It snowed today, for twelve hours straight. Miraculously, it stuck to the ground. This is an occasion. We stayed in most of the day, making turkey soup and doing every project under the sun to fight the boredom. In the late afternoon, we took a family walk. Not one foot outside our apartment building, I tripped over a 1-foot-tall snowman in the walkway. Then I looked up just in time to dodge the sharp twirling points of an oncoming umbrella: there were crowds out to celebrate the white stuff, and everyone brought their many-purpose umbrella. [In China, umbrellas are used equally for sun, rain and snow.] Lakeside, more miniature snowmen awaited: one on every bench, to be precise. They were exquisitely crafted, some of them trios: mom, dad, baby. The perfect family of three. They looked remarkably like each other: in this country, there is never, ever just one of anything. Continue reading
Tag Archives: West Lake 西湖
My conversation with the fruit lady today went like this.
Me: “I’d like some kiwis.”
Fruit lady: “You don’t want kiwis. They’re not good.”
Me: “But I bought some the other day, and they were delicious!”
Fruit lady: “No, they’re not good. Buy something else. How about some crab apples?”
Me: “Mmm…I want kiwis. Four kiwis, please.”
[she puts three in a bag]
Lately, I’ve taken to running. Not for fun, though, nor for the exercise benefits. I’ve started running, and by ‘lately’ I mean late, because I’m signed up for the so-called “Great Wall” marathon in May, and I’ve got a little over two months to prepare.
Distance running (to me, anything more than 13.1 miles) is a pain. It takes up a big chunk of the day, is pretty boring, and negatively impacts other aspects of fitness. It’s not a good use of my time. But the marathon in May, conducted along an eastern portion of the (albeit heavily reconstructed) Great Wall, seems like it’ll be a pretty fun challenge, and a good excuse to go see that little part of China.
And my recent training has brought other benefits. Continue reading
Ran the ridges above West Lake with a Kazakh and a Belgian today. Paths are known to exist back in those hills, but nobody’s ever bothered to make any kind of map showing where they go. So we decided to get up early and just go, figuring that it’s impossible to get too far off track when navigating around a big lake in a city of 6 million. This being China, we should have encountered nothing but slow crowds and that ever-persistent “fog.” But instead, we had the unmarked trails pretty mostly to ourselves, and didn’t seem to be sharing the air with too much other stuff either. All in all, a good fast 14km route with a view (pencilled sloppily in yellow above – click the picture for a blown-up view).
Below is a picture looking down from our path into Dragon Well village, tucked back in the hills from the lake. Those tea plants right there represent serious money for whoever owns them, given the top-ranked status of this little valley’s Dragon Well Tea among 1 billion tea drinkers.
Now continuing with the topic of hiking, here’s an action shot from Owen’s (and Mom’s) week-long cultural excursion to Jiālìfúníyà (加利福尼亚). They’ll be back in town just in time to get ready for our next hiking trip this coming weekend. Now’s the time to take on nearby mountains: the temps are cool, the crowds are small, the skies are mostly clear. And that sleeping kid in the backpack ain’t getting any lighter.
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.