A cruise offers glimpses of historical and modern Shanghai, Shi Yingying reports.
Sitting at Suzhou Creek's Danba Road Pier, she cuts a delightful figure. With her slinky lines contrasting with the bulk of the much larger boats plying the waterway, she is definitely someone who Emily Zhang and her family would like to spend Friday afternoon with. Her name: Suzhou Cruise No 1.
"Now we will have something fun to do on the weekend when relatives and friends come to town to visit," said 30-year-old Zhang, who brought her mother, wheelchair-bound mother-in-law and 6-month-old daughter along for a slow ride along the Suzhou Creek.
"Elderly members of the family want to go on a relaxing cruise to catch the sights and there aren't many options in Shanghai," said Zhang.
"Once I heard about the Suzhou Creek cruise, I've decided to come and try."
With plenty of open space to catch the sunshine and breezes, the milk-white-colored Suzhou Cruise No 1, equipped with cozy sofas to make the trip more comfortable, commenced services at the end of April.
This latest tourist venture is part of a sweeping plan to revamp the Suzhou Creek area and other parts of Shanghai to build up the city's credentials as a desirable tourist destination, while at the same time impressing Expo 2010 Shanghai visitors.
Sailing through the city a breeze
"For the first time in history, we're ready to offer the public a ride on Suzhou Creek," said Feng Xuecong, the supervising captain of Suzhou Creek's six new cruise boats.
"Everything is running smoothly. We have two departure times at 9 am and 1 pm everyday, but more cruises can be made available depending on the passenger flow on any particular day," Feng said
Capable of holding up to 10 people, Suzhou Cruise No 1 is the smallest of the six boats, which are berthed at both Danba Road Pier and Moganshan Road Pier. The difference between the smaller Suzhou Cruise No 1 and her bigger sister No 21, a glass-topped cruiser that can accommodate up to 50 passengers, is not only the size but also the speed.
"I'd suggest the elderly and children take the bigger boat as it travels at a slower speed and the ride is smooth. It takes around two hours for a roundtrip," said Feng.
"While for young people, the smaller boat is a bit more exciting as it runs faster - a round-trip takes about an hour."
Along the 10-kilometer waterway between Danba Road and Moganshan Road piers, both the city's modern and historical character is reflected.
Old factories and warehouses from 1930s are scattered along one side of the creek, with a number of them converted into museums. They form a sharp contrast to the colorful 30-story-plus residential and office towers and green parks on the opposite bank.
Having grown up near the shores of Suzhou Creek, Li Hua, now in her forties, feels a bit nostalgic during her ride. "I had a feeling of being left out with all these fancy buildings along Suzhou Creek, there's no trace of the past."
However, Li, who has lived in Guangzhou for the past 20 years, admits she is impressed by the area's development. "I can never forget the rotten stench that used to emanate from the waterway when I was a child. The water used to be completely black and the mud at the bottom trapping the pollution just made things worse."
But now, roads have been repaved, and old apartments have been torn down and rebuilt, or turned into parks - replacing the derelict buildings and eyesores that used line Suzhou Creek, Li said.
But what has not changed are the old bridges that straddle Suzhou Creek. Constructed from wood and steel, these delightful and variously designed bridges are among the highlights of the trip.
For Feng, who has had sailing experience on both the Huangpu River and Suzhou Creek, what impresses him most about a trip along the creek are the views.
"Attractions during a cruise along the Huangpu River are limited to the Bund and Lujiazui Area (on the Pudong side of the river) and it takes only about 15 minutes to see everything of interest. While along Suzhou Creek, there're bays and dozens of viewing points. It is much more interesting and scenic," he said.