Hi! from Hangzhou: And That’s All There Is (From the First Day of My Trip)

West Lake is a vital reminder that China is a great destination for nature lovers. I think that gets lost in the media messages we’re constantly receiving in the West, or at least in America. In spite of the pollution you’re constantly hearing about, it’s still that gorgeous place where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was filmed (at least partially, right?) and the painted landscapes that you know from pottery and watercolors are based in a modern reality. The weather during my trip wasn’t spectacular – the first day was especially rainy, with showers coming in bouts every hour.  The last day was worst – but that’s another story for a later post.

After making my way around the lake in its entirety I strolled/climbed through Zhongshan Park, where lush greenery is the sight du jour and a conveniently located Costa Coffee is on hand to dispense ginormous and overpriced espresso drinks to combat the utter exhaustion that accompanies the nonstop pace of a three-day mini-vacation.

Super old Chinese Hanzi (characters).

For those who didn’t respond so well to becoming eunuchs?

I then wound my way through some back streets and came across a market of sorts, consisting of what looked to be…well, let me describe it this way. Imagine an abandoned warehouse. Now, don’t clean it – never clean it! Carve it up into a few rooms, set down a piece of plywood to use as a table and put a few chunks of meat down on it. Now sell that meat. Ta-da! I wondered where it all came from, until a few rooms down I saw cages of chickens and ducks stacked on top of each other. Oh, that’s where it’s from (where the pork came from I couldn’t say – around back?). I tried to take a picture, but got shooed away. I’ve never seen such poverty and never imagined a place selling food could be so dirty – in some parts it honestly looked like the set of Saw VI: Massacre in the Orient. A shirtless man clad in a heavy black rubber butcher’s apron waited for customers, the walls behind him stained and splattered brown and rust, the light above him dim and yellow. Yikes.

And then I was back on the main road where men and women behind stalls and carts were hawking fans and whistles and bracelets. In one store I was surprised to be accosted by half the sales staff wanting to have their picture taken with me. I grinned and Victory-signed through about eight pictures taken on four different phones. For whatever reason, Hangzhou is the city in which I’ve most noticed being stared at/pointed at/hearing “Waiguoren!” (“Foreigner!”) shouted. Granted, Hangzhou’s much smaller than Hong Kong or Beijing, the other cities I’ve visited, but it’s more of a tourist hotspot than my “hometown” Qingdao. I thought I wouldn’t be such a strange sight – who knew?

For dinner I tried 7080 Garden, an interesting looking restaurant that, despite its cool barn-cum-art-gallery décor, had the rambunctious family atmosphere of a Cracker Barrel. C’est la vie. I ordered fried “ravioli” and duck. The ravioli were, this being China, dumplings – fried, crunchy dumplings. Brilliant. They came with spicy delicious sauces that burned so good. The duck came in a small bowl and was cooked, or at least set sizzlin’, right in front of me on a little fire. It smelled wonderful, but I almost had a heart attack when I pulled the animal’s foot out of the small mound of body parts with my chopsticks. I know I should’ve been prepared, having lived in China for a year, but…no. Luckily, the head was nowhere to be found.

P.S. On day one I spent an hour trying not to break down in tears in one of the local Suning stores (Chinese Best Buy). My camera’s memory card reader has been broken for months now – broke about one month after I bought it in Hong Kong – so I can only save pictures to the camera’s internal memory. At 5 megapixels I can take twenty photos. It sucks. But I figured I would bring my camera’s USB cable to dump whatever I took back onto my laptop and then delete them to free up the space again. Well, I forgot the cord and to make a long story short, they didn’t have one that worked to sell me. That’s why all of these pictures are such crap – I took them on my phone’s 1.3 megapixel camera. I tried to have fun with it and take the best photos I possibly could, but comparing them to the few real photos I took…sucks the fun out of that game

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