Stuff I Really Kind of Like About My Life in China: Old Timey Villages

December 18, 2011

You may be surprised to know this, but growing up I was kind of a nerd.

I know.

It’s like I’ve come so far, right? You probably would have never guessed I used to be a big dork given my mad karaoke skills and my bad ass fashion sense.

I mean, I still can’t talk to boys, but whatevs. That’s not like a life skill that you need for the future or anything, right?

I had a lot of nerdy attributes growing up, but probably my nerdiest had to be my choice in reading material. You see, I used to be really into historical fiction. By twelve, I had already worked my way through all the Little House books, The Witch of Blackbird Pond and my mom’s collection of old Zane Grey, Western novels. Sure, I read Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club books like the rest of my friends, but I also kept a secret stash of John Jakes’ novels at home.

I was like a closeted drug addict, but my drug of choice was the Kent Family Chronicles. Because what tween doesn’t love a good saga set in antebellum America, I ask you? Honestly.

Given my little obsession with historical fiction, I have fond memories of the time my class went on a field trip to one of those old timey villages – you know, the kind where all the houses are made out of clapboard and the people who work there are dressed up like Pilgrims.

Part of our experience at the old timey village was learning how to do fun, old timey things – like make cheese and fashion lanterns out of tin cans. Now those are some life skills that are totally going to help me out in the future, am I right or am I right? You just never know when there might be a zombie apocalypse, and we all have to rely on our wits and any spare tin cans that might be lying around in order to survive.

While my reading material these days is decidedly less nerdy, I still get a bit geeked out when it comes to historically themed villages.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not one of those people who wants to transport herself to the days of yore.

I grew up on a farm. I know what milking a goat feels like. I don’t ever want to relive that pain.

Heck, I don’t even like camping that much.

Besides, I’d miss my Twitter.

But I do think history makes for a fun field trip now and again.

In fact, I’ve been known to go a bit out of my way if there’s cheesey, olden days themed fun to be had. When I was in Japan, I dragged a friend all the way to Nagano so we could hike the remains of the Nakasendo trail, an old post highway that used to link Tokyo and Kyoto. Of course, the big draw for me was the fact that we’d get to visit Tsumago and Magome, two old timey villages in the area. Described as Japan’s version of Colonial Williamsburg, the two towns have been restored to their Edo Period glory. Traffic is not allowed on their cobble stone streets, and all the electrical lines are underground.

Ye olde Magome

And, honestly, it did kind of feel like I had transported myself to the past – you know, into a simpler time when there were only two vending machines on every street corner in Japan.

Ye olde vending machines

Also, while in Kyoto, I convinced another friend to skip the temples for a day and go to cheesy theme park full of dilapidated, old wooden houses where they’d supposedly filmed all kinds of samurai movies.

They had one of those photo studios there like they have in carnivals and fairs in the States where you can dress up in old timey clothes and get your picture taken. But instead of dressing up like a cowboy or a Can-can dancer and posing like you’re hanging out in a saloon in the Old West, you get to dress up as a ninja or a samurai princess and pretend like you’re hanging out in front of some old castle.

Let’s just say, I do not make a very pretty samurai princess. In fact, I looked more like the horse that the samurai princess must have rode in on.

My friend is totally going to kill me for posting this picture. (Merry Christmas, Deedee!))

Luckily for me, China seems to love its antiquey, old villages just as much as I do. And I don’t even have to go very far afield to find them. In fact, Wuxi has a surprisingly high prevalence of old timey looking places tucked in amongst its skyscrapers and Western-style malls.

There’s an old-fashionedy-looking merchant street in downtown Wuxi, where all the buildings look like they’re straight out of the Qing Dynasty. But instead of selling silk or tea, the shops all sell lattes and fro-yo.

Ye olde Starbucks

Near the college campus where I teach, there’s a park that looks like a small, old-timey canal town.

Ye olde canal town

The park is complete with life-size statues of people that I suppose are meant to illustrate what life was like back in the Good Old Days. You know, back when giant crabs roamed the streets of China and threatened to attach themselves to your feet.

Ye olde crab-attached-to-the-foot statue

A couple weeks ago, some friends took me to another restored village in town. This one is apparently the “newest” old village in Wuxi, and it was pretty awesome.

Ye olde new old town

Not only were there lots of cool, old-fangled buildings, but also there were tons of cool, antiquey-looking advertisements everywhere.

Ye olde dried lychee advertisement

Unfortunately, the old-timey village didn’t have anybody dressed up like the Qing Dynasty version of a Pilgrim to show us how to do fun old-timey Chinese things like bind our feet or stage a peasant rebellion.

There was only this statue of a guy making tofu.

