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A down-to-earth visit to the kite capital of the world brings crafts and tasty treats, but not many kites

By NewsChina Updated Jul.1

Weifang wetland park is a great way to get your cut of wilderness in the city

My visit to Weifang comes in the late Spring when Beijing slowly becomes unbearable as it grinds toward its summer heat and humidity. So escape to anywhere where there is a breeze is not only desirable, but necessary. Weifang lies on the northeastern side of Shandong Province, less than 200 kilometers from its more famous cousin, the seaside city of Qing -dao, mainly known for its beer and German connections.  

But Weifang is best known for its kites, and therefore the breeze needed to fly them. Not just that, but it is crowned the kite capital of the world. However, after a couple of days in the city, although I admit that I didn’t put much effort in, you might go without seeing a single kite take flight. Thankfully, there are plenty of other, and personally, more exciting things to do in Weifang, although if you do want to see kites, the annual Weifang International Kite Festival usually takes place at the end of April and attracts thousands of kite aficionados. The lack of the 2020 event may explain the dearth of kites. 

I started exploring Weifang from the Bailang Luzhou National Urban Wetland Park on the west side of the city. While Weifang boasts other more prominent parks, this one was simply on the way and open all day round, even long after sunset. The large area might take a whole afternoon simply because of the sheer size, taking hours to get around the lush green forests separated by ponds and wooden bridges. Running tracks wind all the way around the park but coming by right around sunset, I did not witness many fitness enthusiasts. A few viewing platforms are elevated around the park and deliver a great view. One might think parks of such wilderness are nothing new, however spending years around perfectly manicured gardens of Beijing, I more than ever enjoy a bit of urban wilderness.  

Kites and Woodblocks
Since every travel article about Weifang stresses its kites, I headed to Weifang World Kite Museum and square, for it seemed like a box that simply had to be checked, if not for my own interest, then for having a fair impression of the city. During the daytime, there were no kites to be seen in the square. In fairness, nothing but the name “Kite Commemoration Square” suggests there should be kite activity in the area. Come to think of it, it was only thanks to the proximity to the kite museum that it has received the name. The Kite Museum may be worth an hour of your time, but don’t expect to be blown away. It is a fair starting point to get to know Weifang a bit better, but the locals I talked to said “there is nothing special there.” 

Seeing the craftsmanship of kites and other local arts might be better at Yangjiabu Folk Culture Village. A gated village with multiple courtyards boasts local vendors selling local kites and woodblock pictures. The latter was one of the reasons for my visit to Weifang. Alternatively called New Year pictures, the colorful scenes pressed on thin paper depict mythological scenes, gods and goddesses, door guards, or good fortune-bringing fish, symbolizing abundance for the next year. While these are found in other places, Weifang locals still make them by hand. But the elderly sellers expressed their worry that the craft would soon be forgotten as young people do not show too much interest in learning how to do it. The pictures come at an incredibly cheap price of 5 yuan, and for less than a US dollar, they are perfect for home decoration or a gift. The streets around Yangjiabu are dotted with small shops selling kites, so if you don’t fancy seeing the woodblock printing studios, you can certainly find kite-related souvenirs.  

Besides local crafts, Weifang’s Shouguang District is one of the largest suppliers of fresh vegetables to the whole of China. That is certainly visible when driving around Weifang since kilometers of greenhouses and open gardens stretch by the main roads with no end. Shouguang thus is a great place to get the freshest produce and visit the Vegetable Garden - a tourist attraction for anyone interested in agriculture or just curious about the latest inventions and practices of the industry. While it may not immediately seem like an attractive way to spend a few hours, the vegetable industry holds more hi-tech surprises than you might assume. After all, supplying the country of this size with food has to come with a few good practices.  

Images made by woodblock printing are for sale at Yangjiabu

Jam and Tea
It would be a pity to leave Weifang without taking a day trip out of the city. Just west of Weifang, the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) village of Jingtang lays surrounded by hills. It greets visitors with the refreshing approach to the museum since a large part of the town lays completely untouched and climbing plants are taking over crumbling bricks and stone steps. The walking paths are neatly cleaned up but are mostly free from the usual plastic “folk village” decorations and instead have real corn hanging under the beams (which comes with a few birds picking on it). Looking through an exhibition in one of the courtyards, I chatted up a local worker who says people from the village moved out about 30 years ago, mostly looking for a better life in the city. The exhibition shows some of the original furniture and a collection of photographs. “This is me, and this is my younger brother,” he adds pointing to one of the small pictures, “we used to live in this house!” While it may seem like a strange concept to work in the house you grew up in, he seems quite satisfied with talking to visitors and telling his story. The narrow streets are dotted with vendors selling local chrysanthemum jam, dried persimmons or tea. Some of them pick a more creative path and make sculptures from the twisted roots. I am usually not the one to fall for the tricks of local vendors, but most of them look at least over 80 years old and I end up buying a green jar of chrysanthemum jam with no idea where to use it and only with the fascination about the concept itself. The restaurants close by are also serving local specialties - rooster and chrysanthemum dishes. Roosters are sitting in cages close to the restaurant and diners can pick the one they like to be slaughtered and cooked. It seemed slightly contradictory to my values, so I opted in for the fried chrysanthemum leaves instead. 
 
Weifang serves as a pleasant weekend trip or could be combined with a longer outing around Shandong Province. As one of the locals said “Here in Shandong, we are famous for our hospitality, here, eat this pancake, sit down!”
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