Visiting Hangzhou, day #1


This post was originally published in 2007
It may contain stale & outdated information. Or it may have grown more awesome with age, like the author.

Today we went to Hangzhou. The train was scheduled to depart Shanghai South railway station at 7:50. That railway station is quite far from Yvonne's parent's house, so to get there we had to take a bus then the subway. This meant that we had to leave their house at 5:45. I set my alarm for 5:20, because I wasn't sure at the time, when we were supposed to leave. I think someone tried to tell me, but I didn't understand. I just didn't want to make everyone late, so I set my alarm early. The alarm went off OK, but I couldn't hear anyone moving about, so I set it to snooze and went back to sleep. It went off about five times, and each time the house was silent, so I assumed we weren't due to leave. Turns out everyone had slept through their alarms, and we were late. We rushed out of the house and dashed to the bus stop. The bus hadn't left. On the bus we had breakfast, bread and water. The bread was way too sweet, and I didn't want to drink much in case the toilets were totally appalling wherever it was be that I needed to go. The bus ride was uneventful, as was the subway. We arrived at the train station about half an hour early, and sat. The toilets there were OK. The train that took us to Hangzhou was very flash, one of those with the long streamlined nose. It was also quite fast, the highest speed displayed on the small screen at the front of our carriage was 170 km/h. The trip from Shanghai South to Hangzhou took about an hour. The ride was so smooth that if one didn't look at the speed display, one wouldn't notice acceleration/deceleration. A few times I guessed we were going about 50~60 km/h, when in fact we were traveling at 100 km/h or more. The operators kindly provided passengers with a magazine and a sickness bag each. The sickness bags were somewhat misleading, being labelled "Airsickness bag". The Hangzhou Station wasn't as flash as the Shanghai version, which I'd say is the case with almost anything in China when compared with the Shanghai version. As soon as we arrived in Hangzhou, Yvonne's dad started talking on his cellphone, I thought he was just talking to a friend or whatever, but he was ringing the driver that had been arranged for us. The driver is Yvonne's dad's friend's company's driver, and had been loaned to us for the day. He was extremely professional, and really helpful. Before starting as a driver for that company he was a taxi driver, so his honking and swerving skills were second-to none. He took us first to the hotel, where we checked-in. Turns out foreigners are supposed to take their passports everywhere with them in China, as we are not to be trusted and must be watched every second lest we ruin the "harmonious society" that consists of rich people, not-so-rich people, and beggars. The receptionists asked me for my passport, which was safely in a drawer in Shanghai. They weren't very impressed that I didn't have it with me. I had to fill in some form, and remember my passport number, which I must have recalled correctly, as no jack-booted police have yet smashed down the door and dragged me into a dungeon/torture chamber, like some people are worried will happen. Yvonne's dad has friends in the company that owns the hotel apparently, so any problems would've been cleared up quickly anyway. The rooms are nice, I would have taken more photos, but I left the camera's USB cable in Shanghai, meaning I am unable to transfer photos from the camera to the computer to make more room for tomorrow's photos. Because of this I have have been deleting crap ones as I see better opportunities. Photos of hotel rooms have a high crap quotient, and were among the first to go. The photo: "Woman bag" is one of only two photos of the room I saved. The Chinese text reads: "Woman bag" as well, we don't know what it is for. They must have something to do with the toilet, as they were placed enticingly on the cistern. After sitting in the room for about ten minutes, it was time to go. We went to the buddhist tower, I forget what the name, though I remember it has something to do with a snake woman.