Easy on the eye, the lungs not so much
20.03.2009 - 22.03.2009 25 °C
Week two: Cue the first stop of what will be a whole series of trips for us around China, and in time further afield - Hangzhou, above. It's much bigger than Lishui, with a population of somewhere over two million. The mission - visit the famous West Lake area, nab some hard-to-get Western goods and crash with Meshell, Megan's friend from her last posting here.
The city itself has several nice wide avenues, and comes off in general as fairly well put together. On the bad side, I noticed it was getting progressively harder to breathe over the weekend - we did do lots of walking out in the traffic and Meshell's boyfriend Dave is a bit of a heavy smoker but still, God help me when I visit Beijing!
The West Lake area - famed for its natural beauty and praised to the hilt by Marco Polo - is particularly nice it must be said. Wispy, willowy trees invoke a relaxing mood in us as we watch Chinese women right around the park all stop to take identical photos of themselves partly enveloped by pink blossom branches. Must be a local thing.
In the welcoming heat of the morning sun, we took a nice boat ride out to one of the partly man-made islands on the lake, one called Lesser Yingzhou or Fairy Island that also graces the 1 yuan note. Heavy people traffic here (and it's only March), with some unsightly construction work, but the prettiness of the island was certainly palpable.
As for the Western goods, well, we stocked up good. Coffee does not exist as a commodity in Lishui - you can buy it by cup here and there, but there are no beans or bags of ground anywhere to be found; indeed, I had to bring a coffee pot in my luggage. So I got a few bags of Lavazza plus some Carrefour own-brand to tide me over until our next trip. Similarly we picked up cheddar cheese, Tack-It blue tack and a few other small things. All are made appreciably better by the challenge of getting them!
Without doubt the finest city in the world
- Marco Polo
Megan's friend Meshell kindly put us up in her apartment and accompanied us to a Mexican bar, where I just couldn't resist a 'draught' can of Guinness. Here, the challenge/appreciation rule does not apply :-) Luckily, Chinese beer is actually nice, nicer indeed than any among the narrow selection of Western beers you tend to find. Although the Hangzhou bar scene such as it is is inescapably less, well, special when chock-full of young Brits abroad and other wide-eyed gap year students from various places. So we were happy enough to head back to lush Lishui and our own place.
Transport-wise, the trip was quite a mixed bag - three hours up there on the motorway on a coach with comfy seats but a stir-crazy driver (the schedule said four hours). And that was the good half. The way back took six hours on a un-express local train with only a sink to sit on for the first four hours. I kid you not. I mean, those little trolley cart beers only take you so far and then they're sold out. We were told we didn't need to book ahead, but needless to say, next time, we'll trust our own judgement first.
Before you go, dear readers, you must have a read of Megan's really hilarious post on the experience. Until next time...