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Walking Around Wuxi, Yuantouzhou, and Lake Tai – Sunday Travel Story

I opened up Google Maps and zoomed into Jiangsu Province. I could go anywhere that two days of walking would allow. I checked out a route from Taizhou to the coast. The walk would have taken me through an extremely rural floodplain all the way to the Yangtze River delta and the ocean beyond. I [...]

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I opened up Google Maps and zoomed into Jiangsu Province. I could go anywhere that two days of walking would allow. I checked out a route from Taizhou to the coast. The walk would have taken me through an extremely rural floodplain all the way to the Yangtze River delta and the ocean beyond. I scanned the satellite images of the coast looking for a beach, but all I found was what appeared to be silty mud, deposited from the river. I can go anywhere in the province, why would I want to walk 100km to a mud flat? So I angled south on the map and found the massive Lake Tai. Grotesque scholar stones have been cultivated from the banks of this lake for the past thousand years, it was an old haunt of bandits, this region was right in the breadbasket of ancient China. I found the city of Wuxi on the lake’s northeast coast and traced a route from it around the east of the lake and then cutting off toward Suzhou, and something about this path called to me. At 6 AM the following morning I scooped up my prepacked EDC bag and headed for the door.

I paused. I had a choice of footwear for this journey: my well worn hiking boots or a new pair of sneakers that I’d just picked up because I did not want to continue killing my good boots with excessive amounts of urban walking. I chose the new sneakers, mitigating the risks of the decision against the preservation of my mountain boots.

The morning streets were just waking up for the new week. It was Monday, and only a few street cleaners in their telltale orange jumpsuits were stirring. I stared out into the empty streets and saw a taxi approaching in the distance. It’s little red light was up on the dashboard, I flagged it down.

“To the south bus station.” Nothing more needed to be said, the driver flipped down the light, started the meter, and we buzzed off. “Where are you going?” he eventually asked, making sure he was taking me to the correct station.

One of the biggest challenges of traveling in China is determining what station of a city you need to go to in order to catch transport to your destination. Only the smallest of towns have a single bus and train station. A city of pretty much any size has three, four, or even more bus stations, and many have at least two train depots. Generally, these stations are coordinated with the cardinal direction of locations they offer service to. So if you want to go south, you need to go to the south station; if you want to go north, you must go to the north station; if you’re traveling for an extreme long distance you generally go to the main station, which takes prior inquiry to know where it is.

On this occassion, I knew the bus station I needed to go to, and I made this known to the taxi driver. He nodded and continued on. The fare came to 11.1 RMB, the driver asked for 12, I paid 11 and a handful of uncounted pennies. He didn’t like this to much, but I wasn’t going to go through the hassle of breaking a 100 RMB bill to give the guy an extra kuai.

53 RMB for the hour and a half bus ride from Taizhou to Wuxi — $8.50, a little steep, but that’s the breaks in a world of elevated oil prices. I looked over the travel notes and maps that I’d hand copied from various online sources.

The benefits of walking

As the bus pulled out of the station, I stared out of the window at a landscape that I knew very well. I’d previously walked the route the bus was taking, and I knew it’s ebbs and flows well. If you walk a route, you own it. There is no other form of travel that offers more intimacy with a place than walking. Even bicycling can degrade into a sport very quickly, and the landscapes subsequently go flying by without much acknowledgement or observation. Walking increases the resolution that you can observe your surroundings at, it slows the pace of movement, and feels like exploration. There is little that is sporting about this basic form of human locomotion, it’s just too slow for that. The human mind is timed to the pace of the human gait. When our feet are moving our minds are rolling, our eyes are observing, our ears are listening.

Arrival in Wuxi

I walked out of the bus station in Wuxi and broke out my compass. I had a choice to take a city bus to the lake or to walk. I figured that I may as well get a good look at Wuxi while there, so I began hoofing it in a general southwest direction. Riding city buses is perhaps the worst way to check out a city. These city buses in China are also prone to being real crowded, and I know well that the view of a place while peeking out from some dude’s armpit is simply not worth it. Walking may take me a little longer — and perhaps I won’t always make it to my destination — but it’s the surest way to go if I truly want to experience my route of travel.

