Home to about four million people, Yangzhou is a small city by Chinese standards. Legend has it Marco Polo once served as a municipal officer to the city, however not a shred of evidence exists to confirm this – except for some questionable notes in a supposed diary which he allegedly wrote in prison.
It is about an hour and half away from Shanghai with the fast train (First Class tickets est $24) and an hour from Nanjing, famous for the 1937 Nanjing Massacre when the Japanese mass murdered and raped more than a quarter of a million civilians. Nanjing is also famous for being the ancient capital of China and for a brief period between 1911 to 1949 until the Communist Party decided to move the capital to Beijing.
On a happier note, Yangzhou is growing fast with three leading industries achieving substantial development; the petrochemical industry, transportation equipment industry and electromechanical equipment industry. It also lies on the Yangzte river, the third longest river in the world which makes it an important area for shipbuilding. It’s not the greatest city for tourism, but it’s the archetype of industrial China, the ‘real’ China.
I met a few foreigners who worked in factories in Yangzhou – a couple of Italians; Paolo, Mario, Dario and a French guy Karim. I also met a Western Australian character, Ronnie who not surprisingly owned and ran the local pub – ‘Ronnie’s’.
Ronnie, who I hope won’t mind me sharing, is an ex-heroin addict turned alcoholic who ended up in China by mistake after getting out of prison roughly ten years ago. He married a Chinese lady who now makes pies and sausage rolls which he sells and advertises to customers as ‘Ronnie’s Sausage Roll’ and ‘Ronnie’s Homemade Australian Pie’, even though it is clearly his wife who does all the cooking.
Admittedly, the pies are not great but the sausage rolls are one hundred per cent spot on. I would hesitate to think of a better sausage roll than Ronnie’s.
There is also another Western establishment in Yangzhou by the name of The Brewery owned by Alex, a Canadian born Chinese. The Brewery makes it’s own beer and sells it at a considerably extortionate price. A few days after having arrived in Yangzhou, the staff manager of the Brewery, Lily took me out to see the old town.
The old town is wrapped around one side of where the Yangtze meanders and is probably the city’s most interesting area to visit for it’s old gardens, houses and authentic ‘street-food’.
At first I was hesitant to eat food from dodgy looking stalls but soon after realised food in China becomes so quickly consumed as a result of the whopping population that it would be difficult to order something that has gone off.
So I ate away. Luckily Yangzhou is in the Jiangsi province where they do not eat ‘everything’ as they do in other parts of China, though I am pretty sure I ate some deep fried toad on my last day. The food is not spicy but more on the sweet side, which was a bit of a let down to be honest.
The old town is also a great place to observe Chinese traffic. There are literally no rules on the roads; everyone drives in whichever lane they chose and it is not unusual to be caught in the wrong side of the road. Drivers never indicate but do honk to let others know they are coming, as you can imagine it is a never ending ruckos. As chaotic as it seemed, there is a surprisingly low number of road accidents. Perhaps there is some kind of a system to the chaos after all, though it was certainly not obvious at the time.
Best time to go: Summer
Sights: Old Town, The Brewery, Ronnie’s, Shouxi Lake, Heyuan Garden