China - Tongli

Tongli was a bet we took in the last couple of days of our trip to china, and at first I was less than reluctant to take a touristic bustrip to yet another city which calls herself "the venice of the east"
As we come from Bangkok, which is known as , wait for it, "venice of the east" it was a double jeopardy, but we decided to take that bet, and were pleasantly surprised.

Canals are always an attraction, and always bring a certain charm with them, an old world romantic feel of slower times, before cars, before asphalt took over our lives, and tongli does not disappoint.

It is the ordinary charm of tongli that makes it special, that makes it remarkable. Without doubt the existence of this small town is based entirely on tourism but it is not a glitzy made-up touristic attraction with canal theme park as one would expect.

No, it is a small and modest lovely town, with the laundrey still hanging over the rooftops, and old bicycle in the front yard and people walking slowly and peacefully to one of the beautiful walled gardens around town.



there is something peaceful about water, about being close to water, something surreal, animalistic, some primal feeling that we are close to the watering hole, close to the oasis, to the spring, and you can feel that magic as you walk through this old city.

When we saw the old lady making a big show out of her fishing cormorans in front of the canal-side restaurant we smiled to ourselves , but half an hour later in the outskirts of town we were pleasantly surprised to see locals using their cormorans to fish their dinner, and realized that we might be tourists here, but this is not a show.

There are a couple of interesting local museums to go through, the china sex museum not being one of them. Not that the china sex museum sounded very tempting to begin with but still, the locals directed us there for some reason.


No, the best museums there are the smaller open houses situated in old residential buildings and villas, and manage to maintain that unkempt simple look you would expect from a small offbeat Chinese canal town.

The beautiful thing about small towns like Tongli is that a day of walking around the town center gives you a complete slice of life as it happens, of the relationships between the characters, the passing of time, the idle chit chat, the small commerce.

You just need to open your eyes and this whole magical microcosms of Chinese day to day existence is weaved especially for you.

There were a  couple of 'dead' hours in our tour as at some points we just gave in to the cool shade and the water running below and had to sit down for a bit and let our minds adjust to this different rhythm and vibrations of the watery street. 

Some of our popular stops in our journey were the small stone bridges criss crossing the canal system. old stable big stones arcing their way above the passing boats, stone arcs that just call you to lean on them for a second, breath in the fresh air, stop everything you do or think about and just be. there. Right then. It was as if the whole town is an extension of one of its stone garden temples, with the canals serving as energy lines bringing this relaxed mindset throughout the town.



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