Hangzhou Report

Trip Start Aug 22, 2010
Trip End Jul 01, 2011

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Flag of China  , Zhejiang,
Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday night, last two days have been consumed at school by Ministry of Education inspection visit and now just home from Mandarin lessons and can't face any more school work, so time to escape into a blog update!
Last Friday immediately after our grade 10 & 11 parent teacher interviews Madonna, Jen, John and I piled into a pre-planned 'Music Man' pick-up and headed to the train station.  'Music Man' is our nick name for this one driver we use a lot, but I'll leave more taxi driver insight to a blog John has planned. 
We arrived with time to spare - always a concern for trains near rush hour.  Our train was a 'G' train, which is a fast train, that departed at 4:44.  As usual the crowd starts to stir near the turnstile about 15 minutes before departure and then everyone pushes through as soon as the green light indicates we can load onto the platform to await our train.  This time we were in carriage 5 and with all the pushing the 4 of us were immediately separated as we tried to get on the train.  Still crushed in a throng I edged my way towards our seats and the train started to move - gotta trust all 4 of us got on, and so it was! The ride was an hour and 45 minutes and went via a stop in Shanghai.  Finding a taxi in Hangzhou wasn't as organized and orderly as it is when one arrives in Suzhou.  We had to walk out into the street and flag one down.  Some taxi drivers want nothing to do with a foreigner and will ignore your waves, but a chap stopped immediately and got out to find out where we wanted to go.  We tried showing him our Google map print out, complete with Chinese characters and address, but he didn't want to look at it and other drivers/passerby's became involved looking at our page.  We were thinking we should retrieve our one copy of our address and try again with another driver, but then our driver found a helper who could direct him and laughter seemed to follow and we were motioned to get in his cab.  By this time 5 or 6 more onlookers are gazing at us and it is a relief to climb inside the cab. This isn't a rare occurrence when maps are involved - it is not something very many Chinese are comfortable with or have seen much of.  
We had chosen the hotel out of Madonna's Lonely Planet as we couldn't get space at the highly recommended Mingtown Hostel. Our first impressions as we pulled up weren't so great as the doorman was openly taking a leak in the planter by the door! Next on the list were the 3 or 4 trip hazards on our way up to our room after filling out a bunch of foreign visitor forms - forms we haven't encountered at other hotels? The stairs are poured concrete but the landings weren't pre-planned to anticipate the flooring thicknesses, so at each landing one encounters an excessive rise in the last stair.  You would think after tripping up on the first floor one might be able to anticipate the 2nd floor occurrence, but I guess not, or I was tired and I seem to trip at each level! Unpredictably the beds felt like beds! The plumbing quickly delivered hot water! The walls held peeling wall paper and stained furniture surrounded us and alas, the low ceilinged hallways proved very effective at echoing the numerous yells of various guests who make absolutely no effort to be quiet in the hallways. No worries, we liked this place.  It wasn't as grand as our last stop at the Astor in Shanghai, but the location was perfect, just a short lane walk away from West Lake, Hangzhou's premier tourist attraction.  (4 of us for 2 nights in 2 rooms totalled 1272 RMB or roughly $200 Cdn, so John and I were 100$ for 2 nights.) Hangzhou is very beautiful, albeit in a smoggy, crowded, 6 million people kind of way, but we found it more beautiful than Suzhou - guess we are getting used to the canal look! Our hotel was right by the Xihu Tiandi restaurant/bar trendy area and off we headed off for a bit to eat avoiding the places with musicians who were playing a tad too loudly.  (We were most lucky to not be too hungry as John had packed us all snacks for the train: some of his chicken & egg fried rice, some veggie balls from the supermarket, home made banana bread and pomelo.  Jen had bought almond pockys too.) Dinner was fairly good: nice veggie wrap-like dish, a bean dish I liked, but not too fussy about the 'crunchy-chicken'. After dinner we sauntered over to Starbucks for some coffee and dessert. 
