Coun­try liv­ing

A vil­lage in Zhe­jiang’s cel­e­brated Wuzhen wa­ter town has been rein­vented as a tourism at­trac­tion that prof­fers a pas­toral charm. Yang Feiyue ex­plores this ru­ral re­treat.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - Con­tact the writer at yangfeiyue@chi­nadaily.com.cn

A vil­lage in Zhe­jiang’s cel­e­brated Wuzhen wa­ter town has been rein­vented as a tourist at­trac­tion that of­fers pas­toral charm.

Green fields and white­walled farm­houses with black-shin­gled rooftops color Wu­cun’s agrar­ian al­lure.

It’s a land where rice pad­dies and wooden fences em­anate from a vast lake.

Farm­ers in straw hats plant, tend to and har­vest crops.

The vil­lage sad­dles up against the an­cient Grand Canal that con­nects Bei­jing to Zhe­jiang’s provin­cial cap­i­tal, Hangzhou. Boats bob along the wa­ter­way.

Wu­cun is the newest at­trac­tion in Wuzhen, a wa­ter town whose canals have long lured trav­el­ers from around the world. But while Qing Dy­nasty (1644-1911) ar­chi­tec­ture re­mains the main at­trac­tion for Wuzhen’s Xizha and Dongzha ar­eas, Wu­cun’s ap­peal is pas­toral.

Vis­i­tors im­merse them­selves in farm life. They can grow veg­eta­bles, catch fish and col­lect wa­ter cal­trops amid stun­ning scenery.

It mostly at­tracts par­ents with chil­dren, says Wuzhen Tourism Co’s brand­ing man­ager, Xu Hong.

Kids can get close to na­ture and ap­pre­ci­ate food be­fore it reaches the ta­ble— and after.

Pack­ages cost­ing 880 yuan ($130) per night cover meals, ac­com­mo­da­tion, lo­cal trans­porta­tion and in­ter­ac­tive ac­tiv­i­ties. The price drops to 220 yuan with­out ac­com­mo­da­tion.

Vis­i­tors can se­lect pro­grams ac­cord­ing to their in­ter­ests. In­deed, there seems to be some­thing for ev­ery­one.

Ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude paper-fold­ing, scare­crow-mak­ing, cock­tail and cof­fee classes, and an­i­mal feed­ing.

Ath­letic types can en­joy pro­grams fea­tur­ing shut­tle­cock, archery and bad­minton. Win­ners get prizes. Morn­ings of­fer cal­is­then­ics, 2-kilo­me­ter jogs and tai chi ses­sions in the vil­lage square, which also hosts group dances.

Wu­cun’s small zoo also serves as a venue for tourists to com­pete on three-player soc­cer teams and to play ta­ble ten­nis.

Cy­clists can rent bikes to wheel around the vil­lage’s perime­ter.

Cul­tural types can play xi­angqi (Chi­nese chess), take hand­i­craft lessons and learn how to per­form with waist drums, which lo­cal peo­ple tra­di­tion­ally do to cel­e­brate bumper har­vests.

There are old-film screen­ings, read­ing ac­tiv­i­ties and bonfire par­ties.

Vis­i­tors can fish for lob­sters, har­vest crops and learn how to cook dishes like lo­cal farm­ers un­der their tute­lage.

“We’ve hired over 40 farm­ers to run farming ac­tiv­i­ties,” Xu says.

“After all, who knows farming bet­ter than farm­ers?”

This has boosted lo­cal em­ploy­ment, she says.

Zhu Xinfu teaches farm­ers to plant and man­ages ship­ments of food sur­pluses be­tween Wu­cun and the rest of Wuzhen.

He starts at 7 amand fin­ishes at 5 pm.

The 51-year-old’s skin is baked by the sun, and he’s clad in a thread­bare shirt and trousers.

“There’s more work than be­fore,” Zhu says. “And more in­come.” The lo­cal govern­ment helped him build a three-story house on a 120-square-me­ter plot near Wu­cun after tak­ing his old home in the vil­lage three years ago.

He lives with his wife, child and mother. The fam­ily rents out part of the house.

He says he’s happy with his bet­ter stan­dard of liv­ing.

Qian Ziqiang, who also works in the tourism area after he was re­lo­cated, echoes Zhu’s sen­ti­ments.

His new home stands at the vil­lage’s en­trance.

“I’m not work­ing for money but to do some­thing with my life,” the 67-year-old says, while feed­ing cows, sheep and fowl.

“Do­ing noth­ing would be bor­ing.”

None of the old houses have been torn down, claims Wuzhen Tourism Co’s pres­i­dent, Chen Xianghong.

Many build­ings have been ren­o­vated but their ba­sic struc­tures have been main­tained, he says.

Fish­ponds and trees have also been pro­tected, he says.

Many for­mer farm­houses ap­pear to be crum­bling from the out­side, but their in­te­ri­ors are com­pa­ra­ble to starred ho­tels, re­plete with ru­ral­style fur­ni­ture.

The vil­lage can ac­com­mo­date nearly 300 guests at a time. For now.

“We hope (peo­ple) visit for more than a meal in a build­ing that re­sem­bles a farm­house, but in­stead stay to im­merse them­selves in the cul­ture.”

That is, to truly ex­pe­ri­ence coun­try liv­ing.

PHO­TOS BY YANG FEIYUE / CHINA DAILY

Tourists visit Wu­cun for its pas­toral ap­peal. The vil­lage in the fa­mous wa­ter town Wuzhen in Zhe­jiang province has been de­vel­oped into a tourist at­trac­tion that brings city peo­ple close to na­ture, and they can en­joy fresh food di­rectly from the fields.

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