Sunday morning we woke up bright and early after a late night for Chinese New Years. Rocky picked us up and took us to the train station. After wandering around and then waiting a bit we boarded the 8:30am bullet train to Hangzhou. The train was not driven like a bullet train though (it slowed down a lot) but we arrived in Hangzhou in about one hour, forty minutes. I think it takes about the same amount of time to drive. Since Rocky had only bought us one-way train tickets (we now have Rocky running some errands for us), we found the ticket counter to purchase tickets for the return trip the next day. I whipped out some awesome Mandarin, if I do say so myself and bought us the correct tickets. If you cannot tell, I was quite proud of myself.
After some trouble trying to find the taxi line, a rouge driver willingly picked us up and took us to the Lakeside Hotel. It was a nice hotel and we could tell that the city was quite beautiful complete with mountains (actually more like hills) and a lake. Being that we were exhausted from only a few hours of sleep, we spent the first couple of hours in Hangzhou taking a nap. Then we awoke and went looking for a restaurant to eat lunch. At lunch we tried our first Hangzhou cuisine which were these small shrimps in some kind of unique sauce. They were tasty.
After our lunch we went to the Esprit store next to our hotel because I was freezing! I had not brought warm enough clothes and therefore had to buy a sweater and scarf to be able to continue to walk outside. Equipped with my new layer of clothing, we took a boat ride across the lake. The boat was very unique and a single man rowed us along with one oar. Once on the other side of the lake, we walked down a very popular path that divides the lake. There are a couple of paths that divide the lake into different sections…it is pretty unique. My Mandarin teacher had told me how “romantic” walking on the lake was, and I would have agreed had there not been one million other people walking with us.
Even with my extra clothes, I was still cold, so we decided to have some tea at a tea house on the path dividing the lake. It was very nice and we were able to try some of the famous West Lake Green Tea from Hangzhou. It tasted pretty good but I still prefer oolong tea. It was very nice to sit for awhile and drink hot tea and chew on some sunflower seeds. Before we left the teahouse we used the restrooms which were quite interesting. They were a typical squatter that is common in China, but the entire room was covered with mirrors. Needless to say, you could see a lot more of yourself than you wanted to.
It was really hard to figure out what to do in Hangzhou because according to the tourist maps there were SO many things to see and do. So many of them looked really neat so it was hard to decide. The next morning, I had made the suggestion that we go to this Buddha temple that was a ways out of town. After breakfast, we left the lobby in search of a taxi who would take us there. We asked the taxi driver at the hotel if he would take us and he said that there was too much of a traffic jam, in that area, therefore he would not. As a back up plan, I asked him if he would take us to Starbucks instead. He said it was too close and therefore would not take us there either. Giving up and convinced that the driver just wanted to sit in the parking lot and smoke with his fellow taxi drivers, we decided to walk to the Starbucks and figure out what to do next.
It’s funny because the Starbucks in China are like a mecca for westerners. I had seen very few non-Chinese walking with the million other Chinese people, but the five western foreigners who were in Hangzhou were in the Starbucks when I arrived. After getting my coffee and a walk through the Ferrari dealership across the street (apparently a lot of rich Chinese people live in Hangzhou so there was a Bentley dealership, a Ferrari dealership and all of the high-end stores), we decided to hike to the other temple we could see on the hill. It was a nice walk but after awhile it became a little annoying that everyone we saw turned and stared and said “laowai” which means foreigner. I seriously felt like we were a freak show. I cannot even imagine what it will be like when we go to a real small town (Hangzhou still has between 8-9 million people.) I am not sure if a lot of Chinese from other cities smaller than Hangzhou were visiting or if it is normally just that way, but it was amazing how much we stood out.
We hiked up to the big buddha statue and then over the mountains (through a crack in the rocks that was hard to maneuver with all of the Chinese people coming down at the same time as we were trying to go up) to other pagodas and sites to see. On our way down the mountain, we sort of ran into this Taoist temple that was quite interesting. I still need to go out and do some research on that religion because it was very different than many other temples I have seen (the statues of Gods look kind of mean) but it also had some things similar to Hinduism and Buddhism. Since I do not know much about the religion or what I was looking at in the temple, I suggest just taking a look at the pictures. We also ran into a really nice zen garden with pagodas and beautiful flowers.
After we were off the mountain, we stopped for lunch at a different hotel. I swore I was speaking good Mandarin but the people there did not understand a word I said. I asked for tea and the lady said, “yes” and then never brought anything. I asked for something else and the same thing happened. Andy reminded me that when we lived in Mexico and we didn’t understand what someone said to us, we often just said, “si” so I figured that was what the wait staff was doing as well. We thought we asked the waitress for the same dish that the table next to us was eating, but instead we got this little ramekin-type dish filled with what looked like fat. I thought I would pass because it looked gross, but luckily Andy turned it over and found this amazing marinated piece of pork hidden below all of that fat. It was another dish unique to Hangzhou. I must have looked pretty pathetic trying to saw the fat part off of the meat with my chopsticks because the waiter brought me a knife and fork without me asking.
After lunch, we continued our walk through the lake and then over to the “famous” women’s fashion district. Most of the stores were closed for the new years and the ones that were open were expensive so I did not find much to buy. We were, however, able to kill some time before we had to head back to the hotel and catch a cab to the train station.
All in all, it was a great trip and a nice getaway from the city. We think of Hangzhou as kind of like the McCall of Shanghai, except that it has eight million people. It was nice to see nature and get away. We definitely plan to go back (hopefully often) to see more of the sights and relax away from the city.
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