This time last spring, I went looking for cranes. Hooded cranes to be exact. The idea was to write a post contrasting Shanghai’s overwintering hooded cranes with the other kind of cranes found in Shanghai—tower cranes. I read up on Chinese cranes in folklore. . . blah blah. It was a nice idea, but the hooded cranes did not cooperate. Not one could be found on Chongming Island at the Dongtan Nature Reserve. In fact, there really weren’t many birds at all except for a few scraggly black swans.
But the trip was not a loss; curiosity had been killing me. What would a Chinese Nature Reserve look like? I went in with an open mind—forced all images of Utah national parks and wetland reserves out of my brain.
It did not disappoint. Part nature reserve, part amusement park, Dongtan was exactly what you’d expect from a bird sanctuary in China: bikes for rent, boat rides, tram rides, restaurants, a pirate bridge, a petting zoo, and so much more—abandoned buildings, discarded equipment, picnic tables, and, of course, an alligator park. And then there were the ever-present Dutch windmills—I’ve seen Dutch windmills in other places in China and simply cannot account for their appeal. Perhaps they were conceived as a playful twist on Dongtan’s wind turbines . . .
It was also an oddly pleasant, and very silent place for a three-hour bike ride, maybe the best sense of nature so close to Shanghai. Well, nature in a planned sort of Chinese way—the trees were planted in perfect horizontal rows with trunks painted white to help. . . blind bikers, I suppose. It was also mostly deserted, except for a few wan souls who, in true Shanghai IKEA fashion, brought their tents and hammocks and camped out on the grass during that warm day in March. Maybe there were elderly people looking for dates, too. I’m not sure.
Am I poking fun? Yes, a little bit. Yet, there were some truly beautiful areas. Even on a hazy day in March, the trip was worth the drive. Although I expected to be chasing hooded cranes, it turned out I was just chasing windmills.