Wuxi is one of the faster developing cities in eastern China, and it shows. This is truly a point of distinction, as this country is transforming before everyone’s eyes like a time-lapsed video of itself. As I walked up from the underground bus terminal I found myself in a forest of skyscrapers. Navigating through the redwoods of modernization I found myself cutting west, south, and west again as made for the lake that makes up the city’s southwest boundary.

I went to a 7 and 7 for breakfast. This is a cafeteria style restaurant chain that has branches throughout eastern China where you walk down a food bar and have servers pile food onto your tray and then when you’re sitting at your seat an attendant comes by, checks out the food on your table, and computes your bill. This time, the attendant was late and I had already eaten half my meal, and received a big discount because of it.

To say that Wuxi is modern would be an understatement. From the viewpoint of a Westerner, Wuxi is futuristic, as are many of the cities of Eastern China.

To Lake Tai

I continued walking southeast through Wuxi. Commercial skyscrapers gave way to residential high-rises. I figured the walk from the bus station to the lake to be around 5 km, and I estimated that I had probably walked just about this far. I asked a young lady at a street crossing if she could tell me how I could get to Lake Tai. She just sort of looked at me cross eyed and shrugged. I asked another, she looked me like I was nuts and said it was far away.

People don’t walk across cities in China — people don’t walk across cities anywhere in the world — so asking for directions for foot travel is bound to get some pretty strange looks and askew results. I kept on my course, doubting my directions a little — I had just glanced at Google Maps before taking off on this trip — perhaps I made some kind of error?

Nope. I looked up and, to my delight, saw bus 20 coming towards me — the very bus route that I could have taken from the station directly to the lake. I was on course. I kept walking, now following the bus route. I crossed a bridge over a big canal. I watched as a single tug hauled twenty full-sized, fully loaded barges that were tied end ot end train-like with rope. If a tug is able to pull 10 barges, then the Chinese are going to pull 20 with it. I finished crossing the bridge and found myself in high-rise-landia. As I’ve mentioned before, these places give me the creeps. Seas of hundreds and hundreds of identical twenty story apartment blocks staring me down make me feel as puny as a worm. I saw no sign of a lake anywhere, and the high-rises seemed to go on without end. The morning was growing into afternoon — I had to pick up the pace if I wanted a chance at Suzhou. I’ve walked through far too many of these high-rise jungles on my travels through China, and I figured that missing one would not deprive me of much.

I boarded bus 20 and, of course, ended up having to stand with my face in some old guy’s armpit. He was a helpful old guy though, and told me what stop I should get off at to go to the lake.  I stared at the bus route map and found that there was a bridge heading over to an island-like area protruding out into the lake. The problem was that the map was cut off before I could see if there was another bridge on the southern portion of the island linking back to the mainland. I did not recall this island when I previously looked over a map of this region, but figured that I would chance it.

I hopped off the bus, walked across a bridge to Yuantouzhu island, and set out to tackled the rest of the way on foot. If there is one thing I know about the Chinese it’s that if they have any excuse to build a bridge they’re going to build one — or two, or even three. The bridge seems to be taken here as a token of advancement and progress — a sign of power, perhaps — and they are everywhere. Ever since Li Chun designed and built the world’s first segmented arch bridge in the early seventh century, China has been all about bridges. With good reason perhaps, as Li’s bridge is still being used 1400 years later.

At this time my destination was not the lake itself, but a scenic route to Suzhou. I figured that some photos of things other than construction sites, highways, and canals would drastically improve the quality of this Tramping China series. But I found myself blocked off from the lake by a thin ridge of steep hills. I again found myself walking down the side of a road with little to rev up my visual senses.

Well, except for the wild flowers.

The country side of China is all wild flowers at the end of May. Just about everywhere a plant is allowed to grow naturally a blossoming of colors transpires. Red, yellow, blue — I’ve rarely seen such an array of wild flowers in all my travels. They were everywhere, blanketing everything that was not cultivated by the hand of man.

I then stopped short, pulled out of my wild flower dream by something that was obviously very man made, but I could not figure out what it was. It was a half constructed, giant, concrete cylinder laying prone out in the distance. It had to be over a hundred feet high, and I could not fathom its purpose. Was it a stadium? A factory? An aircraft hanger? It was in the middle of a new development area, but nothing else had really been built around it.

Strange cylinder construction

What was this thing?

