Life on the Canal in Shaoxing
Early morning in Shaoxing
I've had my e-bike for several weeks now and have had little opportunity to ride it except on campus, as the weather has continued to be wet and cold. However, on Friday, the last day of April 2010, the weather was fine and warm, and with some spare time I set off on my e-bike with my camera to explore some sights I'd seen as I'd been driven along the ring road. I'd seen a canal, beautiful gardens, stunning homes - all from a passing vehicle. I wanted a close up view of it.
I set off just after 7.15 am, and scooted along the bikeway beside the highway making good speed on my bike. I managed to negotiate a few busy intersections, surviving a hair raising dodging manoeuvre, and eventually reached the bridge over the canal and headed along the paths through beautifully sculptured gardens. The horns on larger vehicles constantly toot or blare - "I'm coming through. Get out of my way."
There was a lot of activity early in the morning. The roads were busy. The trucks were already loaded and plying their way back and forth along the highway, tooting as they passed a car or reached a pedestrian crossing that might have someone on foot precariously trying to cross. Little tricycles loaded with all sorts of things whizzing past. Huge piles of rubbish, cardboard cartons (all flattened and ready for recycling) a load of rice stalks headed for another use.
But it was the activity on the canal that I wanted to see. Women with piles of clothes and a plastic bucket, and a plastic bag of bits and pieces arrived, and others departed. It is always washing day in the canals and those women who live in dark dingy rooms along the outer suburbs where there is no running water, no laundry, no washing machine, no dryer, head for the canals to wash their clothes.
Conveniently there are steps down to the canal and one can lean over with the clothes and scrub them in the water as it floats past. Clean the clothes? Is the water clean? Well, not in my opinion, and there's no way I'd even swim in it let along consider it clean enough to wash my clothes, but these women see no option. That is the way it has been done for many years. I've even heard of families, now upgraded to a more modern accommodation block, out of habit, still go to the canals for washing clothes.
In part, in some places it is a social occasion. They meet and greet their friends and chat. Some even "hang" their clothes over the shrubbery or makeshift clothes lines.
White is not a good "colour" to wear in China - as much for the lack of clean washing water, as the dust and pollution that seems to cling in every breath of air.
It is rather incongruous to watch the women wash their clothes in the canal on one side, opposite some amazingly luxurious housing estates. The rich on one side and the poor on another.
Further along the canal a team of ten women - all with a tricycle to carry their gardening tools and the plants, were busily planting iris. I expect in a few weeks time there will be a spectacular display of these dramatic blue flowers, and they will be a picture on the banks of the canal. Each plant taking it's place in a pattern indicating the precision and love of gardening that is shared here.
Trees were being planted and women would wrap the trunk of the tree with a special rope. I've never been able to find out why they do this, but it is a common sight. New trees always have rope from the ground level up several meters of the trunks.
Further along there were barges - men unloading construction materials, another where one man was working to remove the dirt from the barge and place it in the garden - perhaps for another bed of iris. All this was almost inches from women washing their clothes in the canal.
Another barge was preparing to leave its mooring, but I could see the man, and a women (presumably the wife), and a little boy. It appears that they live on the barge as it plies its trade back and forth on the canal. The boy looked like he was not yet school age. The family bicycle leaned on the back of the small "cabin."
Then along came a fisherman in a boat that years ago we would have suggested was called a "sampan" but the word does not mean anything here. He has nets along the edge of the canal and goes from net to net removing the tiny fish that found their way into the nets - and he emptied them into a bucket on his boat.
Other men were fishing - some using long poles with a single net at the end, and others where two men with long poles and a net strung between them, dipped the net into the water and pulled it up, hoping to have snared a fish or two.
Another group of men were fishing, with long poles, and using a different technique which I found hard to understand from the distance.
The scenery was every changing and fascinating.
The gardens were wonderful - a stand of bamboo here and there, other plants just showing the green foliage emerging as although officially spring started over a month ago, winter had hung around and only now the spring growth is in full swing. Some trees were clearly happy with the spring and were green and fresh.
Seating was dotted along the canal. One man was reading a book, and in another section two men were playing cards. For money. With piles of bank notes beside them. Perhaps they were sharing the profits of their business.
Every now and then I'd come across a special part of the canal gardens - huge stands of petrified wood, steles, tablets with Chinese characters, ponds with lotus emerging with the now smallish leaves reaching up onto the surface of the water. Soon they will cover the water and the lotus will push their way up.
The street sweepers were out - with their little bamboo basket to carry away the rubbish and their brooms of twigs that seem to be the best way to clean the road ways.
I rode for about 6 kms and then back, with the camera in action. There are many more photos. Perhaps for another time.