Ode to Hangzhou, or: How It Ends, 或:再见

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A Hangzhou scene

After two incredible years, it all ends here, with one last lousy blog post. A blog post featuring a cheesy song, a couple bad snapshots, and a false promise to a cab driver who will inspire me forever.

And so it begins, this post to end all posts: Yesterday I went out on the street with my bags, all seven of them, after going for my last chaotic, crowd-slowed run around Hangzhou’s West Lake. Still sweaty after my shower (such is June in Hangzhou) and looking for all the Chinese world like the most ridiculously over-packed foreign tourist to ever stay at such a low-class hotel (good ol’ 7 Days Chain Hotel!), I stood there, in morning “high peak” traffic,  and executed my best limp-wristed hand wave.

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West Again: East Again

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 001 001Travel Log, 23 June

And so it ends, my last adventure in China, this two-week road trip across Qinghai and Xinjiang. I’m now on a red-eye flight from Urumqi to Hangzhou, a direct connection that apparently exists because of the number of Uighurs involved in the bustling trade between Zhejiang Provinces’s family-owned factories and merchants from the Middle East. That’s the business of the two men sitting on either side of me, anyway. They’re both headed for Yiwu, the small commodities mega-market town where I once grabbed lunch in a restaurant that was run by an Uzbek, staffed by Afghans, and patronized by Chechens. For the man from Karamay sitting to my left, this is his first trip out of Xinjiang. He’s headed out to Yiwu to meet his brother, who has worked their for years and who, having just bought a car, has asked his brother to drive it back home for him. I am envious of the road trip he is about to have, one that will span pretty much the whole width of the People’s Republic of China, although I know that for him it will be a joyless endurance test of tolls, bad food, and little sleep. He has asked me to stick with him for a bit when we get to Hangzhou, to help get him on his way and for a fair price.   Continue reading

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West Again: Postcard from Almost to Bayinbulake

2013-06-22 2013-06-22 001 006Travel Log, 21 June

I have a final exam to take back in Hangzhou in three days, and a flight booked from Urumqi that departs 36 hours from now. This trip, my last one before leaving China, is about to end. But before that happens, I’ve attempted to squeeze in one more stop between Kuqa and Urumqi: the beautiful Tianshan grazing lands of Bayinbulake, and a break from the desert heat for one day before going back to the humid sweatbox of Hangzhou.

Things were going well until I got to Baluntai, where I was told I could switch buses for a faster connection up higher into the mountains. As a result of the encounter related below, I am now incarcerated in a hotel room above a gas station, with nothing to do but write a lousy blog post.  Continue reading

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West Again: Postcard from Aksu

2013-06-21 2013-06-21 001 002Travel Log, 20 June.

Today on the local bus:
Middle-aged Han Chinese lady to me: “You Americans truly grow up quite handsome.” (Note: this is a fairly casual compliment in China, freely dispensed.)
Me: “Funny you say that to me, because we look just like Uighurs!” I nodded to the Uighur men sitting next to me.
Lady: (Frowning, shaking head, seeming to recoil at the thought.) “Ugh. UGH! No. You do not look the same.”
Me: “Sure we do.”
Lady: “No. You? Handsome. Uighurs? Not handsome.”
Me: “I mean, there’s no big difference. We’re like the same race.”
Lady: “It’s the nose.”
Me: “The nose?”
Lady: “Yeah. Your nose is just more… bulbous (圆形)! And it not only sticks out really far, but it also goes all the way back up to between your eyes! Uighurs do not have nice noses like that.”
Me: “Hmm. Well, in America, a smaller “Uighur nose” would actually be considered a lot better-looking than mine.”
Lady: “Ugh.”  Continue reading

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