Luzhi 甪直 An Authentic Canal Town (more or less): Photo of the Week

Luzhi 甪直

The best day trip from Suzhou 苏州

Luzhi Bridge 甪直镇

The Jiangnan 江南 Region

I have a nostalgic hankering for Jiangnan towns (Jiangnan 江南 means south of the Yangtse River).

Luzhi 甪直镇

I suppose this feeling comes from our first visit to Suzhou and Hangzhou in 1990, when we made an amazing trip along the Grand Canal on a local boat, on the now discontinued service between those two towns.

Luzhi 甪直镇

There was something dreamlike about the mishmash of canals, white buildings, eave roofs, arched bridges and winding cobbled lanes.

Luzhi Bridges (click on photo to enlarge)

In 1990, the Jiangnan towns provided a glimpse into old world China. Back then, local residents still occupied the ancient buildings that lined the canals, and it was possible to stroll the waterfronts and savor a community ambience that had probably existed for centuries.

Luzhi 甪直镇 Old adverts

The onslaught of mass domestic tourism in the 2000’s and the crass commercialism that comes with it has unfortunately put an abrupt end to that picturesque way of life (picturesque for the western traveler at least).

Luzhi 甪直镇 Amazing Jiangnan Architecture

Even until the late 199os, mega cities such as Suzhou, still pocessed a warren of ancient streets where time seemed to have stood still. From the kitchens of beautiful white-washed houses with their decorated doorways and stunning courtyards, smells of garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil wafted out. People lived and worked on the canals as had their ancestors. I can remember spending hours on the bridges watching the river traffic and river markets.

Luzhi Boats (click to enlarge)

In modern day Suzhou, any trace of the past community life along the canals has all but disappeared. In its place, plush restaurants, bars and hotels have sprung up near the historic sites to cater for mass tourism. In the surrounding small historic towns, much of what was local, has been given over to tourism and converted the towns into theme parks and places to buy souvenirs.

Luzhi 甪直镇 No customers

In many Jiangnan towns, the local residents have been evicted from their houses and moved to housing complexes on the outskirts or even further afield. A new breed of entrepreneurs has filled their places setting up shops, restaurants, discos or hotels.

Luzhi 甪直镇 rowers looking for the tourists

You only have to visit pretty but touristy towns of Zhouzhuang and Wuzhen to understand what I am talking about. Improvements in transport and the proximity of the historic towns to huge population centers such as Shanghai, Nanjing and Hangzhou make many of the Jiangnan towns weekend playgrounds for city dwellers.

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