Sunday, February 18, 2007

Wuxi 6 - Chinese New Year [17/02]

Here is a map of Wuxi City Centre with all the prominent landmarks labeled in purple circles.

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1 – My Hotel (锦江大酒店, a 4-star hotel right in the city centre)
2 – City Centre Temple and Shopping Street (南禅寺)
3 – Carrefour (家乐福,宝利广场; where I do my weekly shopping)
4 – Bus / Train Station (无锡站)
5 – Modern Shopping Street (崇安寺; with lots of food and clothes)
6 – Bookstore (新华书店; similar to a library)
7 – Shopping Street (后西溪; with lots of food)
8 – Victory Square (胜利门; my first sight in wuxi city centre)

1. Visit to Southern Zen Temple (Circle 2)
On the 11th February (Sunday) afternoon, where the sun is high up in the sky and weather is perfect for an outdoor excursion, I made it a point to stroll down south to the city’s popular Southern Zen Temple. There are lots of people shopping, basking in the comfortable afternoon sun or just spending time out with their family on this day.

I visited one of the larger China Mobile shops to check out their latest display of handphone models. Comparatively, some of the Chinese-made handphones are cheap, small and light; and it also looks good. Maybe I will get one of those one day to accommodate my Singapore SIM card.

And it is down south to the Southern Zen Temple. This is the classic scene that greeted me.

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There is the great Buddhist hall to the left, the pagoda in the middle and the temple gates to the right. But there are really lots of people going around, this place is also famous for its shopping street.

I visited the temple first to make some offerings. It is really in stark contrast to the busy market scene just past the temple inner gates. There is a peaceful ambience to the entire temple compound; as if time has really come to a stand still in this area.

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After reading up a bit on its history and zen stories written by the resident monks, I made my way out to the shopping street.

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It sells lots of things from the barbeques to food houses, souvenirs to clothings, and there are also the occasional DVD shops.

I made a quick round through the Pagoda compound. There is not much there except for shops selling traditional wares and fortune tellers who are willing to foretell your future in the coming year.

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Further down through the shopping streets to their alleyways there is the flower market.

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It is just nice the coming of the Chinese New Year, the traditional Spring Festival. So there are many who used this weekend just before the chinese new year to pick up all their decors.

Towards the end of the shopping street, I came upon an artist who is able to make creative design of sweets sculptures. He is really good; being able to create one in less than 1 minute.

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2. Chinese New Year Eve
The day is Chinese New Year eve. I took a 2 hour walk through the city centre checking out the festive mood around the city centre. At the same time, I also tried to make dinner reservations at some of the more popular restaurants.

The crowds are overwhelming, with many making last minute purchases of the famous wuxi’s specialities and daily perishables. The shops will be closed from the evening and will open a week later. I managed to make a reservation at one of the restaurants around our hotel, with a 50RMB fee paid upfront.

I continue my journey to my weekly shopping area (Circle 3). It has been decorated up with Chinese New Year décor.

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Carrefour is really packed in the afternoon with long lines of queue forming at every counter. I decide to skip buying anything (not that I really need to get anything for the coming week).

Here is a photo of the popular electric scooters used by the locals. And it is really cheap, with price ranging from S$400 to S$600. I really felt tempted getting one, as we don’t really need an international license to drive one of these.

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We met up at 5pm for dinner time. The Chinese also have their dinner every early on Chinese New Year eve, with many starting latest at 6pm.

By this time, the firecrackers and fireworks in the city has already started. While walking to the restaurant, I managed to witness first hand the launch of the fireworks display and setting off the fire crackers. This is the first time I have seen fire crackers and is really fascinated by it. The adrenaline rush is undeniable. It is great!

There are 3 starters, 5 dishes for our Chinese New Year eve dinner and it come up to around 50RMB per person.

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There is quite a good variety of dishes: herbal chicken, steamed fish, vegetables, prawns, and steamboat.

Finally it is back to our hotel after our meal at 7pm and we turn on our CCTV television programs while keeping our windows open for ongoing live fireworks display.

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The Chinese New Year eve night in Wuxi is unforgettable. And I managed to capture some of the scenes on video to share with all.

i) Fireworks Just Above
Imagine you are standing just below a major fireworks display. The sounds are booming and the sight is stunning. And it is captured on video below:

ii) Fireworks In Front
Imagine you are exactly on the same level as the fireworks. They are exploding less than 5 metres away. The only thing separating you and the fires is a thin panel of glass. Watch this exclusive one minute video below:

iii) Midnight
It is midnight and the city is celebrating the start of spring, the coming of the new year!