Shanghai is hectic. There are roughly 24 million people living and working in the city. Crammed into a subway on a weekday morning, you would not find this number surprising. It can be both exciting and exhausting to live in a city that so many people call home. We have ventured to various locations around Asia, but we have only done limited travel within China – so Shanghai is all we really know. Recently, however, we finally explored the nearby mountain town Moganshan, often referred to as “the Hamptons of China”. Coming from Shanghai and arriving at the Deqing train station was like walking into another world. Instead of the constant sound of cars honking and the endless sea of high rises, Deqing was wide open and almost suburban. Our hotel had arranged a car to pick us up, so as soon as we arrived we found ourselves driving up winding mountain roads on our way to what we hoped would be a quiet, restful weekend.
The hotel was actually more of a lodge, tucked on the side of the highway on the way to the main town. Rustic and restful, the lodge reminded me of where we were married in Vermont, so I felt right at home.
After settling into our room, we headed to the hotel restaurant for lunch. A small tank near the kitchen held a number of fish and Evie and I were watching them splash around. The owner asked if we liked fish, and at the same time swooped in to the tank with a net, pulling one out. 20 minutes later, we were eating said fish, served in a delicious soy and vinegar sauce. On the side we had potatoes, green beans and tofu wrapped dumplings.
After lunch we headed to the pool for a swim. Evie absolutely loves playing in the water, and I can’t wait to get her into some swimming lessons. We splashed around for an hour or so before deciding to get a car up to Mogan Mountain.
Although it was only about 4 km to the scenic area, the crowded and winding roads made it feel like it took forever to arrive to the town. The views along the way were incredible. However, they only let a certain number of people in to the town at a time, so we sat on the side of the highway with a squiggly toddler for at least 30 minutes while we waited to enter.
We finally got into the park around 5pm. After walking around and exploring the different stone staircases and European style buildings, we needed to get some dinner before it got dark around 6:30. There are loads of restaurants, but we picked one that looked empty. That’s not usually a good sign for somewhere to eat, but definitely a good bet when you need quick service, and with a toddler, you always need quick service. The menu was entirely in Chinese, and so I just pointed to a set meal that was about 30 USD and hoped for the best. The first couple of dishes that came out were mostly veggie based. The dish that most sticks out in my mind was a dish local to the area made from thick bamboo chunks served in a dark red sauce. The finale was an entire chicken cooked in a hot broth. Living in Shanghai, it’s easy to avoid these types of food adventures, so I was enjoying trying something new, even if it meant going outside my food comfort zone.
My favorite part of dinner, however, was watching Evie interact with the ayis (literally meaning “auntie’) running the restaurant. Evie often charms people wherever we go. Partly because Chinese people genuinely love and indulge children, and partly because her hazel eyes and curly hair set her apart in China. It’s not unusual to attract a crowd of people who want to take pictures with Evie, or even just say hello. But this time, Evie had stickers. The ayis took her around the restaurant while Erin and I finished eating, and Evie gave them stickers from her sticker book. Everyone was enjoying themselves, and we got to eat in peace.
Back at the hotel we settled in to bed, and the sky grew darker than I remembered it could.
We woke up the next morning and after making coffee, we ambled downstairs and found the other guests outside around different tables. A couple of the guests asked us to join them, and we sat down for my first official non-street food Chinese style breakfast. And boy was it loaded with carbs! I had, corn on the cob, puffed bread, fried bread, some fermented veggies, and a hard boiled egg.
After breakfast we decided we wanted more time in the town, so we hired a cab and headed back up the mountain. After wandering around we ended back at The Lodge, locally referred to as “Mark’s coffee”, referring to the café’s founder Mark Kitto, a long term China expat who moved to Moganshan in the early 2000’s. Although he and his family have returned to the UK, the business remains a common place for foreign visitors to use as a home base. When rain came in later in the afternoon, we ordered lunch and settled in while Evie napped.
Before catching the train back to Shanghai we explored some of the many stone staircases that weave through the bamboo forests. I left Moganshan feeling restored, healthy and peaceful. It was a wonderful escape, with the most wonderful people in my life.