Life in Yangzhou (揚州的日子) Jan 13 2022 onward Part 1

 

Yangzhou looked dreamily romantic at dusk.

When the first wave of Covid hit China in the beginning of 2020, our travelling came to a halt and we stayed low in the small old town Jianshui in Yunnan (雲南建水). Now, two years later, our life is still dominated by the pandemic and we find ourselves yet again hiding – only this time in a bigger city of Yangzhou in Jiangsu (江蘇揚州).

Crossing this old canal is part of our daily routine.

We originally wanted to go back to Hong Kong for the Chinese New Year to spend time with our family but our plan was disrupted when Omicron emerged. We were in Qingdao at the time and feared that things would get worse quickly. We headed further southward and decided to find a smaller city – Yangzhou seems like a good choice.

A local woman took her birds out sunbathing. There are also many wild birds in Yangzhou.
The locals love decorating their cars. Just too cute!

We arrived in mid January and just in time as many places all over China had stepped up measures for visitors from other provinces. It meant that travelling across provinces was more troublesome than before. All tourists from other provinces or anyone who had visited other provinces were required a 48-hour effective negative cpr test result plus green health code in order to check into hotels and enter tourist destinations and museums.

Due to Covid, many historical buildings are closed. The old part of Yangzhou is dotted with well-preserved elegant architectures.
This beautifully sculptured statue originally should be in pairs flanking the entrance of an old house.
Walking along the old canal is one of the best ways to soak in the leisurely atmosphere of the city. But it gets very lively in the evening with groups of locals dancing, singing and listening to Chinese opera.

I have known Yangzhou since I was a kid when mom made me memorize poems of the famous poet Li Bai (李白) of the Tang Dynasty. He described how beautiful Yangzhou looked in March with a multitude of willows and he bade farewell to a friend as his boat sailed away. (故人西辭黃鶴樓,煙花三月下揚州,孤帆遠影碧空盡,唯見長江天際流) It’s a beautiful image but Yangzhou remained just an abstract name.

Some of the alleys are so narrow that I have to tilt my umbrella to get through.
This dog certainly has the best view.

As we started exploring the old part of Yangzhou, I found myself more and more drawn by its subtle beauty. We spent many hours strolling in the labyrinth of old narrow alleys amidst small and grand houses with charcoal grey terra cotta tile roofs.

We often find this kind of old well amidst the old alleys which are still used by the locals.
Front entrance of the public office where salt was weighed and price determined in the old days.
Many old houses have a basin outside.

Unlike many soulless old towns in China, which are too commercial with only shiny facades, I discern a quiet energy humming underneath the old tiles, bricks and walls as we sauntered along the old alleys and neighbourhoods of Yangzhou. We saw the locals washing clothes by the old well, elderlies sitting together for their daily chat and people preparing food. Lines of clothes or duvets hovered over the alleys mid air when the sun was out.

We love strolling along the river and watch how the colours of the season change over time.
A glance at the spacious courtyard of these old houses.

We often peeked into spacious and tidy courtyard of the old brick houses and mouth-watering aroma of home cooking permeated the alleys. There are many modern public toilets located at the alley entrances since most of the houses do not have toilets and bathrooms. It’s this harmonious balance of day-to-day living and history that makes the old city so real and yet captivating.

We rent this 90 sq. m serviced apartment for RMB5,800 per month. 

We rent a two-bedroom apartment in the eastern part, the old part of the city. It turns out to be a strategically prime location – right next to the beautiful old canal and we can walk to the old town within minutes with local wet markets just round the corner.

Rainy Yangzhou is quaintly attractive as the wet streets reflected the yellow street lights and shop signs.

We hardly go to the new part of the city on the west side except when we go to big supermarkets like Walmart. The old town is intertwined with the old canal and Little Qinhuai River (小秦淮河). It’s fun to wander in the maze of tiny alleys and we never worry about getting lost as we eventually always reach either a street or the canal. Sometimes we stroll along the Little Qinhuai River to trace the past of Yangzhou.

Our friend Xiao Zhong (小鍾) visited us for a few days before Chinese New Year and we took a 15km scenic route along the Little Qinhuai River (小秦淮河).

Historically, Yangzhou was one of the wealthiest cities for various periods until the 19th century. With its geographical location and strategic advantage of the canal forming part of the waterway from Beijing to Hangzhou, salt, rice and silk trading flourished.

We visited one of Yangzhou’s most famous old mansions, He Garden (何園) built in 1862 and named after the owner.
The old mansion is designed in such a clever way that one can walk along a long veranda throughout the mansion to enjoy an uninterrupted view of the beautiful pond and admire it at different angles.

