Being seriously underwhelmed by Shanghai, and having heard from just about everyone we met that the best thing about Shanghai was leaving it and visiting the nearby towns, we decided on a day trip outside the city to the nearby town of Hangzhou. Had we not been forced to waste a day hunting down a police report we’d have visited two different towns, but unfortunately circumstances meant we only had the one day.
We thought we’d got up early enough to get to the railway station and buy a ticket. What we’d overlooked was that it was Sunday and thus the weekend, and therefore much busier than usual. That, coupled with the fact that there are more people living in Greater Shanghai than in all of Australia, meant that the lines for tickets were seriously bloody long. And the ticket sellers seemed to be incredibly slow! We joined what appeared to be the shortest queue, and were still about six people from the front of the line forty-five minutes later. Just as we were the next in line a man came and tried to push in, and for the first ever time in China we came across a ticket seller that wasn’t having a bar of it. While I understood a grand total of nothing said, it was pretty clear that he was being told to get in line like everyone else. Even the people behind us in the queue were getting in on the action! It was a nice change. He didn’t get his ticket and we, eventually, did. However we’d missed out on tickets for the next two trains and had to wait another hour and a half, with the next available train leaving at 11.00am.
Fortunately they use high-speed trains between Shanghai and Hangzhou, and the trip was only just over an hour. They show the time, destination, speed and temperature on flashing boards in each carriage, and while the speed was rather impressive it’s safe to say that neither John nor I were particularly impressed with the temperature as we arrived in Hangzhou. 43.5 degrees Celsius, with a humidity level threatening to drown us. Stepping off the nice, comfortable, air-conditioned train into that was unpleasant.
Our first experience, after getting on a bus to take us to the lake, was no less pleasant and I’m not entirely sure how John missed it. There was a girl sitting alone in front of us, and a guy stormed onto the bus, pulled her out of her seat, slammed her head into the window causing her to almost faint, pulled her back up and slapped her brutally, sending her back against the window, before storming off the bus again. What disturbed me more though was that while probably thirty Chinese people saw it happen, only myself and a German girl actually got up even to see if she was ok. The locals completely ignored her until they saw us, at which point one girl got up to fetch a security officer. It was a bit of a shock, seeing the complete and utter lack of compassion, and it made me remember that case a few years back where a young child was hit by a truck and left lying on the road, ignored completely by passers-by, for almost twenty minutes. It seems a lot more believable now, and made me hope like hell I’d never be in any situation where I needed help. Fortunately our day improved from here.
We took the bus to the lake, and it was hot. Disgustingly so. We felt like we should be in the lake rather than walking beside it. Our plan was just to walk around the lake, checking out some of the sights along the way. However, most of the temples and interesting places were up hills and in that heat neither of us felt like doing anything more strenuous than staying alive. So we stuck to the lake and slowly made our way around, feeling slightly envious each time we saw a group of local tourists in electric shuttle-buses zipping around effortlessly.
Hangzhou is an incredibly popular tourist town, and it’s clearly rather wealthy as well – along the lakeside avenues were filled with international designer labels, and we only saw new, expensive cars. Nonetheless it’s beautiful, and I think we both wished we’d stayed here and done a day-trip to Shanghai rather than vice-versa.
Pathways and parks line the lake, and men sit awaiting customers in wooden boats to take them out onto the water. Benches featured prominently, as did bins – something of a miracle in China, where we would often see people throw rubbish on the ground even when they were right beside a bin. Around the edges of the lake the water couldn’t be seen through the thickets of flowering pink waterlilies, although I failed to spot any frogs and those lily pads looked just perfect for frogs. Young couples passed us by on two-seated bicycles, while parents pushed little kids in bizarre prams. Every bend around the lake has souvenir stands and little food stores selling snacks and water and ice-cream.
We walked along the causeway out onto a now-connected island in the lake, on which was a museum, some temples and parks and most importantly, more ice-cream. The heat and humidity were absolutely beating us down and we felt we’d well and truly earned an ice-cream break. I’d chosen something that appeared to have a picture of a passionfruit and was a slightly disturbing shade of potentially-radioactive purple. Still, it was cold and ridiculously sweet and there was lots of it, so I was quite content.
We decided to visit the museum – which was free – primarily to take advantage of the air-conditioning for a time. It was actually quite an interesting museum, with artefacts from the area dating back thousands of years and a lovely collection of ceramics. Still, the highlight at that time was the air-conditioning, particularly for John, who doesn’t seem to find bits of broken rocks and pottery as interesting as I do.
The museum continued with some outside, non-air-conditioned old temples that had been converted. They were beautiful to wander around and explore, although we were both struggling to understand the Chinese obsession with rock gardens where the rocks look kind of fake and concrete-y.
We found a path with some steps and, much to John’s disgust, I decided to go UP the steps as it was in the shade and there appeared to be a park at the top. There was a park up the top, which we discovered was actually rather nice to walk through in the shade, with a little bit of a breeze as we were a bit higher up. It was a nice chance for us to relax away from the sun. We found a nice spot overlooking the lake, where there may have been a cafe years ago, which turned out to be a fairly popular spot for Chinese women to pose sexily for photos overlooking the lake. When they left I’ll admit to trying to mimic them. I’ll admit that I looked like a frumpy idiot, which wasn’t exactly what I was going for. Those photos are not coming out.
Making our way back down, via a few dead ends and a fence, we headed off the island and back to the path continuing around the lake. We’d thought about taking a boat ride to another island, not accessible by causeway or bridge, but it was quite expensive so we gave it a miss. Instead we continued walking to the main causeway that crosses the lake and cuts out a few kilometres of walking – we were feeling like the life had been sucked right out of us.
The causeway, for pedestrians, bikes and shuttles only, was still a few KM long. It was lined with trees that were still a little small to provide sufficient shade, and cute little curved bridges to prevent the causeway splitting the lake in two. The views continued to be impressive.
I’d been interested in visiting a pagoda a short walk from the end of the causeway, but by the time we’d got there we were both exhausted and hungry and didn’t want to contemplate all the stairs inside the pagoda to reach the top. So instead we got on a bus that we discovered took us back to the train station. We’d originally bought return tickets but decided to leave a little earlier [having no idea what we’d wanted to do we’d picked a rather late train] and fortunately found someone who spoke enough English to exchange our tickets with ones for the next train.