Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Luzhi (水鄉古鎮甪直) at night

I found out from Y that Luzhi (甪直) is only about 30 minutes by car from the Xian Jiaotung University - University of Liverpool Conference Center in Suzhou, where I was teaching over the weekend.  On Saturday evening, after class, I went over there with some of my students.

Luzhi is one of those old water towns, such as 同里, 周庄, that have become quite famous, for their waterways, bridges, and old houses.  During the day, I was told, there are lots of tourists.  At night, it was quiet and peaceful.  The only significant noise was made by a family having a funeral.  Monks were praying there when we passed them on the way in, around 8PM.  When we passed them again on the way out, around 10PM, the monks were replaced by people playing mahjong.  According to the custom, the family have to stay up through the night.  Perhaps playing mahjong is a good way to stay awake. 

Through some of the half-closed windows and doors, we could see some people were living in those houses along the river.  There were clothes hanging inside, some people were cooking, ...   But most of the houses seem to have been converted into restaurants, souvenirs shops, etc.   Most people have moved out of the old town.  During the day, they come back to the old town to man the shops.  The few people that we saw in those houses were likely to be house-keepers.

We found an old house belonging to the richest man in the Ming Dynasty, 沈萬三.  He was the rich man in the fable 聚寶盆.  He was so rich that the Ming Emperor (朱元璋) became jealous.  Half of 沈萬三 ‘s wealth was confiscated, and he was exiled to Yunan (雲南).  The man is long gone, even though his houses remain. 

While we were strolling along the river, we were suddenly dazzled by the bright lights illuminating a grand entrance, just across the narrow waterway from the row of humble old houses.  Inside the gate is a huge park, with numerous buildings in the distinctive Suzhou style of white walls and black sloped roofs.  It was obviously newly built.   So there is no escape for 甪直. It is also turning into a commercialized tourist attraction like 同里, 周庄.

Later I found that 甪直 is also the hometown of 蕭芳芳.

According to my dictionary, 甪 was derived from 角, and is pronounced like 鹿 in Cantonese.   It is still an interesting place, with a storied past, and great atmosphere, even though it is fast becoming less and less interesting. 

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