In Heaven there is Paradise...
Trip Start Mar 16, 2004
64Trip End Apr 02, 2005
Greetings from the number one tourist destination in mainland China. Hangzhou is a bustling resort town of 6 million people 151 kilometers southwest of Shanghai. Let me start off by saying that I didn't know exactly what to expect from mainland China, but it certainly wasn't this. Unlike eastern Germany or the former Soviet Union, which still felt conspicuously Communist when I visited there in 2001, Hangzhou doesn't feel like that at all. The buildings here are in good shape, the grounds are well-kept, and people seem generally cheerful and optimistic. Dubbed, "Capital of Leisure in the East," Hangzhou is a happening town on the shores of Xihu (West Lake), which is packed with stores, restaurants, bars, night clubs, hotels, and most of all, coffee shops. What stands out most about Hangzhou is its mixture of Eastern and Western architecture as pagodas, temples, and shrines stand among European style facades
When you look for them, you can see signs of dictatorship...the most noticeable being the hordes of police posted in the streets, parks, and public places. Though intimidating at first, I found the police to be courteous, friendly, and willing to help a foreigner find her way or take a picture of herself.
Thursday, March 3, was my big day in Hangzhou. It was overcast and chilly, but that didn't stop me from venturing out and exploring. I spent the day meandering around West Lake and taking in sights with such romantic names as "Lotus Flowers in the Breezing Winding Courtyard," "Orioles Singing in the Willows Park," and "Three Pools Mirroring the Moon Island." Strangely, as I was busy admiring Hangzhou, the Hangzhouers were busy admiring me. Even though I was wearing a hat and sunglasses, they could tell I was a Waiguoren, and I was stopped several times to pose for pictures. Then, as soon as I would grant one person a picture, a handful of others would come running and line up to take pictures with me too. It made me wonder if I hadn't actually turned into Britney Spears during my year in Asia.
Something else noteworthy about Hangzhou is the presence of religion
The biggest difference I've noticed so far between Taiwan and mainland China is the acceptable behavior of spitting in public. Blowing your nose is considered rude in mainland China, but it's nothing for people to hock up a big wad of phlegm and launch it onto the ground, or in some cases the floor. There appears to be no shame in it or any attempt to hide the behavior, and passers-by don't even seem to notice. I have to ask myself if this public display of bodily fluids didn't have something to do with the rapid spread of SARS in this part of the world.
Despite its faults, however, mainland China (Hangzhou) has thus far welcomed me with open arms. I have felt very comfortable here. In fact, according to my guide book, the Chinese believe that Hangzhou is the birthplace of warm and romantic love. After hanging out in "Autumn Moon Over Calm Lake" for an afternoon, I can understand why.