Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Around China in 30 Days--Hangzhou

These are my May/June 2010 Journals, rewritten into a semi-coherent narrative of my trip through China with the UW Madison History group. It was a tremendously fun experience that I want to publicize a little bit, so I'll be posting these here.
Around China in 30 Days

We arrived in Hangzhou and began our drive into the city, past the tall houses of the villagers. I was surprised; these villages consisted of colossal, five story houses of mismatched architectural style. They were profoundly ugly things, smacking of the American Suburbia in their uniformity, and they're hideously kitschy, armed with outlandish patterned paintjobs, minarets, and parapets.
In spite of their hideousness, I decided to be happy that an agrarian lifestyle could be so rewarding. Hangzhou itself was gorgeous, one of the greenest looking cities we stayed in. We arrived in our hotel--a comfortable affair which promised on demand movies. The hotel was greatly improved when I discovered my iPod nestled in the bottom of my backpack. A few hours before I'd decided to wear headphones until I found it, and it worked. I bet this is how cults are formed. Or it would be, but I threw the headphones away.
Arrived and settled in, we immediately left for a local landmark, the Lingyin Temple and nearby Feilai Feng. The temple itself was home to remarkable statuary although in our habit Sean and I immediately embarked on an upward tour of the temple, seeking its highest point (disappointingly, a barren wall below the mountain's peak). We traveled back down (discussing, as I recall, which of us was Lewis and which was Clark) and contrived to carve our names into bamboo. Lacking a carving implement, we continued our journey, slipping through gorgeous rock gardens and discovering the monk's basketball court. Feilai Feng was much more interesting, being something of a carved mountain, adorned with some three hundred images of the Buddha in various states of repose, along with long staircases and some caverns. As always, there was a race to the top, although I took a wrong turn and exhausted myself trying to make up the difference. Sean and Benny, then the rest of us, were coerced into photos at the top; a young couple was getting married and apparently sweaty American tourists are an ideal ingredient in any wedding photos.
I expressed some curiosity about the name. I had only heard the English translation of the name at this point, which sounded like Pig Flying From Afar. There was a story that a drunken monk had had a vision of the mountain would come flying and land on a local village and when unable to convince the villagers to leave, he kidnapped a local bride so the locals would give chase. As near as I could tell the story had nothing to do with pigs... why was it called that? Krista corrected my mistake--it was Peak Flying From Afar.
Leaving the Temple was perhaps the most jarring experience--because lined up in the vast, bus-laden parking lot was about a dozen Chinese indigents, each with a more horrifying disability than his predecessor. Facial burns, missing limb, melon-sized growth projecting out of the jaw, the cavalcade of misfortune really put things in perspective... for about twelve seconds, until we arrived at a restaurant and the fact that the food was bad became the greatest tragedy any of the Creux had ever experienced.
Returning to the hotel, we discovered an alley across the street stuffed with food, abating our hunger with delicious Hong Niu Rou Mian. As Sean, Tony, and Krista looked for bubble tea and other snacks, I contented myself with a delicious bottle of orange Fanta and immediately discovered the soda that would define the flavor of our last week. Delicious Fanta.
After food, we decided to go out to a nearby bar. It was next to the hotel, a weird little joint that had a western feeling and a cramped grotto for musicians. We looked up and saw some guys doing something that bridged the gap between rocking out and the international signal for "Help Help I am choking to death, possible on the funk." Sean, being the beatific guy that he is, nodded in approval. After a few drinks, we headed up to the second floor because the girls wanted to dance. When we arrived at the not-dancefloor, the girls headed down.
Sean and myself did not get the opportunity. As we headed back downstairs, we were seized by some Chinese guys-that was pretty shocking. They stuffed into their booth and plied us with booze and cigarettes. I managed to wave the cigarettes away (and explain Sean and I didn't smoke), but I couldn't dissuade them from pouring us drinks. Or arm wrestling Sean. And they destroyed him. Finally, we managed to sneak away, but that wasn't the end of it. Oh no, the girls were dancing downstairs, and when we joined them, the guys showed up again--this time, dancing behind Sean! Oh man.

The next day we saw a reconstructed pagoda, took a boat ride, and visited a village that grew tea. It was interesting, but in that amusing, quasi-academic way that doesn't produce horrifying culture shock memories. The woman who pitched to us about tea (and sold about 元1000 in Emperor's tea and tea cookies) laughingly said they sent their worst tea to Japan for sale. We knew the game and that the US was probably the victim of that same joke when the Japanese come calling, but we bought her filthy cookies anyway. They were delicious. The evening was met with more unspeakably edible street food (I stuck with niu rou mian, afraid as I am of trying new things once I know about safe, tasty snacks) and cards.
Hangzhou was a comfortable city, but somehow it failed to make a lasting impression. The food was good, but I got the distinct feeling that it was a stroke of bad luck we hadn't simply been indoctrinated into street food culture earlier.
Stay tuned for next time, when we travel to Nanjing, the most depressing city I visited in China, and not just because it's a city whose name is most closely associated with the word "rape".

Previously in Xiamen
Next in Nanjing

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