When you head out into rural China you never know what you’re going to find. This is one of the things that I love most about this country: whatever else that happens here, rest assured that you will always find the unexpected.

I continued walking, and walking, and walking. I found that there were bridges linking the island with the mainland, and that, in fact, the land of both geographic features eventually joined together.

I was now pretty far out of Wuxi looking for a road to cut inland on towards Suzhou. I’d probably logged 15km so far on this day. Not enough to tire my legs but more than enough to blister my feet in my new sneakers.

Breaking in new shoes

You don’t break in new shoes to fit your feet, you break in your feet to fit the new shoes. There are two ways to do this:

1. The slow, gradual way: You wear the new shoes intermittently for short walks and minor hikes, removing them before they injure your feet.

2. The quick, painful way: You walk twenty miles in them and allow your feet to be torn to shreds. When the blisters heal your new shoes are ready to wear comfortably.

(Go to How to care for your feet when traveling.)

I bought my new shoes to save my hiking boots from being destroyed by excessive urban walking, so I opted for the quickest way possible to break my feet into them. I’ve had blisters before. No big deal. The more I walked the worst the blistering became. Eventually, it felt as though I was walking on sacks of water. I was. Five more kilometers went by. My pace was slowed but the pain was not yet horrible. I came to the juncture where I would turn inland to Suzhou. I stopped, and sat down in the shade of a work shed on the side of the road.

I knew then that if I’d continued on to Suzhou I’d make it, but at what cost? It would not have been a comfortable walk, for sure, and a night of sleeping out on the side of a highway was guaranteed.

“What was I doing this for?” I asked myself.

“For fun,” was my only reply.

Walking through industrial/ suburban China with totally blistered feet is not many people’s description of fun.

I had no summit to gain, no marvelous vista to see, no finish line to cross, no glory to gain. I chose to walk from Wuxi to Suzhou simply because I had to choose to walk to somewhere. I had no real passion to go to Suzhou, I’ve been there before, it’s nice, but, ultimately, it was just a point at the end of the road, a mock up destination to justify the walk. The object of the trip was the road, not the city. Going, not arriving, is why I travel.

I saw no reason to cut away from the lake and walk through suburban China until late into the night. I had not even really seen the lake that my “scenic” journey was suppose to flank. I could not write that I walked around Lake Tai without even checking it out. I asked myself if I would return to Lake Tai later on if I did continue on to Suzhou. I had to answer that I’d probably wouldn’t: China is too big and full to pass places by with the intention of returning. It just doesn’t happen like that — you pass something by in this country and it’s gone for good. I stood up and began walking back the along the route from which I had come. It was evening by this point, and I hoped a bus that would retrace my path back to Wuxi.

Wuxi Hiker’s Hostel

Back in Wuxi I booked a 50 RMB ($7) dorm bed in a hostel and intended to sit down in the common room, rest my feet, take some notes, drink some beer, maybe make some friends, and get ready for the next day — where I would return to the lake and check it out a little closer. But the hostel was dead. There was a Chinese girl from a nearby city sitting in a common room with her stuck up the ass of her computer and a friendly kid from Nanjing in my dorm in the same place. I ordered a beer and drank it alone. I tried to make chit chat with the hostel workers, but they were too busy on Weibo — Chinese Twitter — to bother with real life conversation with a stranger.

I thought I’d had my fill of Chinese hostels after Nanjing, but, apparently, I was out for more.

There is something about Chinese hostels that intersest me: they are absolutely perfect in appearance. The Chinese have the youth hostel down: they are extremely comfortable places with well stocked bars, big common rooms with chairs and couches all over, decent rooms, and an overall feel you would hope for at a hostel anywhere. It is like the hostel owners of this country watched the same “How to make a youth hostel” video, because they are almost all dead on perfect in their design.

What is different about Chinese youth hostels from their Western counterparts is that, in the smaller cities, the clientele is almost exclusively Chinese, rather than being an international admixture. I have a theory that most of the people in these places are not traveling to see the cities they’re in but solely to hang out in the hostel. It’s my impression that international hostels are where middle class Chinese youths come to chill out, sit on their computers all day, decompressing from their pent up social/ university/ family pressures.

