Johor Kaki Travels for Food

Singapore based personal blog of true stories by johorkaki@gmail about best food, people & places around the world

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Seven Days in Amazing Jiangsu - Wonders of the Modern World 令我惊叹的江苏之旅

I was privileged to join a seven day visit programme hosted by Jiangsu Tourism of China. This post is a very brief summary featuring only selected highlights from our memorable 7 day Jiangsu 江苏省 journey.

We covered 7 cities and 30 attractions in Jiangsu. This summary of my first impressions really doesn't do justice to the many, many amazing experiences I had in Jiangsu - for that, I shall be writing separate detailed posts for each of the attractions we visited.

We departed Singapore on a 5 hour red eye flight on a red nose China Eastern plane to Shanghai Pudong Airport. On arrival at Pudong at day break, we were whisked away by coach to Nantong city 南通市 - our first stop.

First things first, we were hosted to a sumptuous and scrumptious lunch at Old Pier Restaurant in Nantong by Jiangsu Tourism to get to know our gracious hosts and also each other.

From our first taste of Jiangsu food, we learnt that Jiangsu is blessed with rivers, lakes, sea and fertile fields which are reflected in its rich cuisine. There were plenty of delicious fish, seafood, chicken, duck, pork, vegetable and grain dishes throughout our 7 day journey. Generally, the dishes were mildly savoury allowing us to taste the fresh ingredients' natural flavours. There were no overpowering flavours and no excessive grease - it's no exaggeration to say that I enjoyed nearly everything I tasted. I will be writing detailed Jiangsu food posts soon.

Our first scenic attraction was Nantong's Langshan 狼山 or Wolf Hill. Guangjiao Temple 广教寺 established in 669 during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907) sits at the peak of Langshan.

From the peak of Langshan which is only 107 metres above the sea, we can get a panoramic view of Nantong city. The tallest building with the pointy roof in the distance is Jinshi International Hotel where we spent our first night in Jiangsu.

I had a splendid view of Nantong city from my 52nd floor room in Jinshi International Hotel. Langshan is on the horizon though we cannot see it in the dark.

Nantong is a tier three city in China with a 7 million population. The city is well planned, very clean and the air is fresh. Nantong cuisine is known throughout China as 天下第一鲜 "Freshest under the Heavens" - a foodie's paradise, which I hope to explore more in the future.

Day 2, we visited Qinhu National Wetland Park in Taizhou 泰州市. Bird watchers will especially love Qinhu as it is the home of many water birds and magpies, hence Qinhu is also known as Magpie Lake 鹊湖.

We were taken in small wooden boats to view the aquatic plants and birds in Qinhu. The boats were rowed by cheerful, incredibly strong senior ladies. Our boat was rowed by the second youngest lady who was 72 years old. She had been rowing boats since she was a teen 😮

After viewing the wetlands, a motorboat took us to see Shengshou Temple. The ancient temple was originally built during the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) but was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution (1966 - 1976). Reconstruction began in 2003 with the 81 metre three sided Medicine Buddha Pagoda completed in 2009. The Medicine Buddha is a healing Buddha who cures sufferings with his teachings.

We then proceeded to Yangzhou 扬州市 for the night. The next morning (Day 3), I took a walk in the streets of Yangzhou and stumbled upon this fascinating fried noodle stall. They were making a form of crispy yee mee 伊麵.

We visited Yangzhou's Slender West Lake 瘦西湖. We felt like royalty as we were treated to a Guzheng 古筝 performance in Xichun Mansion just like the way Qianglong Emperor (1711 - 1799) was entertained over two Millennial ago.

It's a marvel to be able to take a view from Xichun Mansion and enjoy the same beautiful sight as mighty Qianglong Emperor during the heydays of the Qing Dynasty. Qianlong Emperor enjoyed his visit to Slender West Lake so much that he increased the budget allocation to Yangzhou 😮

We visited Yangzhou Arts & Craft Centre 扬州工艺美术大楼 and had the privilege to meet with several master craftsmen at work at the centre.

Among them was a master Chinese lacquerware craftsman. Chinese lacquerware is a 7,000 year old art form where sculptures are made by building it up with layer upon layer of sap from lacquer trees. With each layer, the master craftsman carves intricate designs on the sculpture. This piece which the master craftsman is working on takes two years of painstaking work to complete.

Our next stop was Nanjing 南京, a historic city which I had long wanted to visit. Historic Nanjing was the capital of ten Chinese regimes since the Southern Tang Dynasty (937 - 975). Today's Nanjing is home to 30 million people.

The bustling tree lined streets of Nanjing Fuzimiao 南京夫子廟 at night. The Fuzimiao area is popular with locals and tourists who filled the streets to sight see, shop and eat at the numerous shops and restaurants here.

In the morning of Day 4, we visited Nanjing's historic Bao'en Temple 大報恩寺. The ancient temple originally built during the Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) was destroyed in wars through the ages and was rebuilt several times in its history.

Today's cultural centre and tower were built at the ruins of the ancient temple. Construction started in 2010 and the cultural centre opened in 2015. The glass tower is the modern interpretation of Bao'en Temple's unique Porcelain Tower 琉璃塔.

