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Excursion to Xitang

2011.11.04

This is Takaoki having been working at Shanghai branch office in China as long-stay business trip from this summer (2011). Executing denser planning, designing, and management works happened in China is the intention of traveling back and forth between China and Japan to aim for accomplishment by absorbing various cultural experiences including knowledge outside of landscape-architectural field, to feedback the profession as well. I would like to make such activities dubbed “letters from the Shanghai office” and occasionally write them down like this report.
Last weekend, along with local staff from Shanghai office, we visited riverside old town called “Xitang” for two-day trips. There are many riverside villages accompanied with old townscape in Gangnam region, and some of them have been developed as tourist destinations. Among those, Xitang is one of the six big riverside old town located approximately 90km west of Shanghai and is less than two hours away by bus. The movie “Mission Impossible 3 ” was filmed there and, since then, it has developed as a tourist destination. Nevertheless, it was an attractive town where reminds rustic atmosphere.
The party departed on Friday afternoon. As soon as arrived in the evening, I went out to the town. Once it got dark by the sunset, lanterns hang at storefront or under eaves were lit up, and that exuded the nostalgic atmosphere among a crowd. In addition, there was a stone arched bridge that is likely to consider as the popular element of the riverside landscape. Once the semi-circular pier was reflected on the water, the accurate circle had been appeared and the ring of the light was emerged by lit up the night. People in China are likely to demand more showy ways, however lighting design at Xitang was rather pleasantly warm and calm.
In spite of occasional rain outside, “Langpeng (a trellised corridor)” facilitated along the canal keep us off from the rain. “Langpeng” was originally built for protecting merchants and travelers visiting the town from the rain. In Xitang there is 1km- long Langpeng called “Long Corridor of Misty Rain” that is also one of the characteristic for Xitang. Travelers from all over the world now have appreciated ancestors consideration over the long period of time.  
Generally, there are two ways of making surroundings of the canal. As described above, paving the passageway by setting back buildings is the one, and buildings directly adjoined the canal is the other. In case of the latter, it is easy to be observed that people enjoy having tea and eating or just being relax at the open-café terrace facing to the canal. We had a dinner at the restaurant, which had a riverside terrace, and joined to be a part of the landscape, too.
We kept walking around the town next day, too. We had visited several museums, mansions, and gardens, which had open for public. As we had seen the exhibition of wood carving decoration on Gangnam tile, beams and latticed windows, we could imagine that the state of living with the elaborated detail works on residences. I sensed that the welled up spirits of the Chinese to create prosperous spaces by putting their efforts on the details.
We also got in the garden remained within the private residence. The actual garden with its certain atmosphere gave different impression, compared with previously learnt knowledge like mounds of massive rocks of unusual shape or courtyards of Siheyuan style. Because of the moisturized architectural style in high humidity, probably, planting design was intended to be a minimum amount as annex landscape. When overlooking the courtyard by sitting on a chair in the room, the contrast of the architecture and the planting made indescribable serenity. From the street, greens growing in the property could be seen over a high outer wall had important role for composing streetscape by giving a character to monotone combination of white stucco wall and smoked roofing tiles, as well.
A cormorant fisherman came in front by rowing a boat when we took a break at the waterside terrace from the walk. Procedure was that cormorants pulled out fishes stuck in the previously placed fishnets to the water surface, and fisherman collected them. As researched later, cormorant fishing in Japan was originated from Gangnam region in China. Encountering the unexpected scene, after all, we enjoyed exploring the charm of the riverside old town, and we got on the bus and left Xitang.

Hajime Takaoki

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