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Published: October 17th 2007
We arrived in Hangzhou to weather that was slightly warmer again than Suzhou, after a two and a half hour trip, during which we dozed and read intermittently. We eventually found the queue for taxis, which was only about two hundred meters long, and snaked backwards and forwards inside well-defined barriers under a tin roof held up by rust and hope. On the way we were accosted by several “private” taxi drivers. These are people who own a car and offer to drive you in their “taxi” to your destination immediately, thereby avoiding having to queue up, but they also try to charge you up to ten times the usual taxi fare. Foreigners especially are targeted, because they are often naïve and also the Chinese seem to think that all foreigners are possessed of untold wealth which they will happily splurge recklessly on just about anything! We politely told these people in Chinese to take a long walk off a short pier and joined the queue, which seemed to be moving quite quickly.
Our taxi delivered us to the hotel, which we had pre-booked on the internet before leaving, but when we got there it was a shock to realise that
this hotel was an absolute dive, and nothing like the photos that were used to advertise it on the internet. After inspecting the room that they would have given us, which was supposed to have views of West Lake, Hangzhou’s main attraction, but instead had a vista of a concrete wall covered by a green sheet of fake grass, we decided there was no way we were going to stay there. We called our travel agent in Beijing and asked if they could book us into another hotel, which we had looked at but decided not to book originally. They replied that, yes, it was possible, and the room rate was the same as that charged by this poor apology for a hotel we were currently in. This other hotel looked much better than the current one, so we decided to take it. Another taxi ride across town and out a couple of km from the city centre brought us to this hotel, the Milan Continental, and what a delight! The look, features, standard and service of this hotel were so far above the first one that they just didn’t compare. We were given a business suite with a bath
(like the room in the Suzhou hotel) and a king size bed, and all for the same price as the dive! It included breakfast, as well, like the Suzhou hotel.
After settling in to our room, we took a taxi from the hotel to downtown Hangzhou and were deposited by the West Lake, along with about 6 million other people, all out and walking at holiday pace, which is about three-quarters the speed of a snail. This lake was originally a shallow bay where the Qiantang River met the sea. It is surrounded on three sides by mountains and on the fourth by the city., in whose western region it now sits, hence the name “West Lake”. The entire scene is very pleasant, or it would be on a fine day with clear, clean air and blue sky. We decided to “go with the flow” and walked along the shore of the lake, admiring the sights and the gradual emergence of the outline of buildings around the lake defined by lights, as the sun set and twilight set in. We decided that we would return the following night with our cameras and get some pictures. We found a great little
pub, The Paradise Bar, in which we could get a cold drink (G&T with ice and a slice of lemon, and a half-litre of Carlsberg draft) for a very good price, and from a second floor outside balcony table which provided good views of the lake through trees which were lit up by coloured lighting, and still the hordes of people endlessly shuffling past and chattering happily, accompanied by the cacophonous honking of horns and bicycle bells.
The next day we took a boat trip across the lake to one of the small islands (all man-made) in the middle. On this island, built in 1552, is a small pavilion set in the midst of a garden. The pavilion was basically a souvenir shop where you could also buy snacks and water. From here we took another boat across the lake to a larger island, called Small Yingzhou Islet, built in 1607, on which were three large ponds. The concept of this island was: an island within the lake and a lake within an island”. The layout of the whole island was quite impressive and reflected a huge amount of planning and forethought by those who constructed it. Just off the
southern shore of this island are three gourd-shaped pagodas, each some two meters high, erected in 1621. Each pagoda has five round holes in it and when lit candles are placed into each pagoda, the light from these candles together with the moonlight reflecting off the water give rise to the naming of this feature as “Three Pools Mirroring the Moon”.
From this islet we took another boat across to the northern end of the lake where we disembarked and visited the Zhongshan Park and then walked across the Bai Causeway, through “Autumn Moon over the Calm Lake” and back to the shore, a good three km walk, crossing the final bridge called “Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge”. If the bridge ever was broken it had been fixed by the time we crossed it! From this corner we could see a conical shaped pagoda, “Precious Stone Hill floating in Rosy Cloud”. It was quite impressive and shaped like the elongated, sharpened end of a pencil, different from the typical pagoda shape of many different storeys, each with a balcony.
By this time it was late afternoon, beer o’clock, so we decided to go and hunt for the Paradise Pub
again and have a cool drink while we waited for sunset and the light show to begin. After an hour and a half, it was sufficiently dark to take some photos, and I have included a panorama of the northern shore of the lake at night, made up of three photos that I have stitched together. As we were feeling quite weary, we decided to take a taxi back to the hotel, have dinner in the hotel restaurant “Casa Café” and then have a bath and early bed for a good night’s sleep. I have to say that the bed in this hotel, unlike many of the glorified house bricks we have slept on in other places, is perhaps the most comfortable and softest bed I have ever slept on. The mattress was more like a doona than a mattress, although it was obviously on a springy supportive base.
The next day we went first of all to a book shop where we purchased a map of Hangzhou in both English and Chinese, and then headed for the famous Hangzhou Silk Museum. Here we were given a guided tour by a girl who spoke enough English to give English-speaking people
a guided tour! The tour included a display of the life-cycle of the silk worm, as well as demonstrations of how the silk is harvested from the cocoons and eventually woven into fabric. There was also a display of many different types of garment worn by people through the ages, from common people to emperors. Silk has a history of some 4,500 years in China, so they have become adept in producing many different types of silk, as well as dyeing it and weaving different patterns into the fabric. It is quite mind-blowing to learn that one cocoon can produce about 2 km of silk strand, and that several of these strands are twined together to make a single thread.
