Day 4 we spent on a bus a plane and another bus to reach the southern centre of Wuxi (meaning “no tin”). We arose early to travel to the airport and unexpectedly we got there an hour and a half early. Good thing too as they cancelled our flight after we had booked in, dropped off our bags and passed through security. This meant we had to exit the departure lounge, collect our bags from the arrivals carousel and rebook in redeliver our bags and pass through security for a second time. None of the Chinese officials even blinked about this odd procedure. So we caught our new flight without incident to meet Maggie (this is her English name – her Chinese name being Tai Meow – like a cat) at Shanghai Airport board a bus and travel for two and half hours to Wuxi. In that time, we passed a spaghetti jungle of roads and overpasses, large farms under shade houses, some odd motor vehicles and an unbelievable number of apartment blocks in the middle of nowhere apparently. In one case I counted 16 towers under construction at the same time each with their own crane/I apologise the photos are taken from the moving bus.
Nestled on the northern shore of Tai Lake, China’s third-largest body of fresh water, Wuxi lies on the southern border of Jiangsu Province, about 128 kilometres northwest of Shanghai. It borders Suzhou to the east, Zhejiang Province to the south and Changzhou to the west. With a total population of 4.578 million, Wuxi is a city richly endowed by nature owing to its pleasantly warm and moist climate. Relying on the near-by Yangtze River and ancient Grand Canal, it had been a port city with the busiest rice and cloth market in China before 19th century. In modern times, with its rapidly developing industry, Wuxi became one of China’s top 50 cities with broad strength and is thus called the ‘Little Shanghai’ for its prosperous economy.
With a splendid history of over three thousand years, Wuxi claims to be ‘the Pearl of Tai Lake’. Besides being a rich cultural repository, Wuxi is blessed with charming natural beauty. Our first stop was Nanchang Street. Nanchang Street is a famous ancient street in Wuxi which has now been renovated to be elegant, unique and integrated with various elements.
Once again, the bus dropped us and ran and we had a significant walk to the memorial marking the start of Nanchang St. Our guide then told us that this was part of the canal system known as the Grand Canal which linked Wuxi with Suzhou, Hangzhou Shanghai and Beijing. We had 40 minutes to have a look around and by the way the oldest stone bridge was just up the canal. Qingming Bridge, the oldest and largest single-opening stone arch bridge over the Grand Canal in the city, connects Nanchang Street with Nanxiatang area. We walked along the street which was full of people, scooters, bikes ,wheelchairs and the like making it to the Qingming Bridge and back again in the allotted time. The lights on the bridge had an interesting arrangement whereby each light would throw a different pattern on the path across the bridge.
I suspect the night and the bright lights covered a few issues. One of the interesting but not open nor illuminated buildings was the house of a former linen menrchant now a museum. As we returned Kerry stopped to photo the Chinese version of “toad in the hole”.
We overnighted at Deacon House Hotel on the 32nd floor and had an early start to get to Tai Lake and the Ray Pearl factory. Lake Tai is a large freshwater lake in the Yangtze Delta plain. The lake’s southern shore forms the border with Zhejiang. With an area of 2,250 square kilometres and an average depth of 2 meters, it is the third-largest freshwater lake in China. The lake houses about 90 islands, ranging in size from a few square meters to several square kilometres. Lake Tai is linked to the renowned Grand Canal however in recent years, Lake Tai has been plagued by pollution as the surrounding region experienced rapid industrial development. The lake is renowned for its unique limestone formations at the foot of the adjacent Dongting Mountain. These “scholar’s rocks” or “Taihu stones” are often prized as a decorating material for traditional Chinese gardens, as exemplified by those preserved as museums in nearby Suzhou.
Next, we visited Ray Pearl. Wuxi is famous for its quality fresh water pearls and the use of crushed pearl as a health tonic and in a skin cream. We watched as our host cut open one of the younger triangular shaped oysters and laying bare the beginnings of pearls in the shell. Unlike here in Australia where we use shell grit to seed the oyster, in Wuxi they use other oyster meat and seed the oyster multiple times. This poor oyster will become fish bait and the shell will have the immature pearls removed for crushing and mixing to form the tonic. There is always a retail purpose attached and so we were shown into the awaiting arms of the sales team to sell us some pearl products.
As we left we met some of the local traders selling nuts and fruits at good prices. Two days later I finished off the bag of roasted almonds whilst typing this blog.