Thursday, October 8, 2009

Zhoushan (Jo-shaun)

In a couple of weeks from now, I'm going to seem like a LOT less interesting person to read about. Recently, I've been taking a lot of trips that I could go on and on about...since they are always very fascinating places!

Since we are still on a National holiday, we decided to take an impromptu trip to a place called Zhoushan for a few days. Wow! What a fabulous trip! I'm so glad we ended up making the plans to go! This is part of China's island archipelago. China has about 1,378 or so islands that make up this island chain, but there only between 100-200 of them that are occupied with people.

Since I/we, have been on several mini trips in many places surrounding Shanghai, I'm always looking for places that might be DIFFERENT than the other trips we have taken. Let me explain what I mean by this...

China, amazingly, looks very much the same in many places...minus a few of the more "known" spots where the scenery does change a bit, like Guilin/Yangshuo area, Tibet, Mongolia, southwest china where the silk trade route used to be, etc. It is truly amazing to me how SO MUCH of the landscape could look so incredibly similar from place to place...across thousands of miles, no less! Back home, we take for granted all the wonderful, natural resources we have to enjoy. The scenery back home changes drastically from coast to coast...where HERE...not so much. It's not just the natural landscape and scenery that doesn't change very much over here, it's also the architecture and layouts of the cities you visit that don't change very much as well. Several cities have several things in, lakes, temples, pagodas, gardens, markets, etc. If you have seen one in one city, you probably won't see too many differences in them in other cities. I'm not criticizing...I'm really just stating observation here.

It's BECAUSE of the above observations, that I have found travelling ANYWHERE else in the northern portions of this country really only needs to take no more than 3-4 days. Which is great...since that is like a long weekend, instead of a full blown trip. In saying all of this, we may have found ONE place you could consider spending a few more days exploring...FINALLY...and that would be China's archipelago.

First, it was a different experience because we had to take a ferry boat to get to the island of Zhoushan. That was lots of fun for the boys! By taking the fast passenger ferry, we reduced the travel time to our destination by 4+ hours! Good deal! During the 1.5 hours we were on the water, they showed a chinese Jackie Chan movie (both ways). Once we arrived in Zhoushan, we checked into the only 4-5 star hotel, the Sheraton. Ahhhhh...soooooo niice. You really start to re-check your priorities once you start travelling in China. A hotel that can provide a western style bed and all the other nice amenities is GOLDEN!! Travelling in China, when you don't speak the language very well...AND especially when you're with children...can be very draining. So, it's always nice to have a comfortable "home base" to lay your head down.

The island of Zhoushan reminded us of parts of Orange County before they actually developed it out. Lots of beautiful, clean and wide paved roads...with only a hint of the future development they [obviously] expect in the future. What few apartments we did see them currently building, looked exactly like some you would find in Irvine, Ca. This, obviously, felt very nice to us. The landscape of Zhoushan was stunning...rolling well as very GREEN! Mostly undeveloped with a few patches of the "old" country mixed into it. Absolutely lovely. It had an island feel and incredibly, the people were generally always smiling and generally happy. This is SUCH an island trait! hahaha

One of the days, we took another ferry to what the chinese term, "one of the most beautiful islands," called Taohua Island. They are all pretty much in agreement...this is a MUST SEE for them. So, we headed over there. This was, by far, the most "rustic" place we've been in China. Not knowing the language very well definitely presented some challenges for us. In MOST places, there is usually at least ONE person who speaks English and is somewhere nearby. We got lucky at the actual ferry station, but were out of luck everywhere else. Good thing the island wasn't too big and there weren't very many stops to consider. ;-) We stopped at a mountain type of park with a lot of ocean view points and lots of rocks and other sights to see. There was some amazing bluffs overlooking the ocean and the island's only bay. We chilled out in an empty viewing temple (of sorts) and had a picnic lunch. We walked around for a bit and then left to see one of the other key areas...the beach. The island archipelago offers many beaches in the general area to enjoy, each on different islands. However, I have to say I liked this one the best. The boys preferred other beach sites better, but this one was my favorite. One...there was hardly anyone on it! This is actually very hard to find here in China! Most anywhere worth seeing, is HUGELY populated, almost all of the time. You can imagine, I'm sure. Two...this beach offered large, crashing waves AND both rocks and seashells to find. I love that! I had a good time looking for interesting shells and rocks to pick up as souvenirs. most other beaches in the area, the sand was incredibly soft and fine. This beach had a good amount of both dry and wet sand to play around and have some fun! Four...the bay in which it was located was beautiful...totally enclosed on both sides, so that you could view all the rock formations along the bay's edges.

