Qibao Old Town
One hour, 20 stops and 2 metro lines away, we left our comfy modern apartments to travel back in time and visit a little piece of history in this new city that is becoming home. Qibao was built during the Northern Song Dynasty over 1000 years ago.
It is crazy to see how just by walking a few blocks I can go from a bustling metro station to walking through a large gate adorned with Chinese characters that I have no idea how to read. The town has definitely grown to be a bit more modern, but you can still see all of the architecture of old buildings that are crumbling away, bridges over waterways that are still in use, a temple that was still being visited by local residents, and of course, my favorite part, the street food.
When you first walk up, there is not much there, but turn one corner, and you find yourself being carried away by a crowd of people down a tiny narrow walkway lined with shops full of traditional chinese trinkets and modern souvenirs. You can get yourself a personalized Chinese comb, some incense, or maybe an antique looking locket. Even traditional robes and gowns are available to purchase off the rack or customizable.
Let the crowd continue to carry you, because once you reach the end, you are opened up to a square full of all sorts of food being freshly made right before your eyes. And why not start with some octopus on a stick? You can even find hot steam buns that look like ducks, penguins, and other fun fruits and animals. What I am regretting not trying were what I recognized as quail eggs. But they were being stored in what looked like a concrete dome lined with salt. I did not see anyone actually eating them, but they were buying them.
Followed by Xiaolongbao, which to me sounds like they are saying tongue bow. A soft dough filled with a steaming hot soup and your choice of meat or vegetable. The keep food easy to eat while on the move, pretty much everything else is served on a stick. Chicken, chicken wings, sausage, shrimp, octopus, tofu, even some full size bird that I couldn't identify could be carried away on a stick so you can keep looking at everything surrounding you. Or you can do what I did, stand on a bridge for a while, let some random Chinese toddler hold your hand, and watch the boats pass by.
Just standing on the bridge, watching the boats, watching the people, I was able to think for a while. I am on the other side of the world, but in some ways it is so similar. There are people to love to play and be silly. There are families who are connecting. There are people who are working. There are parents disciplining. There are couples romancing. Even though the cultures may change, the human instincts for socialization are so similar.
China may be a foreign place for me, but when I look at the heart of what everyone is doing, I am able to find the moments that make it feel like home.