Hangzhou, China - Part II

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
Trip End Aug 10, 2007

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Flag of China  , Zhejiang,
Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Hangzhou was an imperial capital of ancient China and the southern terminus of the Grand Canal.  It is believed to have been the world's most populous city at some points in history, and its beauty and magnificence were even described by Marco Polo in his "Il Milione" seven centuries ago.  Hangzhou is currently one of China's wealthiest cities and remains widely regarded as its most beautiful.

West Lake in Hangzhou is one of the biggest tourist attractions for Chinese people, with a multitude of historical and literary associations as well as classical Chinese beauty.  But how impressive can a lake with a 7-mile circumference surrounded by a modern boomtown be, I wondered.  Now that I've seen it, I understand - it's absolutely lovely.  With clean water and pristime lotus-filled ponds, ancient causeways on the lake, beautiful landcaping and classical gardens, temples, pagodas and museums, ancient steles and modern statues along its shores, West Lake is a place surreally perfect in a way one would never expect of China, one where everything that surrounds it is polished to a shine and there are no signs of the impoverished street vendors, wash lines, roadside rubbish, or floating debris that are so widespread elsewhere.  Ultimately, neither the crush of the crowds nor even the searing 40*C (104*F) heat that created sweat stains on my shirts that looked like Jesus's face on the Shroud of Turin when they finally dried were able to quash my enjoyment of West Lake.

The same is true of for my hostel in Hangzhou.  My accommodations in China were a mix of hotels and hostels.  Whereas in Europe $25/night ($40 in London) gets you a bunk in a hostel in a room with at least three other people, in most places in China is gets you a private room in a fairly basic hotel or hostel, so I mostly stayed on my own.  In Hangzhou, though, I decided to go the shared room route for $6/night so I could justify spending more on the cuisine I described in my Shanghai to Hangzhou/Eastern Food entry.  The Ming Garden Youth Hostel must be one of the most beautiful and atmospheric places to stay in China, almost like a boutique hotel, built fairly recently but built in a traditional style with white walls, black tiled roof, stone courtyards, and wooden balconies.  It is also ideally located on one of the causeways just off West Lake and surrounded by peaceful gardens and lotus filled ponds.

When it's as hot as it was through eastern China, no amount of water seems capable of eliminating thirst, but Chinese beer is able to do the trick.  At between 2.3% and 3.1% alcohol concentration, Chinese beers seem to have mostly a hydrating effect, the drinker feeling sick and bloated from the volume of liquid long before feeling much effect from the alcohol. At least that's the effect Chinese beer has on me and was my poison of choice in China since neither Chinese wine nor spirits are very palatable. 

I have to say that I find much new development in China to be silly in a Las Vegas sort of a way.  In Hangzhou I wandered into an exhibition (real estate showroom) for Guangshia Tiandu New City, to be built northeast of Hangzhou in the "Parisian Style" of architecture with a mini-Eifel Tower and a chateau on a hill surrounded by vineyards.  Similarly, the urban planning exhibit in Shanghai featured new satellite cities to be built in the Spanish, Venetian, and Nordic styles, while on the outskirts of major cities developers are also building closely-packed American-style suburban houses in very poor imitations of Georgian and Tudor styles, apparently all designed consistent with principles of good Feng Shui.  I can't help but wonder what's wrong with native Chinese flourishes in residential architecture; why must upturned eaves and dark tiled roofs be confined to shopping malls and hotels?

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