The island of Taohua was less remarkable in terms of topography and vegetation, however. The peaks didn't reach too high, and there was only scrub vegetation on them. Also...another thing about China's coastline...islands the entire ocean is brown. Yes, a dirty, poo poo looking brown. The ENTIRE ocean! How is this even possible?? So, the viewpoints of the ocean were of brown water, instead of blue. For us foreigners, who have no idea why this occurs, it is a little disconcerting to see.

The other island we visited was called Zhujiajian (Ju-jee-a-jee-an). We all loved this island. This is one of the few islands that is connected to Zhoushan by a bridge. First, we headed for the annual sand sculpture competition on one of it's beaches. This was fabulous! Every summer, there is a theme selected and competitors from around the world sculpt sand structures within that certain theme. The sand is REAL! Some of them around the park had fallen into disrepair and were crumbling. Others, however, were being continuously treated with water to stay in place. They show pictures of some of these people sculpting, using pretty ordinary tools. The detail on some of these sculptures is truly amazing! We all had LOTS of fun looking at all these sculptures. The beach beyond the sculpture area is wide and open...and of course, had many people out enjoying the ocean breezes. While standing on the beach, watching the kids play, I heard an unusual sound. It actually took me a minute to realize the sound I heard was...laughter...pure and simple, from everyone else enjoying themselves on the beach. I know that seems ridiculous...but when you live in a place that doesn't foster that sound from many people on a daily basis, you can actually HEAR the difference when you can! Amazing! All those people were actually having fun...smiling and laughing to their hearts content. It was a wonderful sound and with that realization, I took several minutes just listening to it, basking in it's...wonder. It was powerful enough to put a smile in our own hearts and that's what we walked away with that day.

Another sight we visited on Zhujiajian was Baishan Park. This park was dedicated to the Qwan-yin...a spiritual presence for many people. A HUGE picture of one of the "goddesses"?? was painted on one of the tall rocks in the park. You could tell that this was a major feat for...someone. It was a HUGE painting! The park also boasted of jade colored lakes and beautiful rock formations! The rocks had a lot of interesting features, like fissures, overhanging boulders, narrow pathways, amazing views, etc. We all had lots of fun and felt very "zen" by the time we left. The park barely had any people in it and it was very quiet.

Again, there were other islands to visit with different features on each of them, so we felt that a person could spend many days discovering each island's secrets. After 3 days and two ferries, we all felt like we had a lot of fun in the short amount of time we had...and we were so glad we went!

Zhoushan and all the surrounding areas along China's coastlines are famous for their fresh seafood. When Chinese come to visit, they don't waste any time in enjoying the local fare. However, for us, we chose not to partake of the "fresh" seafood. One, I'm pregnant and can't any raw fish or shelled fish. And two, because the source of the brown color in the ocean is an unknown to us. I believe I had mentioned when we first arrived into Shanghai, I noticed a brown ring that lined China's coastline. This trip only confirmed just how extensive this brown ring is in many areas. Can you all imagine viewing an entire ocean of brown water? Why is it this color? Is it pollution? Is it the type of sediment? Is it because major rivers dump into the ocean all along the coastline and have been doing so for millions of years? Is it a combination of all these things? Well, one thing is for is very difficult for me to feel content eating ANYTHING out of water that color. Maybe a majority of the chinese people don't know any different...but I do. I have seen MUCH "healthier" colors of ocean elsewhere and I just can't seem to gather the gumption to taste the seafood along China's coasts. It really does bother me.

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