The old town of Jianshui is a wonderful labyrinth of cobbled streets, lined with old wooden houses (finally!) and with several touristic attactions.
Jianshui may be in Yunnan, that most un-Chinese of Chinese provinces, but it has been a Chinese administrative centre for a very long time. And it shows; this is not the casual, Southeast Asian feel we have come to appreciate, but very much China as we knew it 20 years ago. There is a city gate, in fact a few gates, but the main one, Chaoyang Lou, is like so many gates we have seen before, so recognisably China. Also recognisable: the birds in small cages, that are being taken out by their mostly fairly old owners, perhaps to be sold, or perhaps just to meet other birds – cages are happily put together to see if the birds will sing to each other. Other older people, predominantly men, but also women, are playing cards, majong, or a form of checkers, surrounded by lookers-on who comment on the progress of the game.
The old town of Jianshui is a wonderful collection of well-restored, and some less-well-restored, old houses, many in use as shops or restaurants, or indeed, as our hotel. Wooden doors and windows are encased in brick walls, covered by the traditionally tiled roofs, many of which sport a grass landscape of their own. Drawings adorn many a house, some restored and others only faintly visible. A small Buddhist temple – the Chinese Buddhism again – is half-hidden behind an entrance, through which the smoke and the smell of incense gives away its purpose. Elsewhere a larger temple is being restored, so far closed to the public, but by navigating our way through a building site – here, too, construction is never far away, albeit less invasive than in what we have seen so far – we manage to gain a glimpse inside, including that of an attractive pagoda.
The biggest temple complex in town is a Confucian Academy, a large expanse including a pond with the inevitable pavilion in the middle, some landscaped gardens, and several nice temple buildings. In front of the complex, next to the statue of the man himself, lots of people enjoy themselves with games of cards. And inside, too. We have to pay an entrance ticket, but the pensioners, waving a little red booklet, have free access. Carrying folding chairs and a rolled up Chinese checkers board, they make their way to the side of the pond, where many others have already gathered for their afternoon entertainment. Some are playing, others watching the games – and loudly commenting on what, and what not to do next. Still others are content just talking, and observing the passers-by.
But the real gem is the Zhu Family Gardens, in the middle of the old town. Built in the 19th Century by a rich merchant, they have survived the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s, because the family, apparently, was adapt in choosing the right side early on. Rather than gardens, this is a lovely complex of small, inter-connected courtyards each surrounded by wooden pavilions, decorated with lanterns, and with delicate paintings and calligraphy. Immaculately maintained flowers beds provide further colour to this really charming place.
All together Jianshui is a wonderful place to spend the day, which is exactly what we did. Never mind that here, for the first time, we encounter quite a lot more tourists, and many more foreigners, in one day than we have seen the entire trip in China, so far.