Travel Report: Zhujiayu, China.
July 2009. I’ve seen a fair bit of China over the years. Over all my extended travels, I can’t think of a more raw and authentic destination than the time machine village of Zhujiayu (pronounced joo-gee-aye-oo). Located in Shandong province, some 80km outside the concrete jungle of Jinan, arriving here literally feels like landing in the past.
With barely three hundred residents, one school, a lone shop and two guesthouses, I found myself instantly charmed. That’s all very well you may say, but what is there to do? In all honesty the answer is… not much. People come here to unwind, hence the local entertainment consists of nothing more than a stroll around the village and its surrounds. And with crumbling walls, historical buildings, Ming dynasty bridges and lush countryside, the chilling out process is rapid.
Zhujiayu is one of the most laid back places I’ve ever seen. Nothing sums it up better than this old man, who we bumped into during our village walk. Lord only knows how long he’d been sitting there. If I had to guess, I’d say quite some time. Greeting us with a warm smile, he seemed as amused by us as we were by him. Wall man, as I affectionately dubbed him, went on to become a daily feature of our stay in the village.
Stumbling across this imposing mural of Chairman Mao came as quite a surprise. Erected back in 1966, we found the painting much faded after decades of hard rains and burning hot summers. Fittingly, and I have no idea if this was pure coincidence or by design, Mao’s beaming smile determinedly forces its way through the haze.
A walk around the village doesn’t take long and before you know it the trail takes you out into some stunning countryside. Cue fields of blooming flowers, thick forest, freshwater streams and meandering creeks flowing down the surrounding mountains. There’s also Zhujiayu’s one attraction, Kuixing Pavilion. Perched atop a modest hill, climbing the path up to its base veranda isn’t too taxing and can be done in less than ten minutes.
Work your way up to the top floor, stopping at several Buddhist shrines along the way. At some point you’ll meet the custodian, who’ll encourage you to ring the pavilion bell. This, in addition to rubbing the sides of a magical brass bowl of water, is said to give you a blessing for life. At the summit there are fine views and, just as it was during our visit, you’re likely to have the place all to yourself.
For a deeper insight into my Zhujiayu adventures have a look at my short stories The City and the Village Part I and The City and the Village Part II. Both tales come from my series Challenged In China.
You can also take a peek at my other reports from around Shandong Province.
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