Thumb crushed bug dinner

The evening began turning dark. I finished my beer and could stand the empty hostel no longer. Though my feet were busted up, I went out for a walk anyway. On both sides of the street were twenty story apartment blocks. The sidewalks were full of the people who live in these human anthills. I was looking for a happening bar, a lively restaurant — anything. I found only a dark street. Loneliness did not hit, just restlessness.

I ate dinner in another cafeteria style restaurant. The server girls joked with me. “I can understand what he is saying,” one girl proudly stated to her coworker about my Mandarin.

“Yes, and I can understand what you’re saying too,” I replied.

They laughed at this.

I moved down the bar and selected a pork chop and an egg wrapped meatball. Suddenly, an old server lady halted my progress as she quickly shot her hand out from under the glass partition that separated me from the food and firmly planted a bare thumb on an insect that was right next to my tray. The squashed bug peeled away with her thumb.

“You need some rice,” she spoke helpfully as she flung a bowl of it onto my tray with the same hand she’d just slaughtered the insect with.

No more questions

I’ve stopped asking questions about the things that bewilder me in China. I will no longer ask questions like, “Why is that guy walking around outside in his underwear?” or “Why did they completely shave the fur off that Golden Retriever except for its head, feet, and tail?”

It’s just China.

Dorm bed

I ate and then returned to the hostel. This would be the first night I’d spend in a dormitory in at least the past three years of travel. My bunk mates were three young Chinese guys — two of whom just sat on their computers all day and the other was a friendly bruiser from Wuhan. The latter character spoke a little English, and he seemed to like trying it out on me.

There are two predominate Chinese male characters: the bruisers and the geeks. The bruisers tend to walk fast, yell loudly, have flat top haircuts, are stoutly built, overtly confident, and are not afraid of plowing over any weakerthans that fall in their path. The geeks tend to be skinny, a little shy, friendly, and overtly inoffensive. These two very obvious character types stand in stark opposition to each other, and I often have a difficult time reconciling the fact that they are both woven from the same cultural fabric.

I rested my feet as I laid on the top bunk. I was nearly sleeping as I waited for my dormitory companions to finish getting ready for bed. The bruiser from Wuhan took an hour before he was ready to turn in. When he was finally tucked away in the bunk below me and another guy was about to flip off the light and shut the door a sense of panic overtook me. I jumped off the bunk, threw my clothes on, and made for the door.

The Wuhan bruiser asked me where I was going in Mandarin. I replied that I didn’t really know, that I was just going out. This didn’t sit well with him, so I said that I was going out to drink beer. This he understood.

Something in me just wasn’t prepared to be shut up in the dark small room for the night with these three guys. I felt overtly claustrophobic, I had to run. I made for the open space of the bar and ordered a beer. From here I took notes and watched young couples looking to bone come straggling into the hostel throughout the night.

I think I’ve outgrown dormitory living. I began regretting that I didn’t opt for the much cheaper and liberating open sky hotel.

Why do I stay in Chinese hostels if all I do is complain about them? Well, they are cheap. Another reason is that I’m lazy about searching for hotel addresses. I’m able to find the address of a cheap hostel quickly and easily by doing an English language internet search. When I only have two travel days per week, I don’t want to waste time looking for places to sleep. Another reason is that, ultimately, they’re comfortable places and are sometimes good for finding Chinese people who are sitting still long enough to have a conversation with — well, if you catch them in an off moment when they’re not stuck in some kind of electronic device. You also don’t have to worry about prostitutes calling your room — or even showing up at your door — throughout the night as you do in the hotels.

The next morning I woke up at six and split from the dormitory before anyone else in the hostel awoke. I had to wake up an attendant to let me out the door, and I was off. It was my intention to walk as little as possible on this day, but this simply wasn’t going to happen. I simple don’t know what to do when traveling besides walking. I do two things: walk and write. I’ve been struggling for years in search of a way to do these two things at the same time.

Bus back to Lake Tai

I took a bus back towards the Lake Tai. It was early in the morning and the bus was packed full of elderly people heading to the park by the lake to do their exercises. With each stop more old people squeezed onto the bus. I was wedged tight between and old guy and his even older looking wife. I was the youngest person on board by over a generation. Just when I thought another geriatric individual could not squeeze onto this bus, a group of old spinsters wearing workout clothes hopped on and dove into the fray, throwing elbows, and swimming through the sea of their ancient looking peers.

