Yuyao city offers a treat that's sweet but challenging to collect, Wu Yiyao discovers the pleasures of waxberries.
High in the trees in the hills of Yuyao in Zhejiang province, just 126 kilometers from Shanghai, a treasured fruit is just waiting to be picked, eaten and enjoyed. But these fruits are not to be had easily. Waxberry pickers need to be quick on their feet, able to balance and avoid a sting from their fruit-loving arch-nemesis - feisty green worms.
In a short period from late June to early July, waxberries are ripe and in season.
Waxberries have been growing in Yuyao for thousands of years, but it hasn't been until recently that picking tours have become popular. As sweet and juicy as the fruit may be, it takes dedication and strength to climb up the hills to enjoy a taste of nature's fruit.
First, visitors have the challenge of climbing up the waxberry tree hill. Waxberries are rarely grown on flat ground because they need delicate changes of sunlight, temperature and humidity - so they grow best on the sides of hills. Rain, common in summer in Zhejiang province, only makes this mission more difficult. Muddy hills make it so slippery that pickers feel and look like penguins sliding on ice.
For some, this is not a simple hike up a mountain. It's comical to watch people grabbing on to tree branches and making little movement or progress to their desired fruit until you try it - then you'll be part of the joke as well.
If the hike and battle to climb the hill aren't challenges enough, then maybe the flavescens will add to the adventure. These plump green worms aren't as harmless as they look and can sting those who get in the way of them and the tasty waxberries.
An umbrella is a useful tool, not only to help up the hill, but also to protect against the pests.
The journey is far from over. While conquering slippery slopes and warring off worms, distinguishing between the ripe waxberries from the others can also be a challenge. Some background knowledge may be helpful - the pink ones are not yet ripe, red ones are better but sour, the burgundy ones are sweet but not juicy enough and the purple and black ones are simply fabulous. Avoid those that are easily crushed between your fingers - these have already been conquered by the worms.
Most people are satisfied with a few berries, but for ambitious waxberry pickers, this is just a start. Top quality waxberries are usually found high up in the tops of the trees. Since the best waxberries are high in the trees, it takes extra effort to get the best of the bunch.
To obtain a perfect waxberry as large as a table tennis ball, which could be as high as one meter above your head, you have two choices: to climb the tree, a technique that requires experience and special training, or use your weapon - the umbrella.
Use the umbrella handle to hook the branch tip, pull it back gently and grasp the fruit. Pickers need to be patient, however, as it's easy for the branch to slip away and even see the fruit you've been after rolling down the hill.
Be quick, be tender and be lucky. And once you have your waxberries, the reward makes the trouble worthwhile. The prize is a fruit full of rosy and honey-like juice gradually melting in your mouth. You may leave with stains on your nails, fruit in your mouth and maybe a few leaves in your hair, but you can leave confident you've conquered the slippery hills and stinging worms to enjoy the precious fruit.
You can also avoid the hassle entirely and just buy buckets from the farmers and take them home, but where is the fun in that?
After several hours climbing up and down, finding a place to relax isn't difficult. Farm restaurants, village home-stays and fishing spots are quite close. For the exhausted waxberry pickers, a cup of home-brewed wayberry wine will drive away heat and thirst.
And if you're ready for another challenge, farmers have prepared fishing facilities in a big pond so visitors can catch their own fish for lunch or dinner.
A day or two in Yuyao may not offer a lazy retreat, but the city is a great place to pick and catch your own food and enjoy the pleasures of nature.