We had a really nice time traveling back in time, 1000 years. We went to Zhouzhuang water town, half present day and half preserved "Ancient Town". It is self proclaimed "the #1 water town" and not sure it deserves the distinction, but it was classic.
We took off Wednesday morning 7:30 ish, Josephine had some nerves (her stomach was fluttering). "I have never been on a biking trip, this is my first one!" Said with a ton of enthusiasm. She and Quinn were exceptional on the road. They made it 50 km the first day into Zhouzhuang with Josephine leading us the entire way. She wanted to get there so badly by the end she kept hollering back "we can do it", "let's go!!!!", or "Come on Matuscheks!" Or once in a while a large WAHOOOOOO!
Being on the road is a bit different than being close to the safety of our little compound. There are no rules, bikes mopeds motorcycles go every which way they want. Picture construction on a four lane highway, the bike lane is blocked as we enter onto the congested road and a woman is toodling toward us into the approaching traffic, no room so we just sit. The road was pretty flat and very much under construction almost the entire route. Riding wasn't bad once we developed the strategy that I am Josephine's shield from the rather large, flat front, blue trucks, letting out piercing belches when they passed us. It is true everyone uses their horns, more than necessary here. To reduce the stress and surprise of the thousands of speeding motorized vehicles speeding by us, honking, Quinn and I have taken to ringing our bells right back at them. It remains funny and is necessary to keeping my sanity! Perhaps they don't hear us, sometimes they turn around disgruntled but always smile when they see us smiling and waving to them.
The rest of the trip was spent between two hotels, the entirely chinese family homestead- everything cooked and washed river side?? and the peaceful zen like 4 star experience for the last two nights. We were immersed in chinese culture. Eating wontons for breakfast in the cleanest little chinese kitchen, and happily finding an "american" type cafe for dinner. The owners remarked to us, after three meals there, "Have you eaten ANY chinese yet?" He was happy to have us, as by then the town emptied out after the national holiday and no one remained to eat his food. We had had some chinese, but when you see a bunch of belly up fish in the fish tanks it doesn't make you want to order a bunch.
This town was mostly set up for tourists, little shops with pecking chickens(ask the girls) and chinese candies, ink stamps and bicycles, both of which Jos purchased. QUinn really liked the fig breads, a specialty there, no idea the chinese name, but they were flat, covered in sesame seeds and spread thin inside with what we discovered was fig. I was glad that my kids were eating at all. It was especially hard for Jos to eat wonton (basically chicken noodle soup) for breakfast, when the sign said Western breakfast served- no dice. Quinn by the end wanted a big ol Mexican meal.
I have to say, the nature of people is no different even though they are entirely different in their customs. Every connection we made, was from our smiling and being welcoming to the shop owners. We would get large smiles and a chinese conversation, mostly pantomimed on our part. We made friends with an old weaver, who enjoyed smiling at Jos and the man next door to her who was entirely impressed that Jos traveled to and from Shanghai and then made the side trip trip to Tongli (another 30 km round trip). he kept telling other shop keepers about our trips. Saturday as we were leaving town, we parked our bikes and started loading up to leave, (BTW-we bought a pannier (on Rob's bike) and basket for me.). As we wnet in and out of the hotel, friends started gathering, trying out our bikes and lifting them up and trying to understand how my 1979 style bike worked (back pedal brakes). One came over and the conversation centered on how we would get home. I said Josephine is faster than me with my big heavy bike. Jos piped in quai quai de, meaning fast and the whole group laughed. They continue to think she is the world. She left there feeling like everyone loved us. At a cake maker in Tongli, the woman kept touching her face, saying so beautiful, then beautiful eyes, beautiful skin. White skin is desired here and blue eyes don't exist, so Quinn is always getting her picture taken with man woman and child! By the end of a trip like this, we all start feeling like "please stop staring at us"! Generally we don't mind, but when we need comfort and our home, it's the staring and the honking that most gets to me and I think I can speak for the kids too. Now, we are glad to be home and surrounded by some things we know. BTW- Jos thought maybe we were biking home to CO!