I suppose crowded buses are nothing for this generation of Chinese. They were born during the Republican period, lived through the Communist revolution, Communism, the Great Leap Forward, the Cultural Revolution, and now are ending their days in a globalized, wealthy and powerful, highly materialistic country. This generation has perhaps seen more great social changes than any other in modern history. They lived through three very different social structures and endured it all. They’ve been there, done that, now they’re riding a bus to the park to do their morning exercises.

The mosque/ church

Old mosque/ church in Wuxi

I set off walking the last leg just to notice a massive mosque on the other side of some bushes in the near distance. It was an impressive building and I stared at it curiously as I walked by. There are mosque all through China, but few look as typical as this one. This mosque looked like it was taken right out of Turkey — spider-like minarets soared into the sky all around it, there were two massive domes. Then I noticed something: a busted window in the upper tiers of the main body of the building. I looked closer, and discovered that some of the trim around the windows was busted up and rotted. I peered through the bushes and saw that the mosque had long been abandoned.

I looked for a way in, but quickly discovered that on the other side of the bushes was a moat filled with water. Not wanting to get my feet wet where I didn’t have to, I looked for another way in. I walked around the edge of the compound and discovered that I could follow the embankment of a small canal into an area behind the mosque. There was a landscaper working in the adjacent field. He was weed wacking and had a pair of ear muffs on and he just so happened to be facing the opposite direction away from me. With a little stealth I figured that I could walk right behind him without being detected. I tried it. No problem.

I then jumped down into a depression in the earth where an old foundation served as a telltale sign of a building that had long since been demolished and found a little path through a patch of trees that lead towards the mosque. I walked down it and I was soon facing the rear of the mosque, the only things in my way were the small mote and a rigged up gate to keep people like me out. The gate was my only real obstacle, as it was positioned on a little bridge which spanned the mote. The ramshackle barricade was made of random pieces of trash: a woven mat, a garden lattice, some rope, and an old piece of a door was laid horizontally across its bottom. No problem. I unattached and peeled back the old door, ducked under what remained of the gate, and entered the complex.

Inside of abandoned mosque

The doors of the mosque were hanging open. It had been a while since anybody had used it. I walked inside. There was a layer of trash over the floor and a pool table was in the middle of the main room. Other than serving as an impromptu hang out for some Chinese men the mosque didn’t seem to serve much of another purpose for quite some time. Then I noticed the image of Jesus on a stained glass window and some other Christian decorations. As I looked over the interior it became apparent that Christians had at one time converted the mosque into a church. They essentially put up partitioning and decorations in the Christian style inside of what was initially built to be a Muslim Mosque. I had never seen anything like this before.

Christian stained glass window in mosque

I exited the building through a side door and walked around to its front. I noticed that there were more Islamic buildings further in the complex. They looked like nothing else I’ve seen in this part of China, being huge monolthic buildings with domes on top. All were as abandoned as the mosque.

I made my way to look at the main entrance of the mosque. It was an impressive view — an ideal mosque sporting a large red crucifix over the door. I could only speculate as to what this mosque was once like and how it became a church before being left completely abandoned. One thing of note is that there were modern looking speakers at the tops of the minarets: this mosque was in use up until fairly recently. Perhaps it survived the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution just to meet another end that has been lost to popular history.

Church items

Interior of abandoned mosque/ church

Mosque that appears to have been converted into a church

Mosque in Wuxi

Return to Lake Tai

I’d previously looked over some maps in the hostel and figured that I would go to a big park on the banks of Lake Tai that are reputed to have the best view of the lake. I walked over to the entrance just to find myself staring down a sight I’ve seen very often recently: an admissions sign demanding an enormous price. 105 RMB — $17 — it would have cost to enter this park and look at the lake. No way. Charge me a two or three dollar maintenance fee and, sure, I’ll pay it. Charge me two and a half times the cost of my previous night’s accommodation then I turn and walk away. The rising middle and upper class of China has caused an incredible rise in the prices of attractions. It is difficult to find an attraction charging less than a $10 entrance fee — many now charge $15 to $20. The costs of these public attractions are set by the local governments and they’re able to raise them every three years. Since the time I’ve last been in China these prices have more than likely been jacked up twice, as they now costs far more than I’m willing to pay. I have to state that, on the whole, China now has some of the most expensive attractions in the world. Except for the truly amazing museums, parks etc . . . int the world, $17 admission fees are almost unheard of. In China, they are now normal.