The next morning at 8:30 John and I scoped out the included breakfast.  It took about 2 minutes to decide there was no point in trying it!  We collected Jen and Madonna from their room next to ours and headed back to Starbucks.  Met a nice couple there in line behind us - an American and a Taiwan woman - visiting as an escape from their work in Shanghai.  Marvelled at the Starbucks sign I had missed the night before.  This Starbucks, one of 11 in Hangzhou, seats 240 people! It was enormous, comfy, and quiet.  Soon we realized western xmas music was being piped throughout.  Served as a nice contrast to the Chinese workers scampering about on the glass roof above us with hoses keeping the roof clean. After Starbucks we headed north up Yu 'an Street to find an address from the internet.  I wanted to find 'Hi Panda'.  John and I came across this store in Shanghai of the same name, were gobsmacked by their prices and left without a purchase but having been impressed by the edgy product.  Once home I googled it, thinking it was called Hello Panda - a knock at Hello Kitty - which is everywhere here!!!  The company Hi Panda came up - Google really is impressive - and I read about the Chinese designer behind the angry panda images that had captured us in Shanghai.  The are all over Europe, big in France, Belgium, Greece etc with just a handful of stores in China.  It took a few tries to find it, but on the 5th floor of the InTime Department Store we found Hi Panda at the exact address the web promised.  Jen and Madonna hadn't seen their images and were also taken by it.  We all shopped: T-shirt for John and Jen got one as a gift, Madonna and I bought hoodies, and I also got a bag/purse.  Check out the pictures:-)  Like much shopping in China you get a slip detailing your purchase, take it somewhere else to pay, then return to pick up your goods. I used my local debit card with my Bank of China account for our purchases.  I still tend to forget I have a local debit card! We took a few pictures as we left InTime.  We had been approached earlier in the morning by some kids doing fundraising and had skirted them, but a similar looking outfit was outside InTime and we realized it was indeed a legitimate cause.  John donated and got his picture taken with the little boy who took his money.  It was some sort of 'Smiles' program, funding surgeries for kids in need.  We also took a sign of the Plaza's Anniversary advertisement: the 21th Anniversary!  We retreated by cab to our hotel to drop off all our booty and headed the other way to find a spot to eat.  We went in a Korean place and had an extremely successful meal.  I think it was one of my all time favourites.  We did a BBQ at our table with a variety of meats.  John had told us not to order the tongue thank you, but in the end we had a variety plate and Madonna and I failed to point out to John till after the meal that some of the meat had indeed been tongue:-) We also BBQed potato slices, had a cabbage veggie dish, some Kimchi (sp?) fried rice, it was all really really good.
After lunch we piled back in a cab and headed to the Silk Museum.  We had seen it on the map and were convinced the taxi driver was taking us the wrong way, but it turned out to be a one-way street issue and fairly quickly he delivered us to what looked like an abandoned, under-construction facility.  We dodged the back-hoe tearing up the entrance way - literally! - and into the free museum.  At first it seemed fairly limited, but I ended up really enjoying it.  It took me back to being 10 or so and Julia Meeker, a cousin of mom's, lent me a skein of silk to use for a school project.  She had spent time in China and now I wish I knew the story, not to mention understood how Julia Meeker was a relative? The history displays were really very good and all the English was accurate.  We proceeded outside and then figured out there was more underneath the area we'd been in.  I was delighted to find numerous models and then full size samples of many many looms for silk weaving.  I got great pleasure from seeing words such a part of my history with mom: weft, warp, shuttles, heddles, harness, treddles, tabby, twill,.. the list goes on and on and I really enjoyed reading the displays.  As we finished at the silk museum we caught a 'fashion show' being put on for a tourist group ahead of us.  I asked John to take a picture of the men gawking at the girls in silk, it was a very odd scene. John also took a picture of the sound man for the fashion show fast asleep at his post - another common sight in China
Around the museum were large ponds with many men and a few boys fishing.  We managed to see one guy haul in his catch so we could see what was living in the water. Pretty murky water... I hate to think what water the fish have been living in that we are eating? Good thing we don't usually know!  From the silk museum we grabbed another cab and headed to the Leifeng Pagoda.  Only the foundations are ancient, everything else is a modern rebuild, but the view was great and the grounds nicely done.  John got a picture of the biggest stone medallion/centre of square feature we've seen yet - quite beautiful. It was very hazy (smoggy?) view, but worth it.
Our next cabbie John dubbed the 'curb-sneaker'.  He was determined to get us through the now busy traffic in as short order as possible!  He'd gun it up the curb side of traffic, narrowly missing numerous cyclists and then budge his way back into grid lock traffic.  We weren't too disappointed to spot where we wanted to go and get out of his cab with our skins intact!  Madonna steered us to a restaurant she knew from a previous visit.  The food was delicious, but unfortunately the mosquitos were out in force in this restaurant which I know really spoiled the meal for Jen. We did have the best chicken dish I've had yet here though, so it was worth it. Madonna is a huge fan of eggplant and I haven't really liked the various eggplant forays I've tried with her, but this restaurant's eggplant was fabulous and I really liked it. We also had Mandarin Fish - also knowns as squirrel fish - it is served with head turned up and meat turned inside out somehow, almost no bones are encountered and the flavour and sauce is fabulous.  We've had this dish before and I hadn't ever figured out which fish in the tank it was - but at this restaurant as I went upstairs to the ladies room (it was tragic!) the only fish tank by the kitchen had only one type of fish, so I now know what the poor soul looks like before death! 
