An Island in the Sun (Shengsi County, Zhejiang Province, China)

Sometimes you just need a break from big city life and need a rest. Then you´re probably looking forward to breathing fresh air, dreaming about listening to the waves and enjoying good food. That´s exactly what I was looking for after a couple of weeks living in Shanghai. I wanted to go somewhere green. That´s when I heard about Shengsi Island and decided to go there with a Taiwanese friend and some of his friends.

We met at Nanpu Bridge in the early morning to get some tickets fort he bus tot he port of Shanghai and the Ferry to the island. You won´t believe how huge Shanghai actually is until you realize it takes about four hours by bus only to get to the port and you still haven´t really left the city and it´s outskirts. It was interesting, I knew that Shengsi was quite popular among locals but still pretty much unknown among westerners, but I didn´t expect to be the only European on the bus.

Most people in China still can not afford to travel abroad and if you´re leaving the major tourist areas you´ll meet people who´ve never seen a laowai before except on TV. It will often happen to you that people will try to talk to you and want to learn about you´re country and whether you´ve travelled and what the places you´ve seen are like. It often happened to me that someone asked me to exchange WeChat contacts and become friends. That´s pretty much what happened to me in the boat to Shengsi. A young girl from Suzhou was sitting next to me and we talked a while. She was very friendly and offered me tob e my guide if I ever come to Suzhou, which was actually still on my list of places I wanted to see in China.

After arriving on the Island we took a bus to go downtown and another bus to a village in the south east. Shengsi Island is becoming more and more touristy but don´t expect anyone to speak English. On my first trip I was happy to be travelling with a group of locals, otherwise I would have been lost since I didn´t speak any Chinese. On my second trip to this place basic Chinese helped me a lot not to get lost.

I was amazed when we arrived at the hostel my friend booked. It was a place called Nine Birds´ Home quite far from the islands main settlement. Shengsi itself already looked a lot like every other developing city in China. Huge concrete towers were growing on wide streets and you could see that someone had huge plans fort he developing tourism on this island. The construction site of the first huge holiday resort and hotel on this island was a clear sign that this place wouldn´t stay so calm for much longer. However… we were a couple of kilometres away from the city and the hostel was at a street between two villages by the sea, Huichhengaocun and Wulongxian. The island is pretty narrow at this place, so it takes you five minutes walking tot he village by the north shore and five tot he south shore of the island, maybe even less. Since our place was on a hill and had some really nice balconies and a terrace to sit on it was a great view to see Wulongxian painted in tones of yellow and the sea from there. But we didn´t stay for too long and took a walk to , which was supposed to have some restaurants and a beach. We walked along the road and enjoyed the view until we arrived some terraces were vegetables were growing. The path there was roughly going the direction we wanted to go, so we followed it and walked through the village Daihuangsha. It didn´t take long until we arrived at another road and came to a ship yard where men were fixing rusty, old fish trawlers. We passed that place after taking some photos and soo arrived the place were we hoped to get some food. We walked around for some minutes and tried to find a good place to have some lunch. People were selling plastic toys by the beach and a couple of families were on the beach, not bathing or tanning, but some children were playing in the wet sand.

Our choice were seafood noodles. Have you ever tried to eat a noodle soup with chop sticks? If you´re not a chop stick pro it´ll definately be a challenge, especially with fish, prawns and mussels in it. It was definitely worth the effort and one oft he tastiest dishes I had in China. Since the others wanted to go the beach later I had to get some flipflops or Havainas somewhere after lunch and made a real bargain in the shop next to the restaurant, AFitch flipflops for not even 30 kuai, which is less than 3 Euros. Sure they´re fake, but they do what they are supposed to do and I still have them.

After lunch we took some time to walk around in this small town and went to a temple that I wouldn´t even have seen if my friends wouldn´t have told me for. There was also a small park or rather a flower garden nearby and a square with an old boat in the middle. What I liked most were the colourful walls of the buildings here. People painted it with all kinds of pictures. Some were rather abstract others were more in the style of comic books.

