Thursday, 25 April 2013

Hangzhou March 2013

The railway station in Shanghai was enormous but we found the ticket office in no time, I discovered we were unable to purchase using the automatic ticket machines as you needed a Chinese I.D. card, so had to wait in line at the ticket counter. The line moved quickly and we had to produce our passports to buy our tickets for Hangzhou. Trains leave frequently so we didn’t have much of a wait. To our surprise the train was sleek and modern and turned out to be a fast train travelling at an average speed of 219 kmph so the journey took only 55 minutes.
When we arrived it was raining and as usual there was general confusion around the station with many arrivals and departures milling around. I thought getting a taxi to our hotel would be easy especially as I had the name and address written in Chinese characters, however, no driver wanted to take us. I bought a map hoping the hotel wasn’t far but it was no help. We walked away from the station in hope that we might be able to hail a more co-operative taxi driver. No luck. Some young people came to help us and said, ‘You can’t hail cabs.’ I explained that I had seen many people do so, why not us. After some further discussion they hailed a cab for us and press ganged the driver into taking us to our hotel, which wasn’t that close to the station after all.
We arrived at our hotel the Wuyang Inn which was in the old area and was a delightful small very Chinese Hotel, with minimal English spoken by the reception staff. We settled into our room then went to explore.
Scene around Hangzhou

Hangzhou is a very beautiful city with the famous West Lake. We walked out of our hotel and turned right and walked a very long way and eventually found the lake. We walked along its bank but we felt cold and a little hungry. We then found a really nice place, an Arts ‘Club,’ which had quite a colonial feel to it. We were ushered in even though we weren’t looking too posh in our jeans and parkas. We sank into the armchairs by the window and had coffee and cake at ‘private club’ prices, but the most important thing was we were warm and dry. We had to tear ourselves away and find our way back via an easier route.
Heifang Street is where you can buy a variety of Chinese products, tea and tea sets dominating. We lusted after many of the beautiful Chinese tea sets but commonsense prevailed and we resisted the temptation to buy. We ate some very tasty street food along a side street; we then meandered back to our hotel looking at the variety of shops and stalls on the way. At the gate of the old part of the town a number of women were dancing/exercising to music. They encouraged me to join in which I did, but it was very cold so I stayed for a few numbers then we went back to our room.
The next day we went on a tour, it was for Chinese only but there wasn’t much else offering, we thought it would be OK. The tour guide had a little English but left us mainly to our own devices, but she was a motor mouth, in Chinese her commentaries didn’t stop and she seemed barely to take breath, even the Chinese started tune out.
 We went to some really beautiful places, with poetic names, for example, Tiger Running Spring, Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon and Yellow Dragon Cave. As it is spring everywhere the blossom trees are in flower and are just stunning, especially as you walk around the lake.
Mirror Lake
 We also visited Yufei’s Mausoleum, which is the result of another bloody episode in Chinese history. During the 12th century Yu Fei was the commander when China was attack and even though he was successful in repelling the invaders, he was recalled to the Song court and executed due to treachery. More 
Yufei's Mausoleum
than 20 years later he was exonerated (too bad he was dead) and his corpse was re-buried at this site.
The worst part of the day was visiting Songcheng Silk Factory. It was noisy and it was hard sell on very expensive silk doonas. The exit was through the shop of rather ugly doona covers and clothing and then a supermarket. We escaped quickly as did a number of the Chinese. From there we went to Lingyin Temple which was originally built in 326 AD, due to war and variously calamities it has been restored 16 times, the present buildings are from the Qing dynasty.
While wandering around the public gardens there was a small group, singing and dancing. A rather charming man asked me to dance, he was very graceful and I felt a bit of a bumble foot. After the music stopped I thanked him and he replied in impeccable English. I wondered what job he might have had in the past. Then a granny minding her grandchild asked me to dance with her so I obliged. Then there was some more singing, but by this time we thought we better get back to the bus.
The trip gave us some interesting views of the countryside and we saw many places, both large and small growing tea. It was inevitable then that we would end up at a tea tasting place. We had all the ritual plus showing us the health properties, hoping to sell it to their captive audience.
We returned to the town around dinner time and as we had seen food stalls setting up in our hotel’s street the previous night we decided to eat there as it was so convenient and we had a delicious dinner very cheaply.

Blossoms around the lake

Our first job on our last day was to buy our bus tickets to Huangshan. We discovered that they could be bought ahead of time at the post office which was very convenient. We then contemplated riding a bike around the lake but as the bike path was close to the road from which there was no view of the lake we decided to walk instead. It was such a beautiful day walking around the lake was very relaxing despite many other people doing the same thing. The blossom was out on the trees ranging from light to dark pink, some with both colours. Spring was definitely in the air. We ended up with quite a good view of the dancing fountain which was fascinating.

West Lake Hangzhou

We made our way to the pagoda we had seen in the distance on previous days. It was a modern construction with even escalators up to the entrance and lifts inside. It wasn’t overly interesting but it did provide a good view of the surrounding areas.
That night we did a last circuit of the night market, ate at our favourite stalls and then packed for our next destination.

