I visited Zhujiajiao today, a water town about an hour outside of Shanghai. Have we talked about water towns?

Little Chinese Venices. Towns whose low-slung stone buildings, temples, and gardens border networks of canals. There are pretty little stone bridges criss-crossing the canals, and wooden canal boats coursing up and down them, propelled by lean men, each equipped with one huge oar that doubles as a rudder.

The water towns cherish their historical heritage — for both cultural and touristic reasons. So, there are always plenty of interesting old buildings and places of worship to visit.

And, among the historic buildings and gardens and canals, there are narrow alleyways lively with commercial activity. Here’s where you buy your horn combs, and your sandalwood beads, brocade, pashminas, robot dogs, pearl necklaces, bulk candy, Journey to the West face masks and more. I bought a fan. I always buy a fan.

And the food. Lovely little restaurants overlooking the canals. The menus full of local goodies — fresh water snails, soft shell crab, crayfish. Lots of little places to buy ice cream and cake and coffee too. Every time a white person passes one of these, the vendor yells (in English) “Hello! Hello! Coffee! Coffee!” They have our number. (I had a short espresso with a beautiful crema, which I enjoyed so much the owner assumed I was Italian.)

When you visit a water town, though, don’t eat in the restaurants. Water towns are the land of street food. Stinky tofu, all manner of skewered things, toasted nuts, warm flat breads, inventive confectionary, barbecued pigs feet, little bundles of palm leaves with rice and meat steamed inside. And such lovely fresh fruit — peaches, cherries, lychees, and watermelon. I had a bowl of shaved ice mixed with a fine dice of watermelon and honeydew, and with red beans, and then topped with mango syrup. Yum! (I also had stinky tofu, flatbread filled with preserved vegetable, a beer, the aforementioned espresso, and some gorgeous, plump lychees.)

And I went through a haunted house, and took a leisurely canal boat ride, and chatted in both English and Chinese with a smartypants mynah, and had a kissing fish massage. That’s the thing where you sit with your feet and lower legs in a bath full of little carnivorous fish. They nibble your dead skin, and it feels fantastic! …Well, and super weird of course too, but I’m cool with that.

It was a good day. A hot, sunny day full of tasty food and fun things to do and to look at, and always the smell of temple incense.

Here are some pics.

A typical view of a water town.

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This old dog literally cannot even.

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No one-child policy for swallows.

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These huge lychees are perfect. Just perfect.

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Yulan (aka magnolia), the flower of Shanghai, surrounded by wishes.

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All punks are family. Seems legit.

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