Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

May 02 2014

Hangzhou 2

Dust from the demolition of old buildings was rising in the morning light when  we got up, gathered our things, and partook of the reasonable hotel breakfast. After stowing some luggage at the hotel, we walked over to the nearest subway station, passing through the remains of old neighborhoods where people were having their breakfasts in nooks and alleys.

The subway in Hangzhou features an airport-type security system where everything has to be scanned, which seems like overkill. The Hangzhou high speed rail station looks and feels like an airport, sort of like Taiwan’s HSR stations, but on a larger scale. A trio of cleaning women stood on top of the glass ceiling, washing it. We didn’t manage to get any seats, so I sat on a luggage rack and glared at the people sitting in the first class cabin for the 30-minute trip to Jiaxing, where we piled into the old VW of a local man who offered to take us to Nanxun. We drove through typical Chinese sprawl, which is to say it was depressing. I hadn’t slept well the night before, so I dozed in the back seat as we hurled down the road, dodging suddenly appearing farmers and cargo trucks, all our windows open, creating a maelstrom of detritus and other high-school vocabulary words in the car all along the way.

The part of Nanxun that we visited required tickets, theoretically. Practically, most people didn’t bother, but we bought them anyway, so that we could see the exhibits. We passed some laughing cooks and proceeded into one of the large complexes owned by an old family where a group of cleaning women were very unhappy when I photographed them washing clothes in the courtyard. That put me in a sour mood for a bit, but the complexes themselves were interested, and reminded me a little of the colleges at Oxford, little walled worlds unto themselves within a larger, yet rural community. It was difficult to imagine all of the social life, the parties and concerts and poetry that supposedly took place in the dark, staid halls, adorned occasionally by western accouterments. The parts of the village outside of official control, where people actually lived, were far more interesting. We crossed canal after canal, over high bridges, talking with people here and there, but our driver, a Mr. Cao, was waiting, and soon we were on our way to Wuzhen.

With its gate and entry complex, the western part of Wuzhen is not a little like Disneyworld. We bought tickets and circumvented a small lake to the main part of the little city, walking along narrow streets among ancient houses, the whole thing crisscrossed with canals plied by boats big and small. There were many places to stay inside, but we hadn’t procured such a place, as we couldn’t tell online which hotels were inside and which weren’t, and ours weren’t.  In fact, our room was at the top of five flights of stairs and was very basic, to say the least.

But Wuzhen was interesting. Personally, I think they should give massive discounts to everyone who enters wearing period dress, but that’s just me. Out towards the big canal were more fashionable bits with bars, singing Filipinos, fake temples and haunted towers. We took a boat back to the entrance and walked around a bit before heading back to the hostel, where we arranged to try and gain entrance to the eastern part of Wuzhen early the next morning to see the sunrise over the canals. This is technically impossible as the place opens at 9 or so, but a bald man named Zhang told us he could get us in.

To make a long story short, he couldn’t. He drove us up and down a series of impossibly narrow alleys, the car’s mirrors scraping the stone walls, but every little access point had been blocked. The most likely reason for this disturbing display was the fact that it was May 1st,  the day when China comes out to play. Hordes of tourists were expected to descend on all of the major tourist spots, so we wanted to get in early.

We bade Mr. Zhang farewell and got our own damn tickets, thanks for nothing, and entered the complex to find it already rather crowded even though it hadn’t officially opened. A girl scolded her boyfriend for littering, but didn’t bother picking up the trash he had just tossed on the ground. People washed clothes in the canals. We caught a couple of exhibitions, including Famous Beds of the Ages, before the crowds surged in. I was yelled at by a woman for taking her photo as she stood in her doorway; unlike the western part of Wuzhen, the eastern part is inhabited by many of the original residents, and while many of them profit from the tourists, many no doubt are also irritated by them (us). I turned a corner to see a woman holding her head, the ground splattered with bright red drops of blood. Apparently the store owner had just bopped her on the head with one of the store’s boards just as she was opening shop. The woman’s friends hustled her away as the shop owner proffered a box of tissues.

By mid morning the place was getting rather crowded, so we headed out of the main complex, pausing to talk with a mother and daughter who lived in an adjacent area that was soon to be added to the tourist part; they were happy about it and looking forward to it, but I wondered if they too would tire of the crowds. We then walked southwards along the big canal to the southern part of Wuzhen, which was more rundown, but less crowded.

We walked and walked. The crowds thinned out. One older man, a barber who was infatuated with both Sun Yat-sen and Theresa Teng, showed us his poetry. Soon there more chickens, ducks, dogs and cats around than people, so we turned back north. It was getting hot, and the large canal was host to an amazing range of odors. It all reminded me strongly of when I lived in Kaiping in 1993. Chenbl got his backpack patched by a seamstress in a dark shop while her family watched.

We were tired from walking, so after checking out of the hotel, we lounged around a nearby hotel restaurant, picking at the food and listening to “China’s Got Some Out-of-Tune Singers” on TV until a couple of security types and police arrived with a man who claimed his watch had been stolen, and they apparently wanted to use the restaurant to interrogate him, so we left, passing an electric sign in the hallway that claimed the building was currently on fire.

We’d checked out the other parts of Wuzhen, so we went north, but found little of interest. Chinese flags lined the buildings next to a new bridge, and a local resident told us that they were seen as a kind of protection against the bad fengshui the bridge was causing.

Mr. Cao, who picked us up, was fearful that the horrible traffic would cause us to miss our train, but we arrived at the high speed rail station in plenty of time. In fact, our train had more trouble getting there than we did, as it was delayed by nearly an hour, allowing us to talk to some health food representatives, causing me to want to eat some really unhealthy food. I did, in the form of some potato chips, and they were truly awful.

The infrastructure of China’s bullet trains is basically similar to those of Taiwan, but there the similarity ends. While the trains in Taiwan are clean, quiet and pleasant, in China they are filled with shouts, kicking, odors and, I think, some kind of chicken, if my nose can be trusted. The good news, when we got to Suzhou, was that our hotel was right by the subway entrance, but the bad news is that the hotel gave us the farthest possible room they could, on the top floor of an adjacent building. As we were checking in, a man smoking the lobby tossed his lit cigarette at my feet. This is normal here. Dinner was of questionable quality at a nearby restaurant where the cleaning lady was clearly miffed that we were seated in her zone.

I have no idea what we are going to do today. Whatever one does in Suzhou. I’m fairly sure it will involve canals, for some reason.


posted by Poagao at 10:08 am  

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