Hangzhou. The City of Heaven

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June 2nd 2008
Published: June 7th 2008
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Hangzhou was described by Marco Polo who allegedly visited the city in 1300 as ‘The City of Heaven’ this is something that we do not think would worthy the same title now but non the less Hangzhou has got some interesting places still woth visiting. The huge West Lake or Xi Hu is situated at the heart of Hangzhou and covers over three square miles, it is surrounded by hills and high rise buildings as well as an underpass which cuts its way underneath the lake from one side to the other.
The entire walk reportedly takes a whole day to walk leisurely around stopping along the way to view the different views across the lake and to watch men fish huge carp out of the water, along with exploring the different gardens and islands.
We decided to hire bikes in the hope that it would encourage the boys to circumnavigate another lake and to take their mind of the distance we needed to travel. However after working out deposits and photo ID and writing all the bank note serial numbers down we pedalled off down the path only to be hailed down by a policemen who shook his finger at us and pointed to the rode, implying that we could not ride the bikes around the lake! So with one look at the busy road and the crazy taxi drivers weaving their away around anything that moved we traded the bikes back in at the hire place and went in search of another mode of transport.
It was a beautiful day so we were quite happy to walk under the Willow trees in the shade for a while and enjoy the views across the lake. Motorised Golf cars rode around the lake and stopped at different places collecting passengers who were weary and wanted to rest their feet so we hopped on and drove in style for part of the route, even that was scary at times as the pedestrians still refused to get out of the way of the vehicle as it approached and the driver insisted on driver full speed over the little hump bridges and then slamming his breaks on as he dived down the other side!
We walked over the Su Causeway the longer of the two, linked with six stone bridges along the western part of the lake. Xiaoying Island in the middle of the lake refers to the three moon reflecting pagodas off its shores which are lit on a full moon night and covered with paper to create reflections resembling the moon.
The lake was also littered with different sized boats ferrying you across the lake to the island or offering a more sedately tour in a wooden boat with rattan chairs, we had no shortage of offers!
The Huqinyu Tang Museum of Chinese Medicine was well worth the visit, housed in an old apothecary shop. It was established by the merchant Hu Xueyan during the Qing Dynasty and traces the history of traditional Chinese medicine which goes back thousands of years. It was also a wonderful old building with huge wooden columns and beautiful wooden carved screens. Hand made clay tiles and wooden guttering covered internal small courtyards and herbs and medicinal plants grew in huge pots in the sun. It was also completely empty so we walked around the place on our own and were looked upon with interest by the locals. It is difficult to believe that the Chinese people were practicing medicine treatment and writing books thousands of years ago and experimenting on trying all the different remedies, often poisoning themselves in the process when we were dying of the plague and gout! The glass jars were filled with weird and wonderful objects, tree roots and leaves along with pickled geckos, snakes, fish and hedgehogs to mention a few! There seemed to be a cure for everything.
The street alongside the Museum was also crammed full of medicine shops selling all kinds of powders and liquids all very popular with the local people.!

We also went to a great restaurant called Louwailou who specialise in ‘Fish Shred Soup’ and ‘Beggars Chicken’ (a whole chicken cooked inside a ball of mud) which is broken and removed at your table. Unusual but delicious. We also tried some other local delicacies shrimps in an egg custard soup being one of them, we were not so sure of the ‘Dongo Pork’ layers of pork and fat in a gelatine mould! Good to try them though.

Starring is something we have found very difficult getting used to as it is common practice here in China especially as we are such an oddity! Tristan is often stopped and asked to stand next to someone or pick up their child for a photo, they find his hair fascinating and from an earlier encounter with a local who called him Golden Boy the nick name has stuck! Westerners who are not in tour groups are not often spotted walking down alley ways and eating in local restaurants so we are the cause of great amusement and giggles. You also get the best food and don’t pay tourist prices. Everyone is so honest too and will check our money and change more than once, the first time we left a tip the lady came running after us wanting to give us it back…. So now we make a point of giving them some money in their hands and say it is for them as a thank you, the young girls are often quite ecstatic! Obviously not a Chinese custom out of the main cities. Guess it won’t be long though before it will be the norm and service charge will be included.
Another interesting custom here is to record everything in triplicate and to hand write everything, reams of paper and carbon paper are used to file and then return a copy to you as you leave. The deposit for the hotel room card key is also a favourite where you have to pay cash for each card and then once returned safely your money is returned, usually the exact same note as the serial number is also written down! They use a counting machine to count the 100 yuan notes and look at each one to inspect that it is genuine, this can take some time when paying for two rooms. We gave up trying to use a credit card as so many of the hotels wont accept them so we have to regularly search for an International ATM, there lies another story. Have we told you about the post office, yes The (one and only) Post Office in most cities, usually hidden away from the main road and who usually only have a few stamps for post cards available each day. We have spent many a frustrating time trying to find them and then an equally challenging time finding the green post box, so apologies now to you all if you have not received your cards as they are probably still awaiting collection! It is interesting how we take so much or granted in the UK and then when we want to access something we are so used to having to hand you cannot find it. We went to post a small parcel to my niece, Isabel and it was put in a huge box (my parcel was not acceptable) and then weighed, three forms filled in triplicate and then told that a gift costing £3.50 was going to cost us £25 to send, so we then had to make hand signs for the parcel back so can post it in Australia. One thing is for certain if you are contemplating a trip to China it is advisable to come with some translated cards with specific questions on them so that you can show them to people when needing help, ‘Where is the Post Office?’ ‘Where is the international ATM please?’ ‘Can you take me to the Railway Station’ ‘Can I have a hot cup of tea, with cold milk please?’ ’What am I eating? ’To mention just a few, you just hope that the person you ask can read!!!!! Certainly the black and white Priors Court Writing with Symbols pictures have been very useful and a must for all travellers. Perhaps this is a side line the software company could look into developing?
Getting a taxi is also great fun as you usually have to point to the translated place of destination and then insist they use the meter as they would far rather give you their ‘fixed price’ some have even refused to take us and gang up with their fellow drivers refusing to budge on the overall tourist price. We have often turned the meter on ourselves in order to get the correct fare price much to their amusement, make sure you have the correct money too as they do not like giving change, funny that! Once in the taxi you then have to cling onto the handles inside as they take off at great neck speed and dodge the cars in every lane possible along the road even the hard shoulder and sometimes on the wrong side of the road if they can get you there even faster in order to pick up another fare. There are no seat belts in the back and the front ones are usually filthy leaving grey lines across your clothes. They also expect you to lift out your luggage and will sit revving the car waiting for you to close the doors. It is still though the only real way of getting around so you just have to rely on their kamikaze approach to deliver you to your destination.
We have often smiled and thought of our friend Emma Robinson who when was travelling with us in Thailand would inspect the hotel bathrooms and would shudder at the public toilets if they did not comprise of a western toilet and had been cleaned recently. Well Emma we have seen some toilets that would not have passed the ER Test, most of the toilets are 101 styles or continuous troughs linked through each cubicle!! You need to have your own toilet paper, soap and flannel a must for the survival kit. We too have started to give them the ER thumbs up or down in your honour now which makes us smile.
Spitting is the other thing the Chinese do a lot and it appears to be the norm and completely acceptable here, really quite unpleasant actually especially if you are within ear shot or spitting distance! Not queuing and pushing is something else that seems to be the norm we have become quite experts at lining up at the station or airport with all our suitcases and rucksacks in a row blocking anyone from pushing past, we have learnt how to become a formidable force to be reckoned with in any queue and can push as well as any Chinaman!


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