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Travel Writing: China, Hangzhou


30/09/08: Power Walking Day 

In modern China it is escalators that bring you to the temple.

In modern China it is escalators that bring you to the temple.

The breakfast of the business hotel we were staying at was very different from whatever I had seen before. Besides that it was a huge buffet, it was a funny mixture of Chinese, Japanese and Western food. In the Western section there were cereals and toast, the Japanese section had miso soup and sushi on offer. The Chinese section was indescribable. There was congee, a slimy rice soup which you could spice up with pickled weirdness. There were 1000 year old eggs, which are of course not 1000 years old, but ‘only’ about 100 days. I really wanted to try them, but I just couldn’t bring myself to eat it, especially so early in the morning. There were all kinds of Chinese dishes, which we’d rather eat for lunch or dinner, not necessarily for breakfast, like fried rice / noodles with fried vegetables / chicken / fish or flabby pork. There were all sorts of dim sum, but none of them tasted similar to what I’ve had in London. There was a selection of sweet breads, but they were just like the dim sum dough. With so much choice at hand, I obviously had to try a little bit of everything which still added up to a lot. But with a long day ahead, it was just the proper foundation for what was coming.

Luckily Christian’s colleague managed to buy us bus tickets from Jiashan to Hangzhou. As it was Golden Week, it wasn’t easy to come by tickets for any form of transport. And as we didn’t speak Chinese, it wasn’t easy for us to buy any kind of tickets.

We were picked up by the factory’s driver and helped by Christian colleagues to find the right bus. I tried to figure out what the system was to identify the correct bus, but there simply wasn’t any. Not a clue. No bus no, no indication which platform. I wondered how we’d make our way back.

But when we got to Hangzhou, a Chinese couple who could speak a bit of English helped us buying the return tickets for pm. That meant we had easily 7 hours for the day.

After having managed the first task successfully, we entered the city life and were quite overwhelmed by the busy traffic and masses of people. We decided to go to a near by hotel to ask for help. The first hotel was a true Chinese hotel where no-one spoke English. But at the second hotel we got lucky. Whereas locals had tried to sell us maps and guides just outside, here we got our maps and guidance for free.

The concierge told us to take bus no 56, which ran all the way from the East bus station to the West Lake. Unfortunately that meant a 45 min journey. That meant our 7 hours time for the day shrunk to 5 hours, as we had to calculate in the way back. All the way we wondered when we’d get off and asked the locals several times if our stop was coming up. When the bus took a turn to go back, it was time for us to get off.

The map we had picked up from the hotel showed the West Lake and all the surrounding attractions. So after establishing where we actually were, I kept on telling Christian what to watch out for.

We started off in an easy walk, but soon realised that we’d never make it around the lake at this pace. So we increased our speed to a brisk London walk. I watched out what distance we covered in one hour to estimate how long we’d need to get back to the bus stop.

I thought I had a good idea, but obviously then things were not as straight forward as I had hoped.

We wanted to go to the Silk Museum, but it was a bit further south, away from the lake. The map turned out to be not 100% true and we got kind of lost with no-one around who’d know where we wanted to go.

At some point we asked a group of officials and got a fright when the woman started shouting and sounded quite upset. We wondered if we were completely wrong, as this woman was quite worked up and also the others around her sounded distressed. This went on for a while until I had enough and shoved the map back into their faces. Abruptly they went quiet and simply pointed into the direction to go. What they had discussed so vividly, we’ll never know.

The Silk Museum was worth the trouble though and turned out to have some surprises: We saw real silk worms, a woman weaving silk cloths and a fashion show.

On our way back we walked through an eco-park with beautiful ponds and flower arrangements.

As we came back to the lake, we walked right up to the big Leifeng Pagoda and Christian wanted to get up. We really didn’t have much time left, so it was more of a marathon up the pagoda. But of course even those ancient buildings catered for lazy people and you could take a giant escalator up to the hill where the pagoda was placed on. Elevators lead up to the top of the pagoda, but the queues were crazy, so we walked up the stairs. The view on top rewarded us for our efforts.

Back down on the ground however, we realised we’d spent too much time and too much money to get back to the East bus station. Christian had no cash left for a taxi and we had about one hour left to make it around the remaining half of the lake for which we had taken two hours to get here.

With not much of an alternative on our hands, we simply had to make the rest of the lake in half the time, meaning a power walk was needed.

Off we went, overtaking the Chinese like some crazy Westerners with ants in their pants.

I couldn’t have made it if it wasn’t for Christian gripping my hand tightly, determined to walk around the lake at bullet speed.

Surprisingly, we made it. While Christian was looking for an ATM machine to withdraw cash, I tried flagging down a taxi, but to no avail. It was full-on rush hour and all taxis were taken. We started walking back to the bus stop where we’d gotten off and luckily saw bus no 56. It took a different route back and we were in a state of nail biting tension if we’d make it back to catch our bus. We weren’t sure if we could exchange our bus ticket to a later one and with Golden Week and all it could very well be that there are no more free seats left to return to Shanghai.

We voiced our worries to one of the passengers who spoke English and he was positive we could make it. When the driver however seemed to fall asleep behind the wheel, he said something to him and interestingly enough, the driver turned up the speed a notch, dodging his way through rush hour traffic.

We just about made it to East bus station and were relieved we now could get back to Shanghai save and sound. They showed some Chinese Kung-Fu movie on the bus, which was fun to watch, but we both fell asleep at some point after such a long day of sightseeing and exercise.

See the photos:

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