Shanghai March 2013

We arrived early evening at Shanghai airport and after the usual formalities which were efficiently dealt with we made our way to the metro station which provided us with a direct line to East Nanjing Road station not far from our hotel. It was with amazement that I found the road and hotel without one wrong turn, however by now early evening had become late and we were rather tired.
Our hotel The Manhattan Bund Business Hotel has art deco-ish d├ęcor but is not a patch on the Peace Hotel, they are at very different grades. We get to our room in hope of just relaxing but had difficulty with the safe in the room as it was closed and we couldn’t open it, our phone didn’t work and two lights were out. After much too-ing and froing we finally got everything fixed.

Buildings along the Bund

The first full day we started off with the Bund self- guided walking tour which is always very interesting with all the magnificent buildings of the international concessions. They stand out as symbols of the wealth from trade, especially the opium trade during the late 19th century. We had wandered as far as the old British Consulate compound, they certainly did themselves proud. The main building is now used as a financial institution, rather exclusive of course.
We had explored much when a young Chinese couple asked us to take a photo of them together. I obliged with this and then they chatted us up as only the Chinese can do and persuaded us to go with them to some cultural ‘thing’.
‘It’s not far and is not long,’ they said. ‘Blah, blah, blah.’ It is so easy to get caught up in this sort of thing. Any way we duly followed them and we arrived at a small teahouse. At once alarm bells rang in my head as I had read about scams where one is taken to a teahouse and can be left with an exorbitant bill. After much discussion it all seemed above board so we stayed. It all proved very interesting though I had been through a similar tea ceremony before.
We all paid for equal portions of the experience and exchanged the usual email addresses we went our separate ways. We then decided to continue our Bund. Walking tour, so back to where we had met them.
We continued along the Bund and then walked in the opposite direction as we wanted to go to the Yuyuan Garden. We walked in and out of the back streets of the old town and eventually arrived at a garden which was very nice and just before the place where we wished to go. As we were walking around I slipped on a step, no it wasn’t clumsiness but a very slippery surface. No bones broken, but a little shaken we continued on our way. We found the gardens which was a combination of pools and plants as well as old buildings and shops selling Chinese handicrafts. It was all very interesting and being Saturday was very crowded. We went to the Xingtin Teahouse and had some tea and snacks which was delightful.
Xingtin Teahouse
We then strolled back to Nanjing Road, promenaded up then back looking in the various shops. By this time we were getting tired but decided to treat ourselves to a drink at the bar of The Peace Hotel we had some rather overpriced nibbles and enjoyed the art deco surroundings. We then went around the corner to our more humble hotel.
As we sat at breakfast looking out the window we could see this was not going to be a day for a lot of outdoor activity. It was pouring with rain. I thought a trip out to the French Concession might be good. I thought I figured out the correct subway station to go to but nothing gelled. The rain became heavier so I decided on the taxi solution. It’s a good job as we were actually quite a distance from our objective.
The French Concession is an extremely nice area of pedestrian only streets weaving in and out of low rise grey brick buildings with very upmarket shops. Amidst high end consumerism sits the site if the first National Congress of the Communist Party. Since I was here in 2004 they have built a more impressive museum to this event and moved the diorama from the original house to be a centre piece of the museum, with the original house next door.
We then took another taxi to the Shanghai Museum. The museum is very interesting and the galleries include bronze, ceramics, calligraphy and painting. It was good to be able to get an audio guide which gave historical background as well as highlighting pertinent features of some items on display. Of course no museum visit is complete without a visit to their shop which had many items for sale that I could readily have bought, but sanity prevailed as well as the thought of the extra weight of books so I refrained from a buying spree.
By the time we left it was getting late and we hadn’t eaten much so we found a place to eat in a food court and had a large bowl of dumpling and noodle soup.
The following day we took a taxi out to the Jade Buddha Temple which is one of the few active Buddhist temples in Shanghai. It was built in the early 20th century with the centre piece being a 2 metre high white jade Buddha. The seated Buddha is encrusted with gold and jewels and is said to weigh 1000kg. The reclining Buddha also made of white jade is smaller. There is a vegetarian restaurant that sells cheap lunches and there seemed to be just one dish on the menu of which we bought and decided to share.
Reclining Jade Buddha
We needed to get a taxi back to the centre and from there we went down to the bank of the river to see if we could take a short sightseeing cruise downstream. We eventually found the terminal which had certainly changed from when I was there 9 years ago. Many amenities were upgraded for the big international exhibition they had in 2010. We had a pleasant if somewhat cool trip but it was fascinating to see a lot of innovative architecture along the way. That evening which was our last we walked to the building which has hundreds of little
shops selling ‘fake’ merchandise. It was mindboggling. We bought a few things but saw many Westerners with bags and bags of stuff. There happened to be a food court in the complex so as we were tired ate there. Then wandered back to our hotel to pack.