Published: December 13th 2007November 18th 2007
Arriving in Shanghai, we were given the first real culture shock of the trip thus far. Whereas Japan was similar to the UK in terms of cleanliness and development, China certainly wasn't. In a way this was a good thing as it really signified the start of the varying cultures we have come to experience on this trip.
Shanghai is a real city of 2 halves. On one hand it has come through its tarnished reputation of 50 years ago when it was famed for its illegal trading (black market goods) and drug using citizens. There is a stunning view from the Bund, a tourist-trap promenade alongside the Huangpo River, which looks across at the impressive financial district, giving you a visual idea that the city is now a very important economic capital of the East. However, in stark contrast, just a few streets back, derelict houses lay in tatters, surrounded by homeless chinese people begging you or asking to polish your shoes. It really seemed to us as though the city was happy to improve the parts that will inevitably make it rich, however it let its own people and traditional houses suffer and almost just be swept under the
carpet. Very sad but a real introduction to China.
We spent 2 days in Shanghai, walking around the city, again being very 'touristy.' A favourite area of ours was the old market district, full of semi-traditional old shops and street food outlets (when I say street food I literally mean rats!). Also, due to it being a Sunday, it was absolutely packed with locals.
One evening we were recommended to go and see the circus, which we did along with a friend from the ferry. An impressive show, although it was more of acrobatic performance, as opposed to my traditional view of what a circus should be. Afterwards we kept with our usual trend and hit the tiles to paint the town red. Not probably the best idea as we had a train the next morning but hey, we've given up trying to reason with ourselves by now!!
The train journey was as uneventful as you can imagine. Until we got to Hangzhou that is. To our surprise, and much to our detriment, the city has 2 stations; the main one and then Hangzhou East. You can probably guess what's happening here and yep we managed to
get the train that took us to the latter aka the wrong one. It’s hard to describe the scene outside the East station, and unfortunately we didn't get any pictures to give you an idea. However it was one of the most intimidating environments I have experienced. The whole area was very industrial with a lot of tattered looking buildings and a huge amount of shifty looking men hanging around, not doing anything in particular. What made the situation worse was the Chinese trait of staring. (Staring and squatting literally anywhere, seem to be the Chinese's favourite 2 pastimes). Ok I must admit we stood out, both being western and carrying huge backpacks so we were probably a bit of a tourist attraction ourselves. But the staring does not seem to be out of curiosity, but almost a hostile look as if the want to rob you. Anyway I know you're probably worrying by now Mum, so I won’t go on. Via an internet cafe and a very nice taxi driver, we got to our hostel safe and sound before wandering out for a huge posh curry with all the trimmings and beer - all for the extortionate amount of
about 4 pounds each!!
Hangzhou is China's busiest and most popular domestic tourist attraction. The epicentre is based around the huge West Lake which luckily we got to experience on a lovely bright day. There are apparently 10 must-see spots around the area which are all called charming names like 'Enchanted Dragon in the Mist' or 'Orioles Singing in the Willows. As a proper tourist you are meant to visit all 10, and I think just by taking the leisurely 4 hour stroll around, we managed to see about 6 or 7.
The lake itself is extremely beautiful and surrounded by numerous temples and pagodas. It made it so easy unwind, especially given our hostel which was not far off 4-star standard. We decided to spend 4 days here to really chill to the core.
The chilling was put on hold one night when, in true Ross and Sean style, we decided to test what Hangzhou's public houses looked liked on the inside. We wandered into the first pub and within literally 2 sips of our pints, we got talking to an American guy who informed us that he knew the owner, and that we would not be paying
for a drink all night! He also knew the guitarist and so a 'British' song was to be performed next. So with the Verve's 'Drugs Don’t Work' playing, we ironically downed what was to be the first of many rounds of tequilas....................
There are more photos below