Time stands still in Tongli Water Town – an ancient village carefully preserved amidst the modern urban sprawl that connects Shanghai and Suzhou.
Once inside this living museum, there is little to do but enjoy the feeling of time travel back to a life of cobble streets, canal boats, elegant gardens and food vendors.
I spent four days and it took all four to walk all the lanes and canals that crisscross the town with its 49 stone bridges.
Four days of peering down narrow passageways
And following the lure of the lanterns
Tongli isn’t a tourist attraction of sweeping vistas. It is an feast of small details – some colorful
Some images are timeless
Some images are more modern
But Tongli mostly looks back to an earlier time
And tourists like to dress up to harken back to a glorious past.
Tongli was full of tourists because it was a national holiday and it is really nice to see how Chinese tourists appreciate their heritage.
But real people also live and work here.
They seem oblivious to the grand architecture from the Qing and Ming dynasties.
Tongli is famous for the private gardens, built on a grand scale with high walls, calming pools, classical bridges and carved screens, intricate stone paths, sculpted trees and portals to other worlds.
I will remember Tongli for the labyrnthine gardens and for the food. Some delicious, which I ate.
Some not so appealing.
I took a miss on some snacks.
But my absolute favorite was a small artsy shop specializing in handmade noodles in beef soup. I became a regular!
When I wasn’t eating, I was wandering the lanes.
Intrigued by the narrow visions
Entranced by shadows
Reminded of past times
Entertained by my fellow tourists
Marvelling at the beautiful doors
And the striking rooflines
And the still backwaters
I found moments of stillness and reflection.
And moments of confused chatter.
Places to rest
Places to be entertained
Faces that will haunt me
And faces that being renewed energy
My home was a sweet little room in tiny hotel with silent, velvet black nights complete with crickets.
I’ve been to water towns all over China, and this one stands out as being large and layered, calm and compelling….
My timeout in Tongli is over and I’m off to work, teaching at USTC, my home in China for a month.