For our family’s first Chinese mini-adventure I decided we should make a trek to a water town. There are several to choose from relatively nearby but, being our family’s travel researcher, I decided we should go to Tongli, famed for its cinematic scenery and S@x museum (I am not actually going to write the word because it produces a lot of icky spam). According to Frommer’s Shanghai travel guide, there was also the promise of a Western friendly restaurant with a menu in English. Usually, this also means there is a bathroom acceptable to all. Since another family or two were perhaps joining us, one with a toddler, this seemed a happy medium.
Did I mention there was a golf tournament in town? There is and the line of Mercedes to get off at Sheshan where the tournament was held, off the same highway to Tongli, was long. Excruciatingly so. Once out in the countryside, though, time rolled back quickly: families living on boats on canals choked with water lilies and open spaces marred only infrequently by buildings, their roofs upturned as if to genuflect to their ancient heritage.
Once in the town we paid 80 kwai per person to enter the village and another 10 kwai for the ride in an elongated golf cart to the drop off point. Before lunch we wandered around the village, scoping out the gondola rides, poking into junk shops, and having our photographs taken with the locals. As the other family was an hour behind us, we first went to the restaurant to make sure it was as advertised.
Located at the end of a row of shops near the entrance to the water town, the Shanger restaurant looked delightful from the outside even if the name was mildly off-putting. We were the only diners – the rest of the tourists were eating at the home style cooking cafes lining the canals. A hostess led us to a back room where we parked the kids at one table and the adults at another. Mr. Understanding and I sat down to read the menu and to decide if we could stay. “Smakehead for two” threw us off but we figured the kids could eat pork chops and rice. A rickety western potty was located conveniently near our private dining area. While we waited for the other family we had ample opportunity to admire the pink curtains at every window, the folds tied back with violet tulle bows, while we sipped TsingDao beer.
Mr. Long, he of the duck tongue eating family, finally arrived and ordered for the crew – pig knuckle, a local fave, beef with green chili peppers, fried rice, pickled cabbage, and an unusual kung pao chicken. No dumplings or spring rolls here. Mr. Understanding refrained from eating entirely, citing an excess of Chinese food in the past week, but the rest of us tucked in. The Half Nelson family declined food as well, having eaten sandwiches from home during the ride
The village might be thousand years old but we were the main attraction as we ambled en masse through the cobble stone streets. Mr. Understanding gave an English lesson to a gondolier’s son sitting at the back of the boat. Men yelled English phrases down to us as we rode the canals in the autumn sunshine. Thing 2 bargained for Chinese currency from 1914 (really?). Thing 3 bought a jade necklace with a tiger on it. Thing 1 grumped about getting back for homework. Retracing our steps to our starting point, we discovered that the return golf carts leave from Peace Garden, well inside the village. Fortunately, two bicycle rickshaw operators offered their services; Mr. U paid them double we were such heavy loads.
When I return to Tongli in the Spring with the Radish and the Bear, I am making sure my camera is charged, there are snacks packed in the car, and we get to that wacky museum. We’ve seen naked, dessicated mummies together in Guanajuato, Mexico so viewing a cultural offering of s@x paraphernalia with my parents should be no problem. We will also be eating the dumplings I saw other foreigners eating at one of the canal cafes by the cormorant show in the middle of town. By then even I should have figured out how to say “dumpling”, even if there’s no menu in English.