Tea Tasting and the Old Town

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January 23rd 2010
Published: January 31st 2010
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Tea StreetTea StreetTea Street

One side of the street (a few blocks long) and all the shops sell tea.
I arrived only 90 minutes late, my train getting in at 7am instead of 5:30am. Now if I had only allowed myself to fall asleep at 5am like I wanted to I would be somewhat-rested instead of exhausted. But my excitement to be in Hangzhou overtook exhaustion and I pressed on.

Exiting the train I was greeted with a warm slap of dry, cold air on my face. It was refreshing to breath in the air and feel my lungs chill. I was instantly awake. I cannot get this feeling in Shenzhen. It reminded me of Minneapolis. (Okay, so it was a lot warmer in Hangzhou than in Minneapolis but after a year and a half in the sub-tropics it felt the same.) It was glorious. I felt alive.

I found a Burger King. Yes, a Burger King. I didn't know they were on the mainland. And there's nothing better for a healthy breakfast when you haven't slept than french fries and cola. I hadn't had BK since I was an undergrad, so figure about ten years at least. It tasted better than I remembered, but that's not saying much.

Wade met me at the bus stop. It's weird, we have a mutual friend but had never met. So there was some getting to know you conversation with him and his girlfriend, Jodie. You might be thinking it's odd that someone I don't know--well, two someones--would just let me come stay with them for a few days so I can see a city. Expats in China are like that. I can't speak for other countries. But there's a sense of kinship that you don't get in the US. We sort of act like a big--very extended--family, complete with kind people and rude people. Need a place to stay, sure thing! Need information about something, sure no problem! We help each other out because we are all we've got in many cases, often going the extra mile. So people as easy-going as Wade and Jodie agreeing to let me stay with them was no surprise.

We had a quick lunch of rice noodles and then walked around the city. The downtown is so much cleaner than Shenzhen! The streets are really wide with separated bike lanes. The traffic lights make sense and people actually follow them. Crossing a street has never been safer in China! The
Our tea hostess and usOur tea hostess and usOur tea hostess and us

Note the awesome tea table.
buildings were all slightly older and shorter than I'm used to, but I liked it. It had a small-town feeling... well, small for China!

There a street that Wade called Tea Street. Along it, for blocks, are all tea shops--there must've been 100 of them. I'm surprised so many can stay in business with so much competition. But I suppose you develop a relationship with a particular one and they treat you well and carry what you like to the point where buying tea is like visiting a friend. On one side of the street was a strip mall of tea shops. The stores that had doors open to the inside had busy shopkeepers; the stores whose doors opened to (and were open!) the chilly outdoors had bored shopkeepers.

We found a shop in the back and tried numerous types of tea. Of course, one of my favorites cost over 1000 RMB a jin (500g). Wade asked about some tea he really liked but was almost out of at home. They had it. We tried it and liked it. I bought 100g for 22RMB, or about $3 US. I didn't buy any Longjing tea even though it's the local tea. The kinds she gave us were a bit different and not quite to my liking. I love that in China there are so many different kinds of teas and they're so inexpensive. The quality is usually pretty good and they taste so much nicer than the tea bags I used to buy in the States.

We braved the chilly wind and walked to the historic "Old Town." It comes complete with a McDonald's, Costa Coffee, and a German restaurant. Most of the buildings look new but are built in the old style. There was an old medicine shop dating to 1649 that just like they do in the movies--tall walls lined with tiny drawers, random roots, flowers, and plants on display in cases, old men and women sitting on chairs in the middle of it all, talking. We stopped for some snacks on the food street and they were delicious. Fish balls, fried shrimp cakes, soup, pumpkin cakes were all served on a stick. It was the perfect way to warm up and worth taking off my mittens for.

We walked north along the eastern shore of West Lake. By this time is was getting dark and hazy. The lake seemed to be mysterious, like a rising pool of mist. It was beautiful. We stopped at a Starbucks for coffee and coco to warm up and figure out our plan for the night. After thawing we went to a bar called the Maya.

The Maya has many great imported, bottled beers for prices I can't find in SZ. And they had nachos. I had a happy tummy again. The mix of expats and Chinese gave me some excellent people watching. One group of Chinese students were thoroughly enjoying themselves... to the point that one girl started talking to a plant (to the amusement of her friends) and then one of the guys grabbed a different plant and starting dancing around while holding it atop his head. Wade, Jodie, and I were amused, to say the least.

The night wrapped up and Wade and Jodie went home while I stayed out and went to a club with some of the people I had met. You'd think I would be exhausted, and I was, but I managed to catch a third wind around 2am. The club also had amazing people watching... oftentimes in the
Open since 1649Open since 1649Open since 1649

It's a traditional Chinese pharmacy.
train wreck sort of way (so bad you have to look). The music was fun and poppy and I did dance for the first time in ages. It felt good--I miss going dancing. I got home ridiculously late; luckily, we all felt the need to sleep in the next morning.

Additional photos below
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Mmmm, good beer and tacosMmmm, good beer and tacos
Mmmm, good beer and tacos

The good German beer seen here costs about half what it does in SZ.
You KNOW I had one, too!You KNOW I had one, too!
You KNOW I had one, too!

Okay, yes, more than one.

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