A paradise on the water

(Beijing Today)
Updated: 2007-01-08 09:36

A famous Chinese saying goes, "Suzhou and Hangzhou are paradise on earth." I've been to Hangzhou and Suzhou, both located in southeast China, multe times. I went to find the clean river, silent courtyards and a moment to dream away, but rushing tourists and rubbish often bothered me. I don't know if I can find a true 'paradise' in the fast developing world a place where all the noises, worries and reconstruction stop, and you're only left with beautiful scenery and highly protected ancient buildings-until I arrived at Nantong, a small city in the north of Jiangsu province.

If you ask a taxi driver in Nantong what not to miss on a short visit, he'll surely point outside and say, "Here, all scenery around the Haohe River." It's no doubt that Nantong is a city on the water. The Haohe River, known as the Emerald Necklace of Nantong, surrounds the old city with a total length of 15km, covering an area of 80 hectares. Used to be a city moat, Haohe River is the only ancient moat in China, which remains intact and lies in the center of the city. In 2005, the Haohe River was awarded the prize the Best Living Environment in Jiangsu province.

Nantong is also known as the 'Museum City.' When you walk along the banks of the Haohe, you'll see how it got the name. Apart from three large museums - Nantong Museum, Nantong Construction Museum and Nantong City Planning Exhibition Center there are as many as 10 small museums located around Haohe River. It's common to see an old courtyard home that, when entered, gives way to flowering courtyards, little dogs, and a full museum. Some museums' names are unique, such as Abacus Museum, blue cloth print museum, kitemuseum and China's first Museum for Textiles. Many of the museums were former residences of Chinese notables who were raised in Nantong, such as Chen Gongshi, a famous Ming doctor Li Fangying, a respected Qing scholar; Zhao Dan, a modern movie artist; and Yang Yue, a modern mathematician.

Nantong's flourishing culture owes a nod to Zhang Jian, the number one scholar and founder of the Qing Dynasty's Chinese modern national industry. also founded museums, libraries, theaters and the first teacher-training schools in China at Nantong, which today has become Nantong University. The Zhang Jian Memorial is located in the center of the Haohe on a scenic spot.

If you're lucky enough to live in a riverside hotel and walk the bank at nightfall, the city becomes even more charming. The colorful lights and sparkling fountains alongside the floating river make the city seem like a dreamland. The noise fades away, and the night is left to young and old lovers walking side by side. According to my friend Xin Yue, a Nantong radio broadcaster, the river is an essential part of citizens' lives, and remains the place where many meet, fall in love and marry. She said Nantong is a city with more than 600 people over 100 years old. With its good climate, comfortable living environment and a long and beautiful river, is it any wonder?

Driving from the center of Nantong towards the south, you'll see five small, green hills beside the Yangtze River: Junshan, Jianshan, Langshan, Ma'anshan and Huangnishan from east to west. Among them, Langshan is the most famous, and is one of China's Eight Lesser Buddhist Mountains.Langshan has many temples. Guangjiao temple, its largest, is dedicated to a Song dynasty monk. The temple was built in 669 AD and has a history longer than a thousand years. Xinyue said that historically, the monk's legendary powers over water demons drew many sailors to pray for protection on their voyages.Lanshan is no higher than 150 meters, but from its summit you can enjoy a spectacular view; the Yangtze River is at the southern foot, a large plain it to the north, and the vast sea sprawls to the east. The hill is dotted with curious, purple stones which has led to its name 'Purple Hill'. Langshan is not only a culture site, but also a health resort. It's not far from downtown Nantong, and a taxi trip costs as little as 20 yuan. The No 22 bus also goes directly.

Nantong airport has only four incoming flights per day. The airport is located in Xindong, 18km from Nantong. One flight goes from Beijing to Nantong every day at 4 pm.

Nantong has two passenger trains to Huaian and Nanjing, Jiangsu Province. If you plan to visit other seaside cities from Nantong, it's a good idea to take a ship or bus. The No 4 bus offers transport to Nantong port, where ships leave regularly bound for Shanghai, Chongqing and Hankou. The Nantong bus station is at No 86, Renmin Xi Lu, and many buses depart from there for cities in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces.

Xinyue said the Nantong railway station is under construction, and the Sutong (Suzhou to Nantong) Bridge over the Yangtze River will open in 2007. While it sounds like good news, the opening of a new railway will bring tourists flocking. Now may be the best chance to enjoy the quiet paradise.


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