Unless you speak and read sufficient mandarin, and have access to a car, it’s difficult to get off the beaten track in China.
This is why we were thrilled when our Chinese friend Edmund invited us to his hometown, Panan. Upon Googling the town, Wikipedia wasn’t very useful.
The story of how we met Edmund is not your average tale. It was one day after a heavy night of drinking that Mitch and I craved a pizza. We hadn’t been in China very long, so with my limited Chinese, I headed to Pizza Hut (Mitch was too hungover to make the 10-minute walk). As the guy at the till gave me pizza, he asked me where I was from (in English), and struck up a brief conversation with me. He asked if we could be friends as he had no foreign friends. I said yes and the rest is history.
His English name is Edmund. Since our first meeting, we’ve met up occasionally for dinner. He’s great at showing us good places to eat and helping us with our Chinese, but we mainly converse in English so he can practice.
We had a few days off school for the Dragon Boat Festival and so Edmund invited us to his hometown. His parents picked us up from Hangzhou and we drove three and a half hours to his hometown of Panan.
The first port of call was his Grandma’s house for lunch. Some of Edmund’s other family were there and they all helped to prepare a wonderful traditional Chinese lunch. They insisted we try their homemade rice wine and baijiu, after which, I felt a bit tipsy and tired.
That afternoon and the following day, Edmund had planned a jam-packed itinerary for us.
Wulongxia Scenic Area
Nestled in the mountains surrounding Panan is Wulongxia scenic area. Walking trails with overhanging trees and rocks merge with streams and some impressive waterfalls. The whole area is huge but we managed to see a large part of it. It was a wonderful contrast to Hangzhou, to have some fresh air and mountainous scenery.
Blueberry Picking in XuXi
On Saturday morning, we started our day picking Blueberries in XuXi. Blueberries are rarely grown in China, meaning this blueberry picking spot was very popular. You can pick them for free but then have to pay by weight to take them away with you (for a rather expensive price!). I’ve never picked fruit before so it was a really wonderful experience. It was a gloriously sunny day and it felt good to be with nature. We were also the first foreigners to ever visit (definitely off the beaten track eh?). The owner wanted to take a photo of us there and as we agreed, then he said we could keep all of our blueberries for free. Very kind! He told us to tell our foreigner friends… So if you ever have a car in Zhejiang Province, you know where to go!
The name sums it up quite well. A small village where the houses have been covered in graffiti. Some of it is very impressive, and we took the opportunity to tell Edmund about Banksy. The people who still live in the village seem to make their living from tourism now. They have little stands selling hats, ice cream, toys for children.
Cold Mountain Lake
Hangzhou boasts the infamous and vast West Lake. Cold Mountain Lake is a much smaller, secluded lake hidden within the mountains surrounding Panan. For this reason, when we stopped here briefly on our day trip, it was so peaceful and relaxing. It reminded me how diverse China’s landscape is, to find this hidden lake nestled in the heart of the countryside.
Flowers in BeiQiao
Our final stop for the day was visiting a village with lots of flowers. Purple and white were the dominant colours. As you walk around, there are various good spots to take photos of the beautiful fields. The small village planted all the flowers to try and bring tourism to the town. You can also buy some fresh soya milk. Mitch had a go at grinding it and said it was pretty damn difficult.
We were hot and tired, so we headed back to Panan. We had a local dish for dinner and then spent the evening in a cafe, where Edmund tried to teach us Chinese chess. Of course, he was much better than us and the names of the pieces are not only in Chinese but in traditional Chinese (the Chinese symbols used now have been modified). Needless to say, Mitch and I were hopeless. So we played a universal game, poker. I haven’t played in about 8 years, but I beat them both… If only we were playing with real money!
It was a jam-packed couple of days but so wonderful. At our last evening meal, we toasted our beers to “friendship”, and it seemed like a very fitting toast. Thank you, Edmund, for a fantastic couple of days.