The woman in the seat behind me on the train has taken off her mock-patent leather high heels and slipped into a much more comfortable pair of gigantic plush Minnie Mouse slippers for the two hour journey from Shanghai to Shao Xing, home to famous rice wine. She’s looking forward to having two days off to relax and enjoy herself, starting now with her slippers. I love leaving Shanghai for the weekend too, to see somewhere new. I love pulling up at Shanghai South Railway Station on a Friday afternoon, jostling through the weekend crowds to get to the waiting room, and then the mad pushing, shoving rush on to the train, despite all of us having pre-assigned seats.
When we arrive in Shao Xing, it’s raining. Hard. Typhoon Megi is off the coast far, far away and so we’re in for a wet, wet weekend. Shao Xing is an ancient trading town with a network of water canals and flagstone streets, and with the atmosphere of a big village despite its population being similar to Sydney.
Today, as we wander the narrow canal-side lanes in the wet, I see a rainbow procession of dripping umbrellas everywhere I look, and below each umbrella is a happy red face. When Chinese people visit a new place they always try the local specialties, be it hairy crabs or ginger candies or mountain tea. In Shao Xing the local specialty is the rice wine, mellow, smooth and warming; so even tee-totallers may decide to have a glass at one of the many wineshops as they enjoy the local ambience. The wine shops are filled with enormous stone pitchers of aged wine, and shelf after shelf of small decorative bottles in fancy boxes, for gifts. When Chinese people drink wine it tends to turn their faces red, and so the town is filled with cheery, flushed tourists all having a great time. Even though it’s pouring and we’re all drenched, we’re happy. I like a town dedicated to enjoying yourself.