I sat dejected by the front gate of the park, debating what to do next. I thought of walking around the side of the park and jumping the fence, but thought it a better idea to just take the local way around and access the lake at a fishing dock. As I stood idley pondering a couple of men approached me. They asked if I was going into the park. I told them that it was too expensive. Then one of them told me that he was a bus driver and would smuggle me in if I gave him money. I thought about it for a moment, but as I considered the offer the guy began grabbing at my arms, trying to roll up my sleeves to reveal my tattoos. I flung my arm back in obvious annoyance, and made to leave. One of the guys gave chase, repeating the offer. These guys were something sketchy, I needed to make a quick break away from them.

I walked around the park to the north in hopes that I could at least get a view of the lake from there. After 45 minutes of walking on heavily blistered feet I arrived at another gate requesing the same admissions price. They had completely barricaded access from the lake at this juncture. I turned and began hoofing it back the way I came, feeling discouraged, sort of in the dumps over the fact that a little piece of nature was fenced off to those who did not wish to pay a relatively high fee.

I saw a lady dancing manically by herself in a little pagoda. I stood and watched her for a moment. She was carrying a hand held transistor radio which was blasting a traditional Chinese tune as she bounded from one side of the little building to the other. Something about the all out joy that she seemed to be experiencing was contagious. My frustration vanished, as I walked up to say a quick hello to this dancing lady. She smiled at me and returned my greeting as she pirouetted to the other side of the pagoda. I walked through it and looked out at Wuxi city beyond, listing to the music and the pitter patter of footsteps behind me.

Leaving the pagoda I began my walk back to where I could pick up a bus. I had a plan: to ride to a nearby village and find a way to the lake from there. I’d failed twice at getting to this rather large lake, and simply sitting on its banks became sort of an obsession. I picked up a bus that cut across the little island and took it to the end of the line. It was again time to walk. Ignoring the blisters and the pain I set off looking for some way to access the lake. I asked a few people for directions and they just pointed me back to the park. Not helpful.

I made my way into the countryside and found some fruit vendors on the side of the road. I asked one how I could get to the lake, and she told me plainly: “Walk that way and take a right.” I did so and found myself walking into a taxi driver training center. As I walked through a cab full of students drove past me. One of the students rolled down a window and shouted “Hello!” at me. The other students giggled with approval. I was not surprised to learn that yelling hello at foreigners is one of their lessons.

On the other side of the taxi school was a thin path that lead through some thickets and woods down to the lake. I decended the hill and made my way through the trees. A local resident walked by me and flashed a surprised look. I greeted him with a smile and kept walking. He did the same. I often must wonder what people living in remote areas think when they see me plodding into their living sphere. It is very rare that I’m  ever met with opposition, anger, or territorial aggression. Most of the time I’m looked at with surprised curiosity as my greetings are returned.

Reeds and boats at the edge of Lake Tai

Fisherman's hut on Lake Tai

Soon enough, I was there: at the bank of Lake Tai. I was looking upon the second largest fresh water lake in China. It is believed that it was created after a meteor struck the earth over 70 million years ago. The huge pit was eventually filled in with water when what is now known as the East China Sea moved inland. During the millenia that followed, the ever growing deltas of the Yangtze and Qiantang rivers closed it off from the sea, making it a lake.

I was standing in the middle of a small fisherman’s camp. There were a few shacks around that the fishermen lived in, but none seemed to be home. A few fishing boats sat in the reedy shallows. It was difficult to see the lake through the reeds, and it was clearly not the view I’d hoped for. But I felt victorious none the less. This feeling was short lived as I looked to my left and saw a very strange looking monastery looming above on a large hill.


The monastery became a beacon, and I climbed back up the hill and made my way for it. “Tong Yi Jia Yuan” was written on the bus stop in front of it, but the doors were locked up tight. It appeared to be abandoned. I walked around it taking photos. While doing so I noticed an automobile ramp leading down into its cellar. I followed it and walked around in a dark corridor before coming to a locked gate. I heard a man walking inside and he became startled as he unexpectedly saw me standing behind the closed bars looking at him. I asked for permission to enter. I was denied. I returned outside.