* It is very high, and looks nice. The golden steeple atop it is gold leaf. It is a reconstruction of a very ancient buddhist tower that was destroyed in the 1920's. The original foundations are still visible beneath the new tower, and people through money at it, seemingly forgetting they have already paid an admission fee. From the tower one can see all of Hangzhou. Hangzhou looks like Hamilton, in that it is mostly trees. Inside the tower there are about two floors that have buddhist artwork displays. They were very nice, but I didn't bother to photograph them all. The roof is gold leaf as well. The tower and surrounding area were very nice, like a large park. It was good that we went on a weekday, as there were few people about. Yvonne swears that the haze you see in the photos is fog, not smog. Because our breakfast was so meager, we were all starving by the time we had looked at the tower and tower grounds. This forced us to go and get lunch. We went to some restaurant that had outside seating. Like all restaurants I've been to so far, the service was excellent. The meal was tasty as well. Yvonne tells me that she likes Hangzhou food because it is sweet, and our meal was. We ordered some watermelon juice, which tasted good. The driver, who ate with us (he was a nice guy) accused the restaurant of watering down the watermelon juice, an allegation that they denied. They brought us some more, and showed us that it has to be agitated, else the pulp and juice will separate, causing it to appear far lighter in the bottom half compared to the top. Whatever, it tasted good. During lunch Yvonne's dad asked me if I'd rather live in Shanghai or Hangzhou. I misunderstood him, thinking he had asked me which I liked more. I told him both, which got a confused look. Yvonne told me what he actually asked, and I said Shanghai, because most New Zealand cities are like Hangzhou, only without the buddhist temples. New Zealand doesn't have a city with twenty million people living in it though, making Shanghai a novelty for me. After lunch we went to the Hangzhou Buddhist temple, which consists of a lot of temples built on the side of a mountain. To visit them all one has to slowly walk up the mountain. The Hangzhou mountain isn't very high, so visiting all the temples isn't very arduous. Each temple is like another room for the Buddha, so Yvonne tells me. One is not allowed to take photos inside the temples, but one of the temple's doors was wide open, so I took some photos of the inside, from the outside. The interior of the temples is generally the same, a big open space filled with a massive statue of some figure, or a lot of less massive statues of Buddhist figures. Opposite the temples there are a lot of sculptures carved into rocks, most of which are over six hundred years old. They were smashed during the cultural revolution, but have since been repaired. The rocks on the path have been worn smooth with the feet of tourists, who must have been visiting for almost as long as the sculptures have been there. It was all very pretty, look at the photos. We went from the temple to the lake, which is big. I don't think it is as big as lake Taupo, as one can see the opposite side. Hundreds of years ago some Emperor decided he'd like to have a series of summer houses on the small islands in the lake, and so the three islands were terraformed and civilized. One of the islands is now reserved for birds, the other two for tourists. We rented a boat, which took us to one of the islands. The boat was powered by a person with an oar, and traveled about as slow as one would expect. We went to the biggest island, where the Emperor would go once every two years or so. It was very nice. The island is quite big, about an acre or so I estimate. Its center is a large lagoon, which is connected to the lake. The lagoon has walkways crossing it, and some large stones placed in it. There are some buildings around as well, which have been converted into either shops or the toilet. Apparently whoever is in charge of whatever the Chinese equivalent to our city council has bought a huge water filtering machine, which has been placed on the river that feeds the lake. This means that the lake is getting cleaner and cleaner. Boat ride back, drove back to the hotel. I slept for two hours, then we had dinner. Dinner was nice, I had abalone for the first time, which actually tasted nice, contrary to what one would expect from its external appearance. After dinner we went for a walk, and I took some photos. I finally found out how to change the language on Yvonne's camera, and found the exposure settings. I got some nice photos of Hangzhou night. Now I know how to change the exposure, I'll be able to get some better shots of Shanghai as well. End of day one. *If you're interested, I'm sure a Google search for "Hangzhou snake tower"; or "Hangzhou Buddhist tower" would yield helpful results. I can't check it now, as the internet connection I was stealing seems to have stopped working. Some moron has a wireless router somewhere near this hotel room, and hasn't enabled any security features. It was working for me before, but I think I am just on the edge of its range, as it times out each time I try to connect now. We asked the hotel staff if they provide wireless internet to guests, and they told us they don't, so it is definitely some close-by idiot's.
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