We tried to do a bridge walk after dinner on the lake, but although the bats were out in force, after about 30 feet we decided the mosquitos had won and we retreated. Next cabbie ride took us to a night market. Markets can be exhausting: crowded, pushy vendors etc.  This market was busy but not jammed and no pushy vendors! Plus there were various musicians playing occasionally (video below) and the stalls held different goods than we'd seen before.  It was a real treat and we must have browsed almost a kilometre of shops and we were there well over an hour, perhaps two. We took a rest in a Costa Coffee part way through before returning down the street to check out the stores on the other side from where we'd been. Quite exhausted we got back to our hotel around 9:30 pm.  A sensible woman would have happily retreated beneath the covers and unwound, but silly me agreed to accompany the others to a Jazz bar.  John loved it, Madonna too, so I won't say more about the volume, smoke, or other features of the evening I found tortuous! Never mind, next time I know where I'd rather be.
The next morning it was drizzling and John and I had unwisely not packed umbrellas so we started the day by getting 2 super-cheap brollies from the hotel lobby shop. Such pieces of .....  Never mind, we were grateful for the protection from the rain and headed to Mingtown to check it out for breakfast.  We took the land/lake route but went too far, got turned around and didn't get to Mingtown for ages, even though it turned out to be just down the block from our hotel!  Jen and Madonna joined us, arriving after the briefest of walks along the road, and we all had a good western breakfast. We had a slow start and didn't leave Mingtown till almost noon. We decided we quite liked it and have booked rooms to return to Mingtown as our xmas destination. We get 3 days off so will return to Hangzhou then.
From Mingtown we attempted to check out an HIstoric Alley, but soon realized our map was steering us to the same location as the night market of the previous night, so we aborted and hopped yet another cab.  I think I took more cabs in Hangzhou than I've ever taken before!  We headed to a museum of a famous Chinese hero (Yue Fei) where the gardens were lovely and it was the first burial mound we've seen.  He was wrongly accused and executed in his life time and there are statues there depicting his betrayers.  Chinese people used to spit on the statues, although this is now discouraged (as all spitting is) but we did see a woman come along and lean over the fence in order to hit the statue on the head. Yue Fei is also famous for the 4 characters that his mother burned on his back: tortuous tatoo-like, along the lines of serve your country beyond all else.  He is a figure Madonna says all our students are familiar with. 
After the museum we partook of another famous Hangzhou past time, the tea house. We sat along the lake at 'Ask' for at least an hour enjoying tea and talking with a lovely girl who was our waitress who wanted to learn new English words and in turn taught us Chinese words. The rain had started our day briefly but now it returned and we enjoyed being under Ask's outdoor umbrellas.  Somewhat rejuvenated we headed off for one more taxi ride to 'Fashion Street'.  It was a complete bust and we had a hell of a time getting another cab after that to take us back to our hotel area.  We finally succeeded and headed to a Hangzhou style restaurant to refuel before our retreat to the train station.  Madonna feigned ignorance when we finally did snag a cab, the poor driver was trying to get off shift and we wanted him to take one more fare... so she pretended to not understand him and we all stayed put - the rest of us really not understanding the driver, and in a few moments he relented and drove us to the train station. It was quite fitting for the weekend as cabs featured largely in all our outings.  Each time we had stopped there was a rush for the next person to grab our cab and once we'd seen a man hip check a gal out of the way.  He did have the cab first, but did he need to bump her? As we arrived at the train, the driver hadn't stopped and people were opening our doors wanting the cab after us, but still the driver didn't stop until he had the location he wanted.  With doors opened we stayed put until he stopped and then we got out as 3 or 4 people rushed to compete for our car!  Into the train station we went and caught our 5;23 pm train.  It was very full and we took a picture of the chickens travelling in a box next to us.  I thought they were doomed chickens, but Madonna spoke to the man, who thought it was funny we were taking pictures of his chickens and he had bought them as layers.  Not doomed just yet! There was an unusually long line up for taxis at Suzhou train station, but after a 15-20 minute shuffle through the line-up we managed to get a cab with no shocks and with 4 of us and luggage, ground our way home over many bumps by about 8:15 pm.  It was a very successful weekend and we were predictably tired.
Since then school has been focused on the BC Ministry of Education's inspectors visits - much drama there, but all is well ultimately.  The school has some must-so items, administrative problems, teacher certification problems, none of which affect me and soon the stress levels should retreat. Next on the agenda is the grade 12 parent teacher interviews on Friday and having survived last week's I now know what to expect.  It's getting late now so I'll sign off.  I hope you enjoy the pictures.  Love from Suzhou,
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Barbara Jolliffe on

Love the trinkets at the market. I might have to see if I can get me one of those wallets!! Love the hoodie, too. Looks like you're having such a great time.

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