In the museum there were also full-scale working models of the different types of looms used to weave the silk, on one of which two women were actually working and in the process of weaving a huge piece of silk cloth with a dragon pattern in it. The process is so slow and painstaking; it is no wonder that genuine hand-made silk articles are so expensive. The last part of the museum was the inevitable shop, where there were all
sorts of garments, fans and other silk-based products on display, all at a price. It made me think that if we get “genuine” silk products flogged to us in the markets, we should ensure that it is not just the label that reads “100% SILK” that is made of 100% silk!
From the silk market we decided to walk back to the Leifeng Pagoda, which we saw lit up on the southern end of the lake the previous night. We were assured that it was about twelve minutes’ walk, but it turned out to be more like about twenty-five. This pagoda was originally built in 977 by a king to celebrate the birth of his son by his favourite concubine. This original one unfortunately collapsed in 1924, leaving only the original brick foundations. These were preserved, however, and in an amazing feat of engineering, the base of the new pagoda was constructed in steel above the old base which has been preserved and can be seen to day as part of the museum of the pagoda on the below ground level. The new pagoda was constructed in 2000 and measures a bit over 70m high. From the bottom you can
take a lift up to the second top floor and climb stairs to the top. On a clear day there are great sights to behold of the West Lake and the city of Hangzhou. We ended up spending more time there than originally intended, as we found the museum and many of the wall-mounted friezes quite fascinating, as well as the gardens surrounding the base of the pagoda. Its full name is “Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow”. The name is very descriptive, accurate and appropriate (on a clear evening!).
We attempted to get a taxi from the pagoda back to the Paradise Pub, but the road outside the pagoda was a divided highway and the traffic was going in the wrong direction. I am sure we could have taken a bus for maybe 1 or 2 Yuan each, but we didn’t know which one out of dozens to take, and also there were a few million people who had the same idea. We decided to start walking back towards the pub, which we estimated to be about four or five km away, intending to hail a taxi as we walked, but then we looked back and saw several groups of
people behind us at different intervals, all obviously with the same idea as we had. Copycats! We hightailed it to the next major intersection and turned down the side street. Within half a minute we spied a taxi coming towards us, so we hailed it and got him to take us back to the main drag where the pub was located. This street had been made one-way traffic for the holiday period, and of course we were going the wrong way, but by superb use of both mime and primeval grunts, we got him to drop us off on a side street corner about a hundred metres from the pub.
The pint of Carlsberg and the G&T with I&L were very welcome, and we decided to stay there for tea and try out their pizzas, which turned out to be very darned good.
By the time we finished tea it was only about 6.30, so we decided to walk along the street and try to find a particular shop containing silk brocade products. While looking for it, we were waved to by a couple of westerners, sitting on a bench in the shopping street. We waved back and smiled, but
then I stopped, and we went over to them and started chatting. It turns out that they were from New York - he of African American heritage, with long dreadlocks and she of Caucasian, possibly including some French - and were living and working in Hangzhou. When I asked them about this shop we were looking for, they told us we were in the wrong street and gave us directions for our best bet to find the place, although neither of them knew of it. Wishing them all the best (it was nice to be able to speak English to other westerners in a foreign city) we continued our quest, only to be disappointed at not being able to locate it.
We decided to take a taxi back to the hotel, watch a bit of television (the Special Olympics from Shanghai or the Chinese National Gymnastics Championships, probably as a lead up to Olympic selection for next year) on the Chinese sports channel. Another hot bath in the circular bathtub would ease the aching legs and hips and another good night’s sleep were definitely on the agenda.
The following morning we checked out and took a taxi back to downtown
Hangzhou to the airport office, from where we could take a bus direct to Hongqiao airport in Shanghai. We thought we would try for the 10.30 bus, so aimed to get there in plenty of time to get a ticket, as we did not want a repeat of the previous episode at the Suzhou bus station. We got on the 9.30 bus, which left promptly at 9.45, thanks to some people who decided that they would get off the bus just before 9.30 and go and get something to eat on the journey.
We arrived at Hongqiao airport just after twelve and found that we could check our luggage in almost immediately, which we did, then went and got some lunch. Afterwards, we cast a cursory look through the various shops at the airport, more out of curiosity and the knowledge that we had plenty of time to kill before our 4.55 flight, rather than the need to buy anything. Eventually we found ourselves going through security checks and in the waiting area next to the boarding gate, so we settled ourselves down for a long wait, with our books and cameras.
Announcements were being made all the time in
both Chinese and English. One such announcement was to the effect that an earlier flight to Tianjin, scheduled for 10.50 am, would be further delayed due to bad weather conditions at the airport. We didn’t know if the airport in question was at Hongqiao or Tianjin, and wondered if it meant that our flight would be delayed also. We noticed that there was another flight to Tianjin before ours, so we decided to see if that flight boarded on time, to get an indication of the fate of our flight. Fortunately it boarded and took off without any drama or delay, so we felt easy about our own flight, which arrived in due course and we were finally on the penultimate leg of our holiday trip.
We arrived back in Tianjin where the temperature was only 16 degrees and where it had been raining quite steadily most of the day. A meal was served to us on the plane, similar to the one we had on the outward journey, so we weren’t really hungry by the time we got back. Our taxi driver was there to greet us, as previously arranged, with smiles and “Ni hao”s for both of us.
We arrived back at our apartment at around 7.15 pm, glad to be back and glad of having the weekend to recover before fronting up to classes again on Monday morning.
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