Ye olde tofu maker statue

Really, China? Is this how you’re preparing your future generation for pending zombie apocalypse? Teaching them how to make tofu? Great. Like the zombies are going to be scared off by villagers who know their way around a soybean. Way to go, China, way to go.

And then as I was leaving the old timey village I noticed this unsettling sign on one of the garbage bins.

Ye olde organism garbage bin

I’m pretty sure this is where the zombies are going to be putting our bodies come apocalypse time. Seriously, China, you’re just making this way too easy for the zombies.

It’s a good thing you have so many fun, old timey villages or this kind of behavior would be unforgivable, China. Unforgivable, I say!

P.S. China, you also need a photo studio or two where I can get my old timey photo taken. I think I’d make a pretty hot empress dowager. Whatever the heck an empress dowager is.

Confession time: What was your nerdy obsession as a kid? Don’t worry I won’t tell. Much.

I've blathered on long enough! Now it's your turn!

  1. On December 18, 2011 at 1:07 pm Dayna said:

    Nerdy obsession as a kid – collecting whale and marine life paraphernalia. A few hours east of where we lived in Seattle there was a ‘Bavarian themed’ village called Leavenworth, complete with ye olde Starbucks that looks almost like a gingerbread house AND the Cascade Mountains as the fake Alps. Awesome. =)

  2. On December 18, 2011 at 1:28 pm MaryAnne said:

    I want to visit Ye Olde Wuxi Starbucks too! Trying to figure out when I can squeeze in a visit now… hmm…

    PS I interviewed another citizen of honorable Wuxi yesterday here in Hangzhou and he DIDN’T say a thing about the lake!!!! So I failed him for comprehension. I mean, how could he not comprehend how important it is? I mean really— 3rd largest lake in China! Honestly, kids these days.
    MaryAnne recently posted..Top 4 Tips on How to Traumatize Your Parents When They Come to Visit You

  3. On December 18, 2011 at 4:06 pm 50+ and on the Run said:

    This brought back a deeply buried memory–visiting Old Economy Village near Pittsburgh when I was about 3. They kept telling us about the terrifying Indian attacks–as we rounded a corner, I saw a group of nuns in fully habits, and began pointing and shouting, “Indians, Indians!” Well, I hadn’t seen Indians before. Or nuns, either.
    50+ and on the Run recently posted..Sunday Haiku XII

  4. On December 18, 2011 at 4:47 pm Uncle Ed said:

    Honeymoon, Kitty Hawk inland coastal waterway, catching blue crabs for gumbo, I looked a lot like that statue but it hurt a whole lot more than this fellow’s expression indicates. Stupid crab wouldn’t let go. They actually attack when you bug them, who knew.

  5. On December 18, 2011 at 8:36 pm Daryle said:

    I almost fell out of my chair laughing when you mentioned your Kent Family Chronicles addiction! I devoured every book I could get my hands on when I was young, many of them not age appropriate. I read Agatha Christie well before I hit 10 years old and way too many Danielle Steele books. However, my absolute favorite author was John Jakes! I couldn’t get enough, and this addiction lasted for years. Thanks for the little walk down nerd memory lane!

    • On December 18, 2011 at 11:29 pm Sally said:

      Well, it’s nice to know I’m not alone! I recently saw a John Jakes’ novel in the teacher’s room at school & I was very tempted to steal it and read it… you know, for old time’s sake.

  6. On December 19, 2011 at 3:44 am Amy said:

    The Witch of Blackbird Pond – love it! Did you ever read any Elizabeth Goudge? Zilpha Keatley Snyder? I was a mega reading dork as a kid…oh wait…

    I love those old ads – are they really for current products? Do you know if that’s a trend now in China in general, or just in the old-timey towns?

    • On December 19, 2011 at 9:17 am Sally said:

      Hmm… I haven’t heard of these authors. But I had a pretty limited selection — either the teeny tiny library at my Catholic school or whatever old books I could find at my grandmother’s house. I think I may have to go do a little stroll down memory lane and download your suggestions to my Kindle…
      As for the ads, I’ve only ever seen them at the old timey village. They are super cool, aren’t they?

  7. On December 19, 2011 at 6:03 am Rachel said:

    I was obsessed with horses as a kid. I had horses, rode them, loved them. Maybe you’re thinking “that’s not nerdy, every little girl is obsessed with horses.” Maybe you’d be right, but I took it to a nerdy excess. I actually competed in hippology competitions – hippology is the study of horses. I even got tenth place in the district one year! So you know I studied up on my Punnett squares and feed to weight ratios. Among other things.
    Rachel recently posted..Travel Photo: Ithaca, New York

    • On December 19, 2011 at 9:14 am Sally said:

      I was also really obsessed with horses — but more the concept than the actual reality. I read all the horse books (My Friend Flicka, anyone?) and was convinced that I really needed to be best friends with a horse. And then my parent’s got a pony — an old, cranky pony that was not a fan of wearing a saddle. The first time I rode it, it took off which resulted in me falling off and freaking out. I refused to even go into the same barn as that pony for YEARS until I finally decided it was my teenage girl duty to befriend it. Well, I did… and then my mom sold it. Ahh, but that’s a whole different blog entry!
      I’m impressed… feed to weight ratio? I had no idea.

