We arrived at Hangzhou the day before yesterday (Monday the 14th) after having flown from Wuhan (2 flights, plus some bus rides) and having got up at 5am! All pretty tiring, this being the 3rd domestic flight I’ve taken since arriving in China – no crashes so far, so it’s pretty positive *ugh*

Hangzhou is beautiful, it’s a very picturesque city surrounding a large lake with a number of man made islands in the middle – it’s definitely the most beautiful city I have visited since arriving in the mainland - it seems since about 1999 the entire city has been undergoing a massive rebuilding program to make it a prime destination for internal chinese tourists, it really is a great place.

Since arriving I have:

  • Popped into the tea village, the tea here in Guangzhou is apparently the best in china – it nice, but I don’t think I’ve developed my taste buds enough to pick it from some of other stuff I’ve had.  Grabbed a small tin of the “A grade” which I’ll attempt to get home through customs – or maybe I’ll mail it off from shanghai.  Apparently counterfeit tea is quite common round here as well – which is a funny idea
  • Attended a tragic “silk factory” tour, which included a very very bad fashion show, a brief look at the printing and unraveling machines they use on the silk worm cocoons and then another maze of a shop which forces you to pass every single item in the shop before exiting.  Another government run operation.
  • Been out to a pub that was laying down some old school Chinese hip hop, if you ever wondered what happened to all the old drum machines in the 80’s… well you probably haven’t, but they’ve been exported here… however it really does rock, in a sorta kriss kross kinda way. 5 Yuan beers were a pleasant bonus, and Tony (our Chinese guide) introduced us to a Chinese dice based drinking game which was pretty fun. After finishing up there we grabbed Tibetan kebabs (made by Tibetans!) from just outside, which were phenomenal. The food is all just so good here, especially if you like chili – which I do – though everything is dodgy (a word we’ve taught Tony) – really the only rules are don’t drink cold water, don’t eat anything uncooked/cold (and if it’s fruit, always peel it… ) – I’m enjoying it, but some of my fellow travelers have been a bit off colour since there arrival.
  • Visited the leaning temple/pagoda – what an amazing site, the 200 odd bronze statues depicting people who can never obtain the status of Buddah are fascinating – this is a huge spot for Chinese tourists, and there was soooo much incense being burnt by them, got some very cool pictures.  In fact all of china is full of Chinese tourists, seeing any other ethnicity is beyond rare. Chinese tour groups are easy to spot and provide wonderful entertainment, because they all get issued the same baseball cap and their leaders walk around with telescopic poles with a flag on top and are constantly yelling through a megaphone– it’s very funny to watch.
  • Visited the Luhe bell, which I got to strike 3 times.. strangely satisifying.
  • Been on a hour cruise around the lake in a boat… sun was shining, feet hanging over the side.. all very pleasant.  It looks deep, but apparently the maximum depth is only about 3 meters!

At any rate - today I did a walk around the lake by myself for a looksie, and too clear my head ;o) ..(no sun today, which is a bit of a shame) and then wandered through the botanical gardens.. pretty quiet, tomorrow we’re heading on our way to Ptuoshan (probably spelt that wrong) island, which is apparently quite stunning and after that we’re hitting shanghai – where me and a few fellow travelers including Geoff (another intrepid guide, who’s doing the annual safety review) are going to hit a hardcore Chinese disco :P

Traffic here is hilarious – you develop some really bad habits, basically there’s an order to things, based on size.. Trucks and busses can do anything it appears (run red lights for instance) – pedestrian crossings mean nothing – there are just horn noises all the time, as it’s used to warn people/cyclists of oncoming traffic… crossing the road is a true mission, especially at night, you see close shaves all the time. Oh, and road markings are merely a suggestion – a 2 lane road will often have 3 trucks or 4 cars abreast squeezing down it.   On the flip side, where there are lights they have a counter on them so you can see how long it will be till red goes green / green goes red - pretty cool.

At any rate, on the “me” side of things – I’m definitely forming a love/hate relationship with China, it’s such a huge and beautiful place – yet there is so much to drag you down as well, I’ve already been accosted by small children begging, the smog is so thick you think the clipping plane is wound down really low and I keep getting a sore throat every time we stay in a city for a couple of days…thank god for the amazing food and the good company to keep my spirits up.

Hope you guys are all doing well.


- Alex

Written on March 16, 2005