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China: Nanxun Old Town

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Nanxun Old Town | China | Asia

[Visited: January 2013]

When I got off the bus in Nanxun, I compared the characters of my ticket to the ones of a timetable posted on the wall, and concluded that the last bus back to Hangzhou would leave at 17:20. At the exit, I was assaulted by several rickshaw drivers, but I decided to take my chances and walk. I crossed a footbridge, also used by motorized and foot-powered rickshaws, spanning a wide canal on which a ship was floating downstream, and arrived at a small street market where I also started seeing old houses. In trees without branches, pieces of meat were hung to dry. I had already arrived at the old town of Nanxun, my destination of the day. I quickly noticed that people were remarkably friendly, smiling at me and greeting me, which made me feel welcome almost at once. I soon reached one of the canals, where a row of old men were enjoying the unusually warm January sun. An arched bridge was reflected perfectly in the still waters of the canal, and the charm of Nanxun kicked in.

Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Old stone arch bridge connecting two sides of a canal in the old town of Nanxun

Without really knowing where to go, I decided to first walk into East street, soon came across a checkpoint where I bought a ticket. After having seen overly visited sites in China where at least part of the pleasure of a visit is ruined by the endless hordes of tourists, the effort the ticket guy had to make to even find the entrance ticket, gave me a hint that perhaps Nanxun was not yet a big spot on the tourist map. Two endearing mute women took pictures with me at the sight map of Nanxun. I continued down East street, ended up at a small bridge, where I turned left to walk alongside the row of Baijianlou buildings, all built right next to another canal. It was laundry day: on the stairs leading into the water, women were busy washing clothes and bedsheets. On washing lines, I saw kids T-shirts hanging side by side with dead chicken and chunks of meat. Most of the houses are built right on the waterfront, arches offer the pedestrian a way to walk next to the canal. I walked into several of the alleys leading off the canal, ending up in small courtyards where I would find an old woman basking in the sun or fixing clothes. Had other streets been almost empty, these spots were plainly peaceful. Back on the canal, the Baijianlou buildings were reflected perfectly in its green waters. I walked back the other side, and visited the former residence of Zhang Jingjiang, one of the merchants who made a fortune with the silk trade that made Xanxun one of the wealthiest towns in Southern China. Its location on waterways greatly attributed to Nanxun developing into an established distribution centre for several products. A town was first established here in the 9th century, while Nanxun was founded in the 13th century. Wherever I walked in this attractive, authentic town, I could feel its old age ooze from the walls of its houses, its stone bridges, its gnarled trees, and indeed, even from its people.

Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Arched alley running under the Baijianlou houses in Nanxun

I crossed one of the main canals, using a wooden bridge with lampoons, and walked a more lively street, with small restaurants, shops, and people. Women were preparing food at stalls, a tray with chopsticks drying in the sun, men playing cards or domino; I felt like I was getting closer to the action. One man approached me, turned out to speak some basic English, asking where I was from, and before I knew it, he partly blocked a bridge because he wanted others to take pictures, after which a small group formed around us. While I had thought to have plenty of time to see Nanxun, I now started to realize that time was passing by quickly, and I walked on, visiting the Guanghui Taoist temple, more spacious residential houses, walking yet more bridges. The more I saw of Nanxun, the more I liked it: its authentic, picturesque appearance and its welcoming inhabitants made me wonder why this town does not see more visitors, while at the same time being happy it does not. My two mute friends showed up surprisingly again, and I walked to the very south of the old town, where I walked around the gardens and visited the accessible parts of the Little Lotus Villa, one of the highlights of Nanxun. Unfortunately, the water in the lotus pool was very low at this time of year, most of the trees barren. On my way back to the bus station, I stopped at the former residence of Zhang Shiming. A surprisingly big courtyard provides access to various parts of the building, of which the French-style mansion with balcony, wrought iron, and big ballroom inside stands out in particular. Much of the building was constructed using material shipped directly from France. In fact, this was the largest privately owned building in the late Qing dynasty in China. The sun was sinking as I walked back, past the lampoon-covered walls, the canals and old stone bridges, back to where I had started my walking tour. The lampoons were being lit, and I was just in time for the bus that took me back to Hangzhou. The sun had already disappeared from sight, and Nanxun was covered by the blanket of the night.

Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Row of Baijianlou houses in the old town of Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Looking up the stone steps of an arch bridge in Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): European architecture in one of the remarkable buildings of Nanxun: the former residence of Zhang Shiming
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Baijianlou buildings in Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Building with lampoons reflected in a canal in Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Reflection of an arched bridge in the old town of Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Canal with a small boat in the old town of Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Old wooden bridge with lampoons connecting two sides of a canal in Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Traditional houses reflected in one of the canals of Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Canal in the old town of Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Circular gate in a wall in the gardens of the Little Lotus Villa
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Guanghui Taoist temple in the ancient town of Nanxun
Picture of Nanxun Old Town (China): Traditional houses on East Street in Nanxun

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