Often referred to as “the Venice of the East”, Zhouzhuang offers visitors a unique shopping experience as they zigzag through this water township’s narrow cobble-stoned closes encountering treasures to remind them of their travels.  Although it can at times be difficult to maneuver through the crowd, avoiding the eager shouts of the shop owners advertising less desirable wares and mustering the courage to barter with those who offer true gems. 

Despite my own reluctance to haggle, I learned from the misfortune of my friend, Dennis, that most sticker prices are lofty aspirations that only the most naïve of tourists accept.  Poor Dennis bought a plain looking fan with a few Chinese characters painted on it for 20 Yuan; only to discover another fan three times as eloquent marked for 7 Yuan a few shops down the road.  Buyer Beware.  

Besides price, buyers and sellers also dispute the quality of the goods, especially in regard to jewelry.  Every pearl salesman in Zhouzhuang will scrape the surface of the stones with a pair of pliers to show the resistance of scratches, but I’m not really sure this is a valid test of authenticity.  I have heard that if all of the pearls on a string are exactly the same color, they are most likely phony because the process to make pearls uniform in color is very pain staking.  Other than that, I say if you yourself can’t tell the difference, does it really matter?  Of course this is coming from someone who wears very little jewelry.  

If all this talk of price and authenticity seems a bit intimidating, you can find comfort in knowing that shopping is not the only attraction of Zhouzhuang.  Several visitors choose to climb aboard one of the many riverboats that float along the canals.  Instead of the accordion music you may hear while riding a gondola in Venice, these rides often feature high-pitched powerful singing in a local dialect, which surprisingly comes out of the pint-sized women who steer the boats.  If you ask, they’ll even let you try your hand at steering the boat, which can always add some rocky excitement to the otherwise relaxing ride. 


You can also add some adventure to your diet by trying Zhoushuang’s famous roasted pig trotters at one of the many teahouses in the town.  Having a hard time deciding which one to go to?  No worries, if you stand in the ally looking bewildered and hungry for a few seconds, one of Zhoushuang’s grandmas will inevitably come out and persuade you in a few incomprehensible mumblings to come to her teashop.           

For all of the PETA fans out there, you could get fired up over the crazy animal abuse occurring on the fishing boats.  Each boat has several large prehistoric-looking birds chained to the oars, which they dive from into the water to catch fish, which the fisherman then collects in a basket.  If you’re in the market for some fresh fish, you’ll find more grandmas swatting away flies from that day’s catch with homemade fly swatters (plastic bags attached to sticks) along every alleyway.   


It is definitely a good idea to take the phone number of a local taxi service with you, or copy down the number of the taxi who dropped you off, as it can be somewhat impossible to flag down a taxi in Zhoushuang.  The last thing you want to do after a waterlogged day of sight seeing is to wander the streets in search of a ride.