It was a bustling economic and cultural hub that even attracted the Arabs and Persians to trade in the Tang Dynasty (early 7th to early 10th century). According to the memoirs of Marco Polo and some historical documents, Marco Polo was in Yangzhou for three years in some official capacity. Evidence of great wealth and prosperity can be seen in the numerous elegant old mansions built by wealthy merchants and are renowned for their subtle sophistication and beautiful rock gardens.

The Catholic church looks beautiful at sunset. It was established in 1873 by a Jesuit priest.
Everyday, we discover little surprises in the old city. Here we found a subtle mix of east and west well hidden in this corner.

There is a saying in Yangzhou “water wrapped in dough in the morning, then soak in water at night” (早上皮包水,晚上水包皮) which gives you an idea of how the locals live. It reflects the local culture of taking it slow and enjoy life. They start the day by going to the teahouses to enjoy tea and a variety of buns – which explains “water wrapped in dough” as some of the buns are juicy with soup inside. Then at night they have a relaxing bath and a long body rub in the public bathhouse  – aptly “soaking in water”.

A taste of the local breakfast of dumplings and tea. A local told us that the dumplings these days are much smaller than the old days.
Many locals visit the public bathhouse.

We have tried the local morning ritual at one of the famous teahouses Yechun Garden (冶春園) along the river. As for the nightly ritual, we saw a number of public bathhouses in the alleys but we hesitated to give it a try due to the on-going pandemic.

A typical stall that sells local specialty savoury duck.
Our apartment overlooks the city. Everyday we hear bird chirping and watch a flock of birds flying freely above the buildings.

We have stayed in a fair share of apartments in our travel but we notice something peculiar about our apartment in Yangzhou. It is very comfortable, warm and tastefully decorated. But as I look beyond the elegantly painted walls and chic furniture, I discover random small cracks and holes in the bedroom and bathroom walls covered by odd wallpaper cut outs. It’s a mystery to us considering the amount of effort put into the renovation. Why are the cracks and crevices not fixed before painting it over? 

The locals love dogs and they tend to let them roam freely in the alleys and streets.
A different mood at night.

Then three weeks into our stay, we got a knock on the door and a woman appeared and babbled non-stop in local dialect and kept pointing at the balcony. I was at a loss for a few seconds and it suddenly hit me that she was complaining that water was leaking from our balcony into theirs. I immediately called our landlady to let them speak directly. Then we found out that the water came from the compressors of our air-conditioners inside a wooden structure in our balcony. To our surprise, we discovered that no container was placed underneath the compressors to retain water from the defrosting. Yet again another small but essential detail that is amiss as the leakage will indeed cause permanent damage to the structure.  Our landlady was very helpful and it was fixed right away without delay.

A rather iconic roundabout and unusually quiet that day.

We always avoid driving in cities but it is particularly frustrating to drive in Yangzhou as the electric motorcyclists ride like formula-one drivers. They apparently think they are invincible and will take over us recklessly and always appear out of nowhere. One time, at the roundabout of a busy road, we saw cars cutting right into the traffic in opposite direction thinking they could skip following the flow of traffic by taking a short cut. While we were gob smacked by how dangerous it was, we accept that this is all part of the local way of life.

One of the busy streets where the locals buy their daily necessities and food.

When we first came, we could not understand a single word of the local dialect. But we like listening to the locals, as they sound so animated and energetic. We slowly can pick out the odd words and make more sense of what they are saying.

Many old shops still use these wooden plank doors. It’s very quiet during the Chinese New Year as most of the shops were closed for at least a week.

 

Daisy’s favourite daily routine – having our bed all to herself!

We saw the locals spring cleaned their shops before closing for the festive holiday. We had a super quiet Chinese New Year and for the first time in two years, there was no all night fireworks and fire crackers.

7 thoughts on “Life in Yangzhou (揚州的日子) Jan 13 2022 onward Part 1

  1. Dear Akie and Kin. I was so pleased to see your beautiful pictures and read about your life in Yangzhou.
    I was wondering how you were coping with the pandemic. It seems you have been very clever.
    We are well and about to get the caravan ready to go north for the winter.
    Love and hugs
    Carol and Ross

    1. So far we have been quite lucky considering that we can still go out daily.

      Kin still talks about the caravan trips he had with you and the family. Enjoy and we look forward to your photos.

    1. Hi Melody,

      Writing and sharing with friends and family give meaning to our trip. Your response makes our day. 😊

  2. I really enjoy reading your posts because they remind me of my hometown and beloved ones. Thank you so much for sharing these pictures. Stay safe!

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