris picked us up at our hotel lobby at 7:30am as organised. We navigated our way out of Shanghai's peak hour traffic towards Zhejiang province. Nanxun water village was part of the city of Huzhou. As our car pulled into the car park, we were were initially put off and dismayed by the sight of numerous large tour buses. We found out later that this was the ticket purchasing area. The "entry ticket" allowed access to several key buildings & museums scattered around the town. Harris was good at maneuvering us away from the crowds. However this was only necessary at the Little Lotus Garden which was right near the ticket purchase area. The entry ticket also included a short boat ride along the canal. As we moved further and further out heading north, the crowds thinned right out to almost no one. I believe we did not see any other Caucasian there other than Malcolm.

Rather worried when we saw so many people and the touristy look. The canal was still pretty though

The layout of Nanxun water village. We started at the bottom left and worked our way up north

At the ancestral home of the Liu family. One of the 4 wealthiest families in the village, who built the Little Lotus Garden as a private garden.

This would be stunning when the lotus (lotuses? Loti? may lotus?!) are actually in bloom

The Little Lotus Garden including a separate garden for private quiet reflection...

...which had a mini mountain

Time for our short boat ride up to the main canal

We meandered through the town entering significant buildings, crossing ancient bridges and just enjoying the serene surroundings. Harris was kept on his toes with Jonah constantly asking questions, usually about things that were at his eye level eg door knockers, and often about things which were irrelevant. Occasionally though, they showed insight and proved that he was listening to Harris! The adults also learnt many things, one of them being a new English word. Sagacious. Harris used the word when explaining Chinese proverbs in relation to why certain plants and animals were valued and why certain features were on paintings and buildings. We were embarrassed to
According to the Oxford dictionary. Sagacious = Having or showing keen mental discernment and good judgement; wise or shrewd. E.g We were sagacious enough to look up the meaning of the word after the tour.

The beginning of a long day for Harris. Jonah stuck by him for the rest of the day

Ancient stores

We requested for Harris to take us to somewhere for lunch where he would go and invited him to join us. He picked one that we would not have picked as there was no one else in the restaurant. It was so small that we could see half the kitchen and the 7 of us filled the whole restaurant.The restaurant owner was so thrilled we were there he was keen for Harris to explain each dish. The result was an excellent local lunch at a bargain price. It ended up costing AUD 65 for all of us!

Lunch time!

Someone else ordering. Hurray!

Shanghainese style Hainan chicken and sugar and vinegar pork ribs (not sweet and sour - similar taste but different flavour)

Bamboo shoots


Water bamboo with mince pork

The tour continued as we saw a large number of well-preserved century-old shops still lining the streets as well as residential homes. Unfortunately, only the older population remain as the young move out in preference to be in modern cities. Many of the shops are empty which seem such a shame. The alternative would be to have throngs of tourists keeping the shops alive which seem to defeat the purpose!

At this point, feet were tired so forgo walking back towards our entry point and Harris organised for the driver to pick up us up at the other end so we didn't have to walk back. This meant we walked through the newer part of town and saw some interesting sights. I was too embarrassed to take photos of 2 old men with old fashioned sewing machine under a huge umbrella sitting by the road and too afraid the enter the Mahjong hall full of smoke and old men!

One of the 3 ancient bridges

Nanxun achieved affluence through the silk trade and this is the silk traders Guild building

The further we walk, the less people we see around us

Stopping for snacks

I still don't quite know what the filling is. Sticky glutinous outside with sweet filling

Zhang Jing Jiang's former residence. He funded Sun Yat Sen's campaign for democracy in China.

100 Corridor houses

Proof of residency

Our car picked us up at the northern end

During conversation we were casually discussing which Chinese acrobat show to watch when Harris overheard us. He recommended us ERA and that we should book ahead of time as good seats may sell out. He then offered to buy it for us on our behalf, quotingAUD57 for each ticket and assuring us that they were good seats. He also offered to book our transfer to the Toy Story Hotel for the next day. We agreed blindly without thinking about payment (naive I know!). At this time, we had to make a call as to whether or not we trusted him as we had to pay cash in advance for the tickets and transport. We figured he wouldn't want to trash his reputation so we jumped in the deep end which ended up being a wise decision. The flow on effect was that we now would be dropped off at the shops near the ERA acrobat show instead of back at the hotel. As we had more than 3 hours before our show started. Harris' suggestion was to visit a tea shop. He assured us that there was no pressure to buy. To be honest, we were initially skeptical as we thought it was going to be a tourist tea house. How glad we were that we accepted his offer! His wife was previously in the tea industry and the tea shop that we would visit belonged to their friend in the wholesale tea market.