We lunched at Nanjing's famous 南京大排档 Nanjing Impressions restaurant. The restaurant was full house with a long queue waiting outside. The atmosphere inside was amazing and the traditional local dishes were delicious - mildly savoury with fresh ingredient flavours. If you are visiting Nanjing, you need to check in at 南京大排档 Nanjing Impressions.

After lunch, we visited another jaw dropping mega cultural attraction - 牛首山 Niushou Mountain. In the background is the 88 metre tall Usnisa Pagoda.

The large dome of the Usnisa Palace covers a smaller dome inside.

Inside the dome on the ground level is Chan State Scenery (Zen view) 禅境大观 with a 7.5 metre Reclining Buddha on a slowly rotating lotus platform.

The sanctuary, Great Usnisa Hall 舍利大殿 is deep underground. We took several escalators to get down 6 levels to the Hall. I can't help but be awestruck by the 360° visual spectacle surrounding me. The impart of the grand design and intricate details is impossible to describe with words. You got to experience it for yourself.

After Niushou mountain, we proceeded to Changzhou. Here we stayed at the unique 常州东方盐湖城 Changzhou Oriental Salt Lake City which is modelled after a typical lake town in ancient China.

A walk around town at night after everyone had gone to bed was really therapeutic - a good break from the breakneck pace of the last four days. I felt I was taken back in time many thousand years.

The next day (Day 5), we watched street performances around town like it was in ancient China. The weather was really hot under the blazing sun, so the umbrella armed photo bomber brigade was out in full force 😂

In the afternoon, we went to the Grand Buddha at Ling Shan 灵山大佛 in Wuxi. The 65 metre tall Buddha at Lingshan is made wholly of copper. Devotees worship Buddha with incense before proceeding to climb the steps to Buddha's feet. The Buddha palm in the foreground is the exact same size as the palm on the 65 metre Buddha statue. This is the largest Buddha palm in the world now.

It is the custom to press one's palms at Buddha's feet and make a wish.

Adults worship the modern way - with their handphones. Lingshan has a huge fountain honouring the Child Buddha.

Children worship the traditional way (by collecting water blessed by the Child Buddha). The old adapting to technology and the young embracing tradition - that's the China I saw during this visit.

The sheer size and grandeur of the sanctuary at Lingshan 灵山大佛 is awe inspiring.

We spent the night at Nian Hua Wan 灵山小镇·拈花湾 which was modelled after a Tang Dynasty town with Zen design. There are lots of gift shops, cafes, restaurants, boutiques etc.

Nian Hua Wan is famous for its amazing light shows at night.

From Changzhou, our next stop (Day 6) was Suzhou 苏州市. This was my second time in Suzhou but the only thing I remember of my last trip was everything was rained out. This time, I was second time (and doubly) lucky - temperature was at least 33℃ 😅

Suzhou is a city of canals and is often referred to as the "Venice of the East". But, in fact, Suzhou was founded half a Millennial before it's European counterpart. We visited 同里古镇 Tongli which is a typical, old water town in Suzhou.

We lunched at the century old South Garden Teahouse 南园茶社 (established 1889). The teahouse was breezy and bright with large windows on three sides. In the old days, guests come here to enjoy tea with the Spring breeze. The traditional Suzhou dishes here were nice too.

Suzhou is also about its splendid gardens with tea pavilions, sheltered walkways, shady willows and serene lotus ponds teeming with Chinese carp. Our guide told us that there are over 60 such gardens surviving today in Suzhou.

We visited Humble Administrator's Garden 拙政园, the largest garden in Suzhou (13 acres or 7 soccer fields). Built during the Southern Song Dynasty, it was acquired and rebuilt in 1513 by Wang Xiancheng. Wang was a Ming Dynasty high official who decided to retire back to his hometown prematurely, blaming himself for being inept in politics.

Can you see that pagoda in the distance? That's Ruiguang Pagoda in Pan Men Garden which is beyond the boundary of the Humble Administrator's Garden 拙政园. It's a clever, but rather common technique in garden design in ancient China known as 借景 or "borrow scenery" i.e. incorporating beauty from beyond one's property in garden design.

We spent the night at Pan Pacific Suzhou. As Pan Pacific Suzhou is just beside Panmen 盘门, I took the opportunity to sneak in another Suzhou garden before our flight in the afternoon.

The Ruiguang Pagoda in Panmen is Suzhou's oldest tower, originally built by King of Wu in 247 during the Spring and Autumn period of the Three Kingdoms. The present Ruiguang Pagoda was rebuilt in 1344. This was the same pagoda that we saw from Humble Administrator's Garden, the previous day i.e. the borrowed pagoda.

Serene pond view with my back to Ruiguang Pagoda.

All too soon, our seven days in amazing Jiangsu was complete. We transferred from Suzhou to Pudong, Shanghai airport for the flight to Singapore. I was so excited to share my Jiangsu experience with you that I drafted this post on the 5 hour flight from Shanghai to Singapore. In my books, the mega sites I experienced during the tour are wonders of the modern world.

I wish I could be back in Jiangsu soon, to explore more of its marvellous cities, food, attractions, meet its people etc. Jiangsu is really a world class destination, an amazing place to enrich our minds, make memories, friends, and have great fun all at once.

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