Since we all were full from our lunch, we went back tot he hostel and got our swimming clothes and towels to go to the beach in Huichengaocun. When we went along the road to the blue and white painted settlement with a small wharf we passed women repairing fishing nets spread along the road. My friends asked them what they were doing and thus one of the women on this road showed us the net and how to repair it. I wondered why the buildings were all having their entrances facing the hill and not the beach and I was told that it´s supposed to bring luck to your house and the people living in it when the front oft he house is to the south. The beach was empty except another group and we started to take some photos oft he village and the sea. I can´t really recommend the Yellow Sea for swimming, at least not here, so close to Shanghai and the mouth the Huang Pu. The water was so full of sediment from the river that it was brownish and didn´t really feel very liquid when I was in there. It was rather thick and had a certain viscosity, some dirt and rubbish was swimming around in the water and you couldn´t see anything through the water. I didn´t really mind, it was warm, I was by the sea and so my friend Leho and I jumped in. You should know that things like swimming in the sea and tanning are not really popular in China. My friends told me most people in China don´t really know how to swim and also people don´t like being tanned, since it rather idientifies you as someone from the working class. To have white and bright skin is much more fashionable since it says you don´t have to do any physically hard work outside in the sun and heat.

After taking more photos of us and the sunset we returned to the hostel, had a shower and went downstairs to have dinner. We had ordered the sea food dinner for all of us and I was definitely in for a surprise when I saw the dishes being served. There were plates with prawns, fish, mussels and even a crab for everyone of us, all freshly caught by local fishermen just some hours ago. It was a feast and I learned how to open and eat a crap and I couldn´t really decide which of all those meals was the tastiest. Since it was already night and everything around us was very calm we decided to grab some more beers and go to one of the girls´ room to play cards until we called it a day.

The next day was a sunday and we had to leave the island in the afternoon to be back for work on Monday. Thus we got up early, at about four in the morning, to see the sunrise over the bay and the village, but unfortunately we couldn´t find a really good spot to see it. We came back for breakfast and talked with the others about what to do that day. Since some of us wanted to see the nearby town and and a temple halfway to the harbour, we split up in two groups. We walked down to the yellow town I talked about earlier and there we could see the same picture as on the other side oft he island. The village was basically almost deserted, most houses were empty and abandoned since there wasn´t a lot of work on the island and most young people left the towns living on tourism and fishing to find work in the big city. You should know that China is basically still a developing country, there were toilets and public showers in a small building, but don´t expect every house in the countryside to be supplied with modern infrastructure. We passed some open houses and could look inside. In one house there was a man cooking something, not on a stove but on gas cooker in the middle of his empty living room on the bare concrete floor. Normally you see cables hanging between houses to supply them with electricity but there was no cables going to this one. The man was old and showed us his almost toothless smile when we passed him, but you coul see in his face and eyes that he could tell many stories about the hard life at a place like this.

We left the town using a small path going the road from our hostel to a scenic area at a bay. Well, if you ever read any sign telling you there´s a scenic spot somewhere in China, be prepared that you´ll have to pay to see it. If there´s a nice view, made by nature, be sure someone from the local government put a fence around it so that interested tourists have to pay an entrance fee. It´s guaranteeing a certain income tot he government, but isn´t the beauty of nature made for everyone and not only for those who can pay to enjoy it?

Well, one of the parts of the Liujingbei Natural Scenic Spot was a walkway along the cliffs over the sea. I must admit it was new and mad a good impression, but the glass platform over the sea was too little to justify the fee. Still I have to say the view was great. We watched the boats and ships passing by and enjoyed the sun and the noise oft he waves for a while before we walked back tot he entrance and took a bus to our hostel were we met the others to pay for our accomodation and check out. Since we still had some time we decided to go tot he spot where we actually wanted to see the sunrise in the morning, it was behind another fence, but the entrance was already included in the price for the wooden path above the waves. It wasn´t far from the Nine Birds´ Home, maybe ten minutes walking. It was basically another park with fresh paved roads and a newly built wooden walkway on the cliffs. We passed plenty of bunkers, just as on the other side oft he bay, which were built in the caves here and have been used in the second worldwar and during the civil war. The main attractions here werr a small lighthouse and the smallnold military facilies with their thick doors. The view was great and since the air was clean and the sky was bright it was interesting to imagine where all the ships we saw might be going. The most of them were probably going to or coming from Shanghai. We followed the path and surrounded the hill at this cape and were back at the hostel at noon. We agreed to meet the others at the harbour at half past two since our boat was leaving at three, thus weh ad about two hours left and still wanted some to have some lunch.

