"We want to make good time, but for us now this is measured with an emphasis on 'good' rather than 'time' and when you make that shift in emphasis the whole approach changes." -Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance
For many of us, being city-bound is a necessary evil and the things that tie us to the cities we call home are often rooted in practicalities and economics. For the unlikely or unhappy city dweller, a trip to the coast, the forest or the hills is something to look forward to; sometimes we all need a break from our commitment to public transport, city smells and that gritty, big city feel.
Today, we've got a guest post from Jeremy Spiro-Winn, who was born with a beard and raised on flannel and buckwheat in New England. He's a man bent on seeing the world and today we're given a rare glimpse into the thought process that has reaped scores of wonderful, unexpected moments. Continue reading after the jump to hear about his trip to Shengsi Island that is one-part travel narrative and two parts an education into a worldview.
The Act of Traveling
For some, the act of travel is mostly about seeing quote-unquote pretty things, but for many others traveling is something different and, ultimately, more special. It's not really about seeing things at all, but about experiencing new territory, and it's that experience that marks the difference between a tourist and a traveler. That territory may come in many forms. Literally, it could be an as-yet-undiscovered location—but it is often something more, something less tangible and significantly more fruitful.
Whatever it is, that thing isn't found within the folds of an intricately laid plan, but in the grey spaces of a vague idea of a place that allows for the freedom and discovery of truly exploring. As in: get there somehow, and figure everything else out from there.
Traveling in this way provides few guarantees. The traveler seeking this new territory may find himself trekking for hours on an "unnecessary" path only to find themselves facing a dead-end of sameness; but what this lacks in surety it holds at least equal parts potential, and there's nothing quite like stumbling upon something that has been discovered rather than merely seen, challenged to do rather than just done.
Shanghai Weekend Trip to Shengsi Island
If you happen to live in Shanghai, here's an outline of one such vague idea that helped me at least to make some "good time." Take the subway to Nanpu Bridge on Metro Line 4. Your goal is to get to the bus station nearby. If you know it, great, go there. If not, here's how I found it: take whatever exit you want—no doubt one in particular is better, but I'm not sure which one it is, so just wing it. Look up into the air when you're outside and you will hopefully find a highway bridge up there. If you don't see one, turn around. It was probably behind you the whole time. Walk towards that bridge, for now it is your north star. As you approach it, you will hopefully see a road curving off to the right and under the bridge. Follow it, and it will lead you to your bus station. If not, well, that's not so bad either—ask around. It isn't terribly far away.
When you find the bus station, ask for a ticket to Shengsi Island (it may help to speak a bit of Chinese at this point, or have prepared incredibly specific hand gestures to convey where you're trying to go. Or you could print out the Chinese characters: Shèngsì Lièdǎo, 嵊泗列岛). Pay for your ticket and follow the instructions you are given; if you are not given any instructions, follow your heart, or gut, or whatever. That ticket will handle the rest as far as arriving at the island is concerned.
If your journey is anything like mine, somewhere along the way you will come to a rest stop with a shop in it. This is a good place to buy a map. Do that. Maps are handy. Anyway, you will be given passage on a bus (or two) and a boat—at the end of which you will find yourself stepping onto one of China's easternmost islands. It takes a few hours. I believe I left around 9:00 a.m. and arrived around 1:00 p.m., though I might have left around 8:00 a.m. and arrived the following week; I can't really remember the specifics. But I'm pretty sure it was the former.
Here's what Google Maps has to say about Shengsi Island. Shengsi Island isn't China's most beautiful, but it's just off the coast of Shanghai, and is full of clean air, interesting sights and the ring of pleasant relaxation that comes simply in escaping from traffic, shopping malls and the go-go-go pace of city life. Spend some time wandering around, go for a swim on some nice beaches, and don't plan much beyond that.
The place isn't exactly riddled with anything that would be called spectacular, but the whole island can be seen on foot in a day or two and there are plenty of interesting sites from bizarre, largely-abandoned village areas, to old World War II gun fortifications pointing out to sea. Camping is available on the beaches for the budget-minded traveler, and hotels can be readily found in the island's major town. If you like seafood, well, it's an island, so sharpen your spear and get in the water. Or go to one of the island's many seafood restaurants, though that somehow seems like a cop out. Just go. Let the rest fall into place.
For the Anxious Traveler:
The Shengsi Islands (Shèngsì Lièdǎo, 嵊泗列岛) are located at the mouth of the Yangtze River, southwest of Shanghai. While there are a number of islands (close to 400), only 18 are inhabited.
The largest of the islands, Sijiao Island (Sìjiāo Shān, 泗礁山), is commonly referred to as simply Shengsi Island, and is the subject of the above travelogue. To get there from Shanghai, take Metro Line 4 to the Nanpu Bridge (Nánpǔ Dàqiáo, 南浦大桥), and head to street level. From there, walk to 1588 Waima Lu (Wàimǎ Lù, 外马路), where you can purchase tickets to Shengsi Island. Your ticket will include a shuttle bus to the ferry, and takes approximately three hours.