Dirty, crowded and kitschy with a whiff of Coney Island;.
Ancient? Maybe, but that cannot be readily discerned from walking the streets of Qiabao Ancient Town. I see the possibility of a certain charm if the busloads of school kids were removed and some of the tourists, too; the ones who eat their cold noodles and discard their empty plastic containers in the flower pot instead of walking twenty feet to the trash /recycling cans. Then it might be charming. However, all I see now are narrow streets jammed with too many tourists and lined with souvenir shops all selling the same trinkets and schlock that nobody is buying.
The arched bridges are picturesque, but judging from the look of what appears to be water flowing beneath them, you could probably walk across the surface of the drab, army green water without getting your feet wet. It is no surprise that the government has released a report, this summer, that stated “53 percent of surface water tested was given the worst of five levels of water quality, while only 3.4 percent was deemed top grade or “unpolluted,”
As a water town, or ancient town, Qibao didn’t impress me (although I did like the Buddhist temple just through the north gate), but as with everything else in China and elsewhere, the best of everything comes from the people you come into contact with during the day.
The middle-aged woman pushing her mother in a wheelchair, who didn’t expect me to step aside and let her through the crowd and responds with a smile and a nod to the laowai.
The men playing backgammon on a giant wooden board just around the corner from hustle of the crowded main street, oblivious to the din.
The three older couples who respond to the Chinese writing on my shoulder bag —为人民服务— with thumbs up and repeated, happy bursts of “Serve the people!”
Qibao is more of a tourist trap than a historical site, but the people are worth the trip.