I wasn´t really sure about seeing Lingyin Temple because I wasn´t really sure if we could make it back tot he port in time. My friend told me not to worry and proposed we should go and try to catch a bus, but it seemed like weh ad missed it. It was only a couple of minutes until a taxi driver stopped next to us and my friend was bargaining with him about the price for bringing us to the temple. I looked out oft he window and thought this would be an awesome place for a week of holidays, maybe not for sunbathing and swimming, but for relaxing and biking. The streets were really good and since the were mostly following the coastline you had a great view from nearly everywhere.

When we arrived at the Linyin Temple I was once more amazed. This place was on a cliff above the town Tianaocun and you could see the town with its bay and all the fishing boats anchoring there. The whole temple was even more impressive than all the temples I had seen before. All the building had rich decorations and colourful statues. Ist size was even more impressing due tot he fact that it was built on terraces. So the single shrines and building were still high above you, even when you stood in the middle of the main yard. We walked around and I was filled with respect for the buddhist monks who passed us on the stairs. When I saw them I didn´t walk further. I waited until they all had passed and somehow didn´t dare to look into their eyes. What makes a man dedicate his life to his god(s) and belief? I kept contemplaning about it for a very long time but didn´t find an answer. Maybe it is due to my lack of religion and trust in godly powers, but nevertheless I´m impressed by people dedicating themselves to something they truely believe in.

We didn´t have too much time left to get t harbour and when we left the temple we realized there wasn´t any bus stop nearby and no taxi to see anywhere. All we saw was a private car in front oft he entrance. We soon identified it as an unofficial taxi, which is basically a guy with a car but with no taxi concession or metre. Once more my friend did the bargaining and answered the drivers curious questions. He said he hadn´t seen too many westerners on the island yet and was curious to hear where I´m from, where I met my friend and what I was doing in China. I was about worried about our schedule when my friend asked the driver if he knows some good place for a cheap and quick lunch. He proposed a nooled shop in the city and we stopped there. I was already expecting the that we would have to find another ride after eating but the driver didn´t leave us, he even came to the noodle restaurant with us and waited until we had finished eating. There are definitely perks in paying an unregistrated driver a price that´s far above the normal tarif. The seafood noodles weren´t as good as those I had the day before but they filled my stomach and made my friend happy.

I was honestly surprised to find out we were still in time when we arrived at the harbour, but the others weren´t there yet. We passed the secure check with metal detectors and x-ray scanners for the luggage and entered the waiting area. The rest oft he group arrived a while after us and just a couple of minutes before we could go onboard. I didn´t sleep to much the night before and so it didn´t take long until I fell asleep and woke up just a couple of minutes before we were back in the port of Shanghai. The bus was already waiting to bring us back to Nanpu Bridge were we said goodbye to take the next metro that would bring us home.

It came back to this island a couple of months later when my best friend from Poland was visiting me in China. We also enjoyed two days on the island before she had to go back home. Unfortunately we werenßt so lucky then. The Problem is that you can´t buy the tickets to and from the island anywhere else than at Nanpu Bridge or at the port on Shengsi Island. There´s no way to buy them online or to order them in any other way. Thus take care to get the tickets for you trip back as soon as you arrive on the island, otherwise it might happen that you´ll have to wait at the harbour for hours to get the next boat with free seats, otherwise it can happen that you´re stuck on the island.


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