As far as local travel goes, so far we’re weekend warriors. Monday through Friday, Nick’s in language class and I have baby wrangling and tutoring to take care of, but we make up for lost time on Saturday and Sunday. Fortunately, Hangzhou has enough lovely scenic spots and destinations to keep up with our voracious appetite for nearby travel entertainment. It’s astounding, really, to get on a city bus at 8 AM and by 8:30 be in a whole other world.
It’s a ten-minute walk along the West Lake to the bus stop, and on the way we’re treated to a veritable buffet of morning exercises: old people doing tai chi; young people doing what appears to be tai chi-like movements, but with swords; people of all ages ballroom dancing; people walking the paths and yelling rhythmically; and, my favorite, people clapping their hands together and then clapping their hands to their arms and bodies. Clapping is exercise here. So is yelling! America, get on this train.
Anyway, we get to the bus stop, where a nifty little screen tells us how many minutes and how many meters away each bus is. We wait for the correctly-numbered bus, and make sure it has a “K” in front of the number, meaning it has air-conditioning (kong tiao). With temperatures in the low 100’s recently, we don’t risk a non-A/C bus for anything. We wait for the K bus, then board. It’s 2 yuan (about 30 cents) for a bus ride. The bus is cold and clean, and everyone stares at the baby as we bump along (the roads themselves aren’t bumpy, but the newly-trained drivers can be unnervingly brake-happy). Owen likes the herky-jerky, and the riders on the bus like the baby, so we make our way peacefully to our destination.
It’s hot, hot, hot when we get off the bus at the temple, pagoda, tea village, or what-have-you. We wipe sweat away with clean burp cloths. We trudge to the entrance gate, where we buy our first ticket. In Hangzhou, and I imagine China as a whole, important sites are extremely manicured, spit-shine clean, rigorously maintained, and expensive. There are sometimes three different tickets to buy: one for entrance to the area, one for entrance to the first tourist site (say, many-thousands-of-years-old Buddhas carved into stones in caves), and one for entrance to the second side, which lies next to the first (say, a temple with the largest seated Buddha statue in all of China).
After we buy our tickets and wander in, we are among thousands of other people who decided to visit this particular spot on this particular Saturday/Sunday. Everyone has a camera or a cell phone equipped with a camera. Some of them want pictures with us and Owen, or with just the baby. We oblige if they look well-washed. When we ask them to return the favor and take our picture (in front of, say, a Buddha carved out of rock in the year 400), everyone nearby takes the opportunity to take our picture, too. What they then do with pictures of sweaty waiguo ren beats the heck out of me. We move on.
Soon, after all this walking and perspiring, a faint snackiness sets in. Fortunately, China’s got this covered. You cannot walk 100 meters at a tourist destination without running into a snack shop. (In this way, China is much like America.) We buy some spicy tofu on a stick, or an ear of corn (strangely ubiquitous). We scan the refrigerator for something palatable to drink. Sickeningly-sweet tea-based sodas are on offer. We pass on the drinks. We sip from our CamelBak and move on.
We wander all day like this, stopping perhaps for a proper meal of dumplings filled with mystery meat (always with a side of green vegetables for balance, though these inevitably arrive doused in more oil and salty sauce than the dumplings). When it starts to get dark or we run out of diapers, whichever comes first, we head home on the same cold bus that took us out in the morning. We alight and cross the street carefully, trying as ever to avoid colliding with an electric bike (Asia’s silent killers). We try to walk past Starbucks without going in and buying a delicious drink. We fail. (Coffee is not China’s strong suit, and though we both agreed back home that they ought to call it Charbucks, we take what we can get here). The more prestige a business wants to convey, the higher they crank their A/C. Thus, Starbucks is very, very cold, and Gucci is freezing (I know this only from walking by when the doors to that emporium were opened, not from any shopping experience). We buy hot coffees because the air is so cold. We realize we can’t take them outside, lest we drown in our own sweat. We go upstairs, look out over the darkening lake to the lit-up hills and lovely, tiered pagodas, and sip our bitter treat.
Then we go home.