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A Walk around Shaoxing
2006-03-02 08:45:28

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Being a water-city, it's only expected that Shaoxing should have many bridges and waterways, and it doesn't disappoint, with more than 4,000 stone bridges crisscrossing various flowing lanes. The waterways are filled with tiny sampans with black awnings called Wu Peng, which can seat up to six people, despite being extremely narrow in design. Built to float very low, these boats give passengers the somewhat precarious feeling of sitting in the water. Meanwhile, boatmen wear black felt Wuzhan hats, rowing the boat with their feet on a large oar, and steering by pushing a smaller oar with their hands. Certainly, sitting in a Wupeng watching the street scenes float past is a defining Shaoxing experience. In the old days, these Wupeng were also the major form of transportation for Shaoxing people. Nowadays though, road traffic takes the lead, confining Wupeng to various scenic spots, such as the magnificent East Lake.

Thirty minutes east of Shaoxing, at the foot of Ruofen Mountain, lies the picturesque, man-made East Lake. During the seventh century, the mountain was quarried for its hard green rocks, which were used to build a city wall around Shaoxing As a result, this mountain looked as if a deity has carved off its side with a huge sword. Then, 600 years later, after the mining had stopped, canals were dug from a nearby river, to fill the quarry and create East Lake. During the Qing Dynasty, the retired court official Tao Junxuan built his home on this lake, which today houses various souvenir shops and ticket booths.

In East Lake you can find a fleet of Wupeng boats docked in preparation, with the oarsmen playing cards while they wait for passengers. These boats are generally built by the oarsmen themselves, using wood and bamboo. If you have more than an hour to spare, they can ferry you from East Lake to the Great Yu Mausoleum, via a network of waterways surrounding Shaoxing. 

Bridges are inextricably bound into the life of this city, and you'll be amazed by some of the designs and construction techniques. One particularly peculiar bridge is the Bazi Bridge, which looks just like the number eight written in Chinese. This exceptional bridge connects three streets over three waterways. It's 5 meters high, and uses large rocks for its walkway. With the railings also made of stone, this 800-year-old bridge has been built to last.

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