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China Deep Dive: Hangzhou

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After five weeks on the road we had finally reached our last destination and I could relax. This last week in Hangzhou would be dedicated to reconnecting with Mei Ling's family and no one was expecting the foreigner to plan any outings. We had a house rented for a week that we would be sharing with Mei Ling's sister and nephew and her old friend Guo Guo. I had been to Hangzhou before although it had been a long time and my memories were hazy. I had a few markets jotted down and a couple of local attractions but I was ready for a little peace and quiet after nonstop sightseeing for over a month. The house was on a narrow alley in a very convenient area of downtown Hangzhou close to the metro and shopping malls. We were also within walking distance of a popular night market so that was where we went immediately after dropping off our bags at the house. It seemed like everyone in the city came to this part of town on Friday night.

It was a pretty good night market although not as memorable as some we had been to in other cities on this trip. The kids were fascinated by a guy pounding dough with a huge plastic mallet although I was terrified he would miss and clobber one of them. There were a lot of food courts and we finally got to eat the whole stewed turtles we hadn't had room for in Chongqing.

We spent the entire first morning lounging around the house chatting and eating. I mostly kept out of the way so that only Chinese would be spoken and the kids would have a chance to practice speaking with someone other than Mei Ling.

Eventually I couldn't stand being indoors any longer and I extracted my family from the house to see Qinghefang Street, another one of those Chinese "ancient streets" with a dubious connection to the past. There wasn't much difference here from being in Ciqikou in Chongqing although Qinghefang may have had even less resemblance to ancient China. It was basically a long line of clothing and snack shops with some newly constructed buildings in the dynastic style. The nice thing about China is that one can have fun even in corny places like this as long as there are no lines involved. There's always tasty food around and interesting people to watch.

After Qinghefang we made a halfhearted attempt to visit one of Hangzhou's many famous pagodas. Chenghuang Pavilion is a modern reconstruction of a thirteenth century temple that sits at the summit of Wushan Hill. We had quite a bit of difficulty locating the path and once we realized how much climbing would be involved in the humidity of the afternoon we lost enthusiasm quickly. We settled for a photograph of the top of the pagoda from ground level.

Our third day started out pretty lazy as well and I realized that if I went with the flow we would be spending a lot more time inside the house than I had imagined. I had thought I would appreciate the chance to decompress after so many weeks of hard work but I couldn't relax knowing that I was still in China and I was missing so much craziness and beauty even in these familiar surroundings. I went to my list of Hangzhou attractions and settled on Longjing tea village. After much supplication the congregation downstairs finally agreed to make the trek by bus to the village deep in the forested area southwest of the center. There was a ten minute walk along the road from the bus stop to the village. Along the way we explored some little paths into the woods that led to bamboo groves and some small tea houses.

When we reached the village there was an obvious path leading up a hillside. This led to a series of staircases that brought us to higher and higher levels of the tea plantation. It was one of the more beautiful landscapes I had seen in a long time, with orderly rows of deep green tea bushes eventually giving way to clumps of trees near the tops of the hills. The summits were obscured by a dense layer of fog.

I would have liked to explore the hillsides further but it was clear that it would be dark before much longer. I regretted not having made an earlier start as I knew there was a walking trail from Longjing all the way to another tea village called Meijiawu two miles to the north. It would have been amazing to spend an hour walking through this scenery but it will have to wait until our next visit to Hangzhou.

We descended from the hill and walked deeper through the village until we reached the Longjing Imperial Tea Garden. This was a very distinguished facility on a beautifully landscaped estate. We felt as though we had stumbled onto the set of a movie about a Chinese royal family from the Ming Dynasty.

In an unusual stroke of luck this establishment was owned by the same governmental organization that ran the hotel restaurant where Mei Ling's brother worked as a chef. He made a call on our behalf and the restaurant at the tea house, which normally only functioned by advance reservation, magically opened up for us and we were treated to an amazing multi-course meal. One notable entree was a stewed end section of an enormous cow femur. Fortunately we had a private dining room so the kids could indulge in their beloved pastime of sucking the marrow out of the bone with a straw.

By the time we made it back to the bus stop we discovered that the buses were no longer running. Two taxis were summoned to deposit us at the mall a short walk from our house., where we did a short exploration of clothing boutiques, candy stores, and pet shops. A bunch of cosplay kids had gathered in one area for a photo shoot and were engaged in a flurry of selfie taking. We caught them just as they took a short break from their activities.

By now I had realized that no matter where I was in China, the last thing I wanted to do was sit around the house and relax. There was just too much to see and so many things going on outside, regardless of the day of the week or the time of day. We had four full days left in Hangzhou and I resolved we were going to make the most of them.

Posted by zzlangerhans 02:33 Archived in China Tagged family hangzhou family_travel travel_blog longjing tony_friedman family_travel_blog qinghefang

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Hangzhou was recently in the spotlight for hosting the 19th Asian Games in October 2023. China absolutely dominated the diving events, winning all ten gold medals! Beyond diving, Hangzhou is known for its beautiful West Lake and its status as a major center for tech and innovation.

by Uma

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