As it turned out, Harris truly was there to "drink good tea and relax" and had invited us along as a generous gesture. He explained that this was a "purist" tea shop. He went on to lament about how so many were uneducated about the art of tea and that many tea drinkers were "vulgar" and did not know how to prepare and appreciate tea fully. Apparently we belonged to that group...somehow I don't think tea drunk from a mug, and mixed with milk and sugar would make the cut...

The shop owner proceeded to prepare tea for us. It seemed quite ritualised and Harris explained that preparation was important. What she was doing was actually preparing the cups. Each different tea type, we subsequently learnt, was brewed slightly differently. Some had to be "awakened" first, and the first brew discarded. Whilst others had to steep for a certain about of time. We thought we were only drinking one type but she went to brew another, then another. We ended trying 4 different types of tea. Oolong, white tea, red tea and her own special blend with roses, licorice and orange peel. Our favourite by far was the oolong. Amazing floral tones which could be tasted! Even the children enjoyed the teas and before we knew it, we had been there drinking tea and chatting for over an hour!

The owner preparing tea cups

First up oolong

Next white tea which is steeped

Ready when the leave start to drop 

White because the brew is almost clear!

What the Westerners call black tea the Chinese call red. This one is Lapsang souchong

The owner's personal blend

So pretty once brewed. The flavours were very subtle and never overpowered the base tea in this case it was a white tea

Harris called for a people mover to take us to the shops close by the Shanghai Circus World where ERA would be showing so we could have dinner and shop prior to the show. It was raining rather miserably still and so we settled for the first thing we saw that caught our eye which happened to be Malaysian! It was surprising decent! The walk to the show was short and easy as promised and Harris turned up 14 minutes before the show as he said he would with our tickets. He even took us in and showed us to our seats. True to his word, we had good seats. We were in the very front row of the section 1/3 of the way from the stage and just to the right of centre. When we looked up prices online in the evening, it appeared that we bought our tickets through Harris at a cheaper rate. We wondered if perhaps he was able to buy at local rates?

We thoroughly enjoyed ERA and thought perhaps some of the harsh reviews were unwarranted. The best way to describe it would be Cirque Du Soleil without the polish, fancy costumes and music. The raw talent of the acrobats were phenomenal. Some acts we thought were better than ones we've seen at Cirque Du Soleil. I've never felt so anxious for a performer! In fact, we suspect perhaps this is where they source some of their talents from?!

Buying breakfast provisions in anticipation of an early start the next day

Yep. We did find the building that looked like a pineapple

I really was concerned that he would crack his skull!

At the end of the show, we gave up trying to flag a taxi on the main road amongst all the tour buses and walked the short distance to the Four Points Sheraton where their concierge kindly booked 2 taxis for us. What we didn't count on was the taxi driver not being able to read what was the concierge wrote. At this point, we were grateful that we had taken a picture of the Pearl Tower and that our hotel building was blue because I was able to say the word blue in mandarin. Hurray! We made it back safely...

Before I forget, I should acknowledge and thank Luan for her contribution to some of the photos posted here!


  1. Bel, you've captured our memories superbly! Indeed we have to be more sagacious about drinking Chinese tea and be less 'vulgar' ! Such an honour that u posted some of my photos! We will drink the fragrant oolong tea that we bought to reminisce Shanghai!

  2. Sounds like you scored yet another amazing guide. You do find them! Taking note for the future. The water town looked amazing but yes, would need a local to show you around. The tea service looks like a wonderful extra and makes me regret not finding time to book a traditional one at our hotel which offered this for a fee (but would probably not be quite as authentic but maybe more touristy?). Sounds like a great day.

  3. He really was amazing and we feel very fortunate. He now does mostly "corporate" guides. I didn't ask what that meant exactly and only does private tour on a part time basis. If only I had read his website properly (he actually did state that his wife is in the tea business) we wouldn't have been so suspicious of his generous offer!