China and Cambodia: Part 4

The following day was our day trip to Hangzhou. It’s a city about an hour by train from Shanghai. The attraction there is West Lake, considered one of the most beautiful sights in China. Naturally, we had to go.

To get there, we had to get to the Hongqiao train station on the other side of Shanghai. It was about a forty minute train ride. I love riding the public transit of cities; I feel that I get a better sense of the city that way. I love seeing the people; I love the advertisements you see in the stations.

Once we got to the train station, we had to figure out how to buy tickets. Unfortunately, since we were not Chinese citizens, we could not buy tickets from a kiosk. We waited in a long line and eventually got tickets to take us to the Hangzhou East Train station. It’s further away but it had more frequent trains. Soon we boarded our train and were zooming through China to our destination.

It was pretty cool to see the area outside of Shanghai. I had never been anywhere else in China. I saw people working in the fields, I saw large towns with amazing architecture. It was rather lovely. The train was pretty awesome too. Somewhere there was a hot water spigot for tea or soup preparation. That’s amazing. I wish we had something like that in more common areas in Chicago or the US at large.

Once we got to the station and waited in the cab line, we debated where to go. The guidebook was surprisingly vague about where to go in West Lake. We ended up choosing something randomly that we thought we could ask the driver to take us to.  It may have been the farthest point on West Lake from Hangzhou but that’s okay. It was neat to see tiny glimpses of the area as we drove to it. Mountains surround it on three sides.

And then we were finally at our destination. We understood why it was so popular with the Chinese. The combination of the lake, the mountains, pagodas in the distance. This was a marvelous place. We bought some popcorn with the intention of feeding it to creatures we saw. However, we would soon learn that none of the fish or birds were interested in the popcorn. Very strange. But we saw this amazing pond with 100s of koi, swimming in bulk. We walked along the causeway taking in all of the nature. Lotus blossoms, trees, occasional astonishing birds. We watched the boats go out on the water and saw the amazing party boats shaped like dragons and other mythical creatures.

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We decided to hire a boat to take us out on the water. We climbed into a wooden boat where we tried to talk to our boatsman/captain. He paddled us out and around. We got an even better view of the area including a pagoda that is apparently on the RMB bills. Very neat! I’m not entirely sure if we were ripped off. The ride was only a half hour instead of the expected hour. But the language barrier made it hard to figure out what was going on. Then again, it was a small amount of money. It was still worth the brief excursion on the water.

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We continued to wander around the lake. I saw lots of people eating fresh watermelon so I naturally desired it. For about a dollar, I got a container of fresh watermelon with toothpicks. It was absolutely refreshing.

On our journey, we came across the Tianfeng Pagoda on the water. We decided to check it out since we were there. It was a very tall pagoda. There were several flights of stairs just to get to the base of it! There were seven more floors to get to the top. But it was worth it. (Every tower must be climbed!) The view was astonishing. You could see the mountains, the lake, and the actual city of Hangzhou! What a glorious place!

As the day continued, we realized how hungry and hot we were. We hadn’t really seen places to sit for food. We did have some walking lunches but we sometimes elected for sit down meals because of the heat and humidity. We studied the insufficient map to figure out where we were. We had planned to walk to the nearer train station to go home since it was about .5 mile from Hangzhou (supposedly). We learned that the lake is really really big. But we eventually figured out where to go and found a little place offering coconuts. And air conditioning. We went in and had the most refreshing coconut of our lives. It wasn’t coconut water; it was a jellied coconut served in the shell. It was what was needed after hours of walking. And we had WiFi.

That’s when I got messages about the impending super typhoon that was on its way to Shanghai. Not something you necessarily expect on a trip. We had been alerted to it a few days before by my mother but hadn’t gotten a lot of information. All I could determine was that it was going to hit Taiwan first and make landfall on mainland China at some point. Shanghai would get the last wave of the storm. I was a bit worried that we might have some issues leaving for Cambodia but that was the extent. Still it was strange to get messages about the typhoon from concerned family members while in a coconut shop in Hangzhou.

After our stay at the oasis, it was time to get to the train station. I was concerned about getting tickets on a train back since it seemed to be filling up per the website. We tried walking but the map got very difficult and ended up taking a cab.

The experience in the train station was something out of Monty Python. A sign told us that the foreign friendly line at teh station was aisle X so we dutifully stood in line. Just as we got to the front of the queue, the woman at the front put up a sign in Chinese and waved us away. Apparently, it was closed. Very frustrating. We waited there for about 5 minutes hoping she (or her replacement) would help us but to no avail. So we waited in another line. THen it closed. Another line. Same thing. Eventually we got in a fourth line. This time as we stood at the front, a Iranian adult son and father asked if they could cut in front of us to get a ticket thing figured out. We obliged (common bond of travelers in foreign lands). The ticket lady helped them reprint tickets. THen it was our turn. She took one look at us and said, “No, you have to go to the FOreigner’s line.” (At this point, it had reopened). We were spitting mad. So my friend pointedly said, “You helped the Iranians. You can help us.” The woman didn’t respond but took our passports and eventually gave us tickets. However, we had 15 minutes to get to our train. We had to get through security, find our gate, and get on the train. And we did. The train was once again a smooth breeze, easy, air conditioned and hassle free.

Once we got back to the hotel, I decided to venture on alone for some dinner. I was hungry and keen to find some good eating. It was tricky since a lot of the places around the hotel were open during the day. They were not many sit down places. I found one but it served American style food that was not for me. I was in China and I was going to each Chinese food.  After a little walk, I found a place with a crab on the logo. It was sit down place. It was perfect. The menu was a placemat where there were pictures of animals. You chose the type of animal you wanted. The waitress tried to help me through it. Through miming, we decided the size (small). She even creatively asked me how spicy I wanted it. Thanks to the guidebook, I indicated a small amount of spice.

And then I received the most magnificent plate of crabs, chicken feet, and tofu. It was amazing. More food than I had hoped for but totally worth it. I wasn’t sure how to eat the small crabs so I watched people around me. After a few minutes, I realized I was gnawing on the distinctly wrong part of the crab. But it was still delicious. The sauce was amazing. The crabs (once I figured them out) were succulent. The chicken feet were a nice complement and the tofu was delicious. I did accidently ate a pepper that made my face go completely red. One of the waiters rushed over with cold tea that helped a bit. That’s when I used the phrases in the guidebook to order white rice! It was honestly the best meal of the trip despite or even because of my misadventures. 🙂

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That’s all for now!

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