Alter at monastery

There was a giant alter on the top of the hill which rose behind the monastery that I really wanted to check out at a closer range, so I walked around the building to see if there was another way up the hill. I found the backside unblocked, and the hike up would not have been difficult — except for the fact that my feet were severely tore up from the new sneakers. I sat down by the side of the road and determined that it the hike to the alter just wasn’t going to happen.

Bamboo bridge

I stood up and made to return to Wuxi, but found myself held back. The lake was glistening within a kilometer of me. I really wanted to sit on its banks, maybe go for a swim. I continued on. I took a path that cut towards the water in the distance, and eventually came to a restaurant. I found a rickety bamboo bridge behind it that lead over a pond to the lake beyond. I took a few tentative steps on the bridge. Some of the bamboo that made up its walking surface was broken, or rotted, or completely missing. Over the holes were pieces of ply board, discarded window blinds, and miscellaneous pieces of flat and wide refuse. I quickly bounded across, and found that I had arrived:

All alone, on the shore of Lake Tai.

Lake Tai


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Filed under: China, Tramping

About the Author:

I am the founder and editor of Vagabond Journey. I’ve been traveling the world since 1999, through 91 countries. I am the author of the book, Ghost Cities of China and have written for The Guardian, Forbes, Bloomberg, The Diplomat, the South China Morning Post, and other publications. has written 3716 posts on Vagabond Journey. Contact the author.

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VBJ is currently in: New York City

7 comments… add one

Leave a Comment

  • LarryB June 3, 2012, 7:04 pm

    As always, a great slice of life for an unconventional visitor to China. One of these days, I’m going to have to go there and stay more than a week and get out of the really big cities and the hotels mostly occupied by Westerners.

    Link Reply
    • Wade Shepard June 5, 2012, 8:23 am

      Thanks! For sure, getting “out there” in China is well worth it.

      Link Reply
  • félixxx June 4, 2012, 10:31 am

    “People don’t walk across cities in China — people don’t walk across cities anywhere in the world — so asking for directions for foot travel is bound to get some pretty strange looks and askew results.”

    Hahahahaha I know exactly what kind of looks you’re talking about… a few years ago 3 friends and I set off at night to walk from Gongyi to Luoyang (Henan province), a good 80 km… people cocked their heads so far their ear touched their shoulder when we told them what we were doing.

    Where is that mosque?!?! I wanna check it out by myself so bad… what corner of Wuxi, and near what “landmark”?

    Congrats on making it to the lake for real… I biked around the whole mofo about a month ago, Tai Hu and I are homies now.

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    • Wade Shepard June 5, 2012, 8:39 am

      Man, seriously, that look makes you feel like a beast from another planet haha. There was a part of this story that I think I left out about trying to find out if I was on the road I thought I was on (I only had the route numbers jotted down in my notebook and not the local names) and I slipped up mentioned that I was going to Suzhou. “You’re walking!” I think if I stayed around that community any longer they would have called the proper authorities to come and save me from myself haha. Great to hear that you and Lake Tai are homies as well. Considering picking up a bicycle soon.

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      • Wade Shepard June 5, 2012, 9:42 am

        My wife just pointed out a funny typing error in this article:

        “When he was finally tucked away in the bunk below me and another guy was about to flip off the light and shut the door a sense of panic overtook me. I jumped off the bunk, threw my clothes off, and made for the door.”

        No wonder this didn’t settle right with the guy on the bottom bunk.

        This error has since been fixed.

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  • China Traveler September 2, 2018, 6:04 am

    Thanks for this intriguing piece. The abandoned mosque may actually have been a byzantine style church, not a mosque at all. Earlier christian denominations like Russian and Greek Orthodox and Catholic built many of their older churches in this pre-gothic style, especially in the Middle East, north Africa, and the Mediterranean. I too would be fascinated to know how to find it. You’re not the only one who finds it frustrating the way the Chinese fence off green spaces and natural areas, set curfews, and sometimes charge expensive admission. Fortunately, as you discovered, there are plenty of areas around Taihu which can be accessed for free, some of which aren’t off-limits after hours.

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    • Slade February 10, 2021, 11:09 pm

      I think it was actually a mosque since they have four minarets, anyone know where this building location is? I’m looking for it with baidu map

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