Sunday, April 15, 2018

A Day Of Getting To Know Zhangjiagang

It was a long week, as I struggled mightily to get through the school week with only half a voice (more about that in another post). But it led up to an adventurous weekend, which is only half over!

On Saturday, the city of Zhangjiagang launched a new initiative to show itself to the world -- through the eyes of those who have come here from other parts of the world. With high-speed rail soon coming to Zhangjiagang, it appears the local government wants to start marketing itself as a viable tourist destination. And, of course, they're always looking for investment from foreign companies looking to build businesses here.

So, yesterday was the first of a six-part series -- two a year for the next three years -- of events designed to entertain and inform Zhangjiagang's expats. They want to show us its history, its beauty, its hospitality, and its activities. They're off to a good start.

The opening speeches were clearly written without regard to the weather forecast -- there were many mentions of the beautiful springtime and the warm breezes on a cool and occasionally drizzly day -- but the sentiment was there. The city's Vice Mayor welcomed us. A businessman who had migrated from Brazil to run an automotive plant here in Zhangjiagang talked about his experience, as did one of my fellow expat teachers.

All around, the message was clear, that Zhangjiagang is a clean, safe, friendly, welcoming city. (And in my first eight weeks here, I would certainly echo that sentiment.)

After the opening ceremony, our first stop was a cultural one -- the Zhangjiagang Museum.

Because we were on a tight schedule, we didn't get to see the entire museum, so we focused on a few main areas, showing the history of Zhangjiagang, the local ruins, and the Yangtze River's part in China's history.

Through photographs, we saw the transformation of Zhangjiagang from local farming village to modern city. And through exhibits like these, we got a glimpse into what everyday life was like for those earlier residents:

Then we took a look at some of the antiquities unearthed in the local Dongshan ruins:

After exploring the museum, it was time for lunch. To expose us to as many local delicacies as possible, they took us to the buffet at the Shazhou Hotel.

After we were welcomed -- they're big on welcoming you to places here! -- they invited us up to the front of the room for a lesson on how to prepare and fold dumplings. Our amateur offerings were cooked and served later. Even if they weren't quite as beautiful as the professionally folded dumplings, they were still delicious.

Then, we feasted!

There was roast duck, carved and prepared before our eyes. And there were three tables' worth of entrees available to us. Pretty much every kind of local food imaginable was represented -- rice, noodles, beef, pork, chicken, fish, squid, vegetable. Though I had to draw the line at trying the turtle dish they offered. (Turtles are my favorite animals. I could never eat one.)


At the teachers' table, there were a lot of happy, stuffed faces. And a few less ducks in the world. 😋

After lunch, we were off to Xiangshan Park, a beautiful area about seven miles west of the downtown area. If you look on the Zhangjiagang area on Google Maps, you'll probably see the park shown as Fragrant Mountain Scenic Area; it got its name because of the aromatic tea plants that grow there. (As a bonus, those tea plants were also said to have health-restoring powers.)

The centerpiece of the park is its tall temple, which towers over the land from its perch atop the highest point in Zhangjiagang. We'd be going up there soon, but first... a little Tai Chi!
We watched this group practice for a few minutes, then were invited to join in. I'd done some every morning on the cruise last summer, so I enjoyed getting the chance to do it again, if only for a few minutes. Though it was certainly more difficult to do it in jeans and a bulky hoodie. (Did I mention it was cool and drizzly?)

After getting a tour of the park's museum, with exhibits explained by some of the young students who'd been recruited as ambassadors for the program, we headed up to the temple.

After getting to see the temple, we headed down to the lake area for a little bit of fun and games. Well, actually, it turned out to be a competition -- a mini-Olympics of Zhangjiagang -- though they weren't exactly Olympic sports. There was caterpillar racing (teams of four, bouncing along on huge inflatable caterpillars), carrying ping pong balls with chopsticks, and trying to write (in Chinese) with a large pen worked by groups of eight.

Everyone had a good time, since there were a lot of laughs to be had as we tried each of the tasks, and prizes were awarded at the end.

To my surprise, I was named one of the third-place finishers, and I won a beautiful little tea set!

It was a great way to spend a Saturday, and I can't wait for the next one this autumn!

Now, time to get ready... I'm off to Suzhou for a walking tour this afternoon!

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