  8. On December 19, 2011 at 11:54 am Stephanie - The Travel Chica said:

    So much quirkiness to explore in China.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..How I Lived in Buenos Aires for $1000 a Month

  9. On December 19, 2011 at 5:00 pm Kate said:

    Wait, reading historical fiction is nerdy? Crap… And I thought that my reign as two-time middle school spelling bee champ was the only thing I had to hide from my past.

    Nice photos and very cool topic!
    Kate recently posted..Christmas Spirit Mania

    • On December 19, 2011 at 11:53 pm Sally said:

      Well, I think it’s more nerdy when you do it as a kid… especially when you’re the only 12-year-old at school who’s reading Western novels.
      Two-time spelling bee champ, huh? I only got as far as runner-up. 🙂

  10. On December 19, 2011 at 7:02 pm Maria said:

    Love this post! Asia is an amazing mix of old, new and futuristic.
    Maria recently posted..When a Stranger Calls

  11. On December 19, 2011 at 8:36 pm Ken C. said:

    Childhood obsessions? Nope. I was a perfectly normal & average kid, with very mainstream tendencies…just ask any of the several psychiatrists and other mental health professionals who looked after me at “The Institution.”

    Seriously, as a kid, I used to [obsessively] read those old pulp novels, which were reprints of stories originally published in the 1930s – 1940s. During the Depression, I think they were called “dime novels.” They were great.

    Oh, I also enjoy old buildings, churches, and even old graveyards. Places with a sense of time, where the passage of time is evident.

    Ken C.

  12. On December 19, 2011 at 8:56 pm Andi of My Beautiful Adventures said:

    I was a book nerd growing up too! In fact I won a competition in grade school for reading the most books one year!!! 😉
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..France & Italy With Trafalgar Tours: Day 5 (Part 1)

    • On December 19, 2011 at 11:50 pm Sally said:

      Oh man, we didn’t have that competition at my school. I wish we had! The closest we had was Book It, that program where you could win a free Pizza Hut personal pan pizza if you read enough books every month. Let’s just say I won a lot of pizzas.

  13. On December 20, 2011 at 1:08 pm Erin said:

    You hiked the Nakasendo trail? Jealous! We went to Tsumago during a typhoon and didn’t get to hike to Magome or do anything really except wander around without an umbrella (damn packing light) and get soaking wet. It is such a cute town though. Glad to hear they have oldy worldy villages in China too.
    Erin recently posted..Photo of the Week: Old Truck on Koh Mak

    • On December 20, 2011 at 11:57 pm Sally said:

      Errmmm… not to make you any MORE jealous, but the Nakasendo hike was probably one of my most favoritest trips. We went there in the fall when the weather was gorgeous and there were tons of changing leaves everywhere. Magome & Tsumago were totally overrun with Japanese tourists at the time (lots of ye olde tour buses!) but the trail itself was a nice little slice of peace. Umm, not to rub it in or anything…

  14. On December 22, 2011 at 10:35 am choi kum fook said:

    Actually, a lot of historical fiction to write and antique to visit in China because it has been composed of five thousand years of history! I am really appreciated and addicted by your post and photos,especially the one with warrior uniform dressed up! Hilarious! Awesome! Good attempt! It definitely wouldn’t kill you! Ha! Ha! I enjoy the post very much, especially the old timey things.May be I am old already! By the way, wishing you a happy Christmas and New Year to come! Abregado! Miss Sally!

  15. On January 2, 2012 at 10:38 am Erik said:

    I would migrate from obsession to obsession; birds, dinosaur, stars, sports.

    I’d read everything I could get my hands on, make my parents run me to all kinds of museums & sights, then something else would catch my fancy, and I would move on.
    Erik recently posted..Photo of the Day- The Flatiron Building, New York City

  16. On February 21, 2012 at 5:40 am Ceri said:

    Love historical novels! Love them. 😀

    I guess my obsession now is with anything from 1920s-1950s Hollywood. Though I don’t think Mexico’s going to help me out with that much.

    By the way, I’m ashamed to say this but I may steal this series idea (giving you full credit) to talk about my favourite things in Mexico. Haha. With your permission, of course. 😉
    Ceri recently posted..Return to Blogging (with a Vlog)


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