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September 6, 2011

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Forty ways to leave your lover

WHEN Shanghai's embrace becomes too stifling, it's time for a weekend fling, and a French travel writer plots 40 ways - he calls them "infidelities" - to leave the city for a short weekend or a longer amour. Nie Xin reports.

Gilles Rouverand compares Shanghai to his lover but one who can be too demanding.

"I love you, I love your amazing pace ... the bright makeup you put on every evening, your eyes shining at every new building, your self-confidence ... but ...

"I'm sorry ... This Friday I began to feel I was getting tired of you. I need a break from your frenetic pace, your exuberance."

And so the travel writer from Paris details 40 trips away from his heartthrob, ranging from half a day to three. He calls them "short infidelities ... At least one night far away from her! You are getting used to being away ... and 'Great infidelities' (three days from Friday evening to Monday morning."

His new book, "40 Weekend Breaks from Shanghai: Shanghai Connections" covers day trips to water towns, longer excursions to Moganshan Mountain, and even longer trips to Qingdao, Shandong Province and Hainan Island. He claims he can get you back to Shanghai Monday morning.

The small 135-page book contains detailed maps, lots of pictures, information on cities, special sites, transport and hotels; he gives interesting tips on biking, surfing, paragliding and sailing.

"I just recalled all the beauties surrounding you," he writes in his preface, "the fabulous peaks, the empty beaches, the lakes, the thousand-year-old temples, the wonderful parks."

Rouverand moved to Shanghai three years ago as project manager for a French market research company. He had pressed his employer to shift his position from Paris to Shanghai. He first visited China 13 years ago in 1998 with a group of students and fell in love with the country through his three weeks of travels to Beijing, Shanghai, Xi'an, Guilin and Hong Kong. He planned to return one day.

Today, traveling and writing may supplant market research as a career.

Since he was a boy, Rouverand has always loved travel. "The discovery of new places and people is very enriching and I see travel as a mind-opening experience," he says. He says people are always changed and matured by travel.

"I also feel you need to go out of the city from time to time, just to relax a bit and recharge the batteries. I travel out of Shanghai every other weekend and think this is a good balance," he says.

Since landing three years ago, he has traveled extensively and discovered wonderful spots. At the same time he encountered many expats searching for great escapes but complaining "there is nothing to do around Shanghai."

He decided to write a guide book, collecting the best places and providing practical information, plus interesting descriptions and photos so people can easily choose their weekend destination and enjoy it.

He and his family recently visited Sichuan Province, which is not included in this book. He has also visited Kashgar in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, Lhasa in the Tibet Autonomous Region, Lijiang and Dali in Yunnan Province. "More than the cities, the landscapes are fabulous," he says.

"The more I travel in China the more I'm fascinated by this country and its inhabitants, but the country's size and its incredible diversity can give the strange feeling that one lifetime of exploration would not be enough," he says.

One of his favorite places is the old city of Pingyao, in Shanxi Province, one of the very few well-preserved old cities.

"The old walls surrounding the city, the nice old streets where you can walk or ride a bicycle, the old bank offices - all make you feel as though you jumped 200 years back in time," he says.

Besides, the Yellow Mountain in winter is a magnet. "With snow blanketing the peaks and pine trees, absolutely nobody around, just the sound of the wind and the clouds dancing between the peaks, it looks like heaven, and it's unforgettable," he says.

He often travels with other people but if no one is available, he doesn't mind traveling alone. "This sometimes makes it even easier if you want to socialize with locals. Chinese people are always curious to see a tourist traveling alone and have many questions to ask," he says.

Before setting out, he does his homework, but he doesn't want to read too much, so that there are surprises left for him to experience.

"Travel is about sightseeing, meeting people, tasting new foods, discovering local customs, and above all - letting yourself be surprised," he says.

"If you go to a place just to visit a famous sight and do not talk to any locals or discover at least a bit of their culture, it's not really worth the trip," he says.

Rouverand is now considering writing similar guidebooks for other cities in China, maybe in Asia. He's also considering a travel website and developing trips and hotels that are environmentally friendly.

A portion of book sales will be donated to the charity A Pleines Maines (Full Hands) that helps orphans and people with disabilities in China.



Book price: 150 yuan/US$23 (10 yuan to charity)

Delivery downtown Shanghai: 15 yuan

Gilles Rouverand

Nationality: French

Age: 30

Profession: Travel guide writer


Self description: China lover living in Shanghai.

Favorite place: Shanghai during the week, outside of Shanghai on the weekend.

Strangest sight: Near Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province, in a Siberian tiger park you can buy live chickens and cows to feed the tigers.

Worst experience: Stuck in the middle of the crowd in one of the canal towns close to Shanghai.

Motto for life: Smile, enjoy every day, discover new places and meet new people, and smile again.

How to improve Shanghai: More bicycles instead of cars, more music festivals.

Advice to newcomers: Learn to speak Chinese as soon as possible.


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