Now that I officially can access my blog from China, I thought I would take my next few posts to catch you all up on all the goings on here in China. We have seen a lot, made a few friends and even taken a trip outside the city. We had a few weeks to settle in here before Joel officially started work so we took advantage of the time to have some fun. A Chinese friend from Joel's office told us about his favorite smaller city outside of Shanghai that we should visit (if you consider 1.5 million smaller) called Hangzhou. So off we went, it probably would have been smart to look up what to do and see there first but we love adventure so we booked a hotel and headed for the train station the next morning.
The train station definitely exceeded our expectations. It is the newer station here and it was very clean and well organized. We had no problem buying our tickets and figuring out where to go. We bought the first class express train tickets, which came out to about $20 American. The high-speed express train makes about a four hour trip take less than an hour. Joel, being the little kid he is at heart, was so excited about the train he couldn't stop talking about it. I was more excited about getting to see some of China's countryside, but that never happened. Every so often I would think, ok we have been going for x amount of time, we should be out of the city by now. Nope. That is one of the crazy things about the part of China we live in I guess. It is just really heavily populated. I'm not sure how far you have to go from Shanghai to see open land, maybe one day I will discover it and let you know.
So we arrived in the Hangzhou train station, which is how I would picture a China train station. Run down, sort of dirty with Chinese people hassling us to stay in their hotel, or to buy a map, or to take their taxi. FYI- these are the people you should avoid as a western traveler in China. Luckily we had our hotel already and eventually found a real taxi to take us there. It was about a thirty minute ride to our hotel, right on the famous lake there, aptly named Westlake.
Walking into our hotel we were pleasantly surprised. The lobby was updated nicely and it was very clean and everyone was friendly. Now, I say surprised because when we had booked our hotel the reviews made it sound like a slight upgrade from a crack house but we figured for $60 bucks a night we could scrap it and move to the Hyatt if it really was that bad. Our room was a slightly different story, the carpet hadn't been changed since probably 1972 and the bathroom was sort of scary, but the bed linens had been changed (thank God for that!). Let's just say that we were glad to be only spending one night there because neither of us were brave enough to use the shower. We really had the best view though, overlooking the lake and the walkway around it. That made up for everything I think.
An action packed video of our room
After checking into our room and unpacking (just kidding, our clothes never touched anything in that room), we wandered around and had a snack at an outdoor restaurant on the lake. For some reason popcorn is a specialty in Hangzhou and they had it everywhere. We spent the whole day just exploring the lake and the area around our hotel. That night we splurged on tickets to their famous show called Impressions Westlake. It was amazing. The guy who did the Beijing opening ceremony for the olympics was the director and mind behind the whole project. It is sort of hard to explain it, it was outside, on the lake with the stage set about an inch under the water. We sat on bleachers next to the lake and for $1 you could rent a giant down coat, which I did because it was cold. It was a beautiful performance of lights and movement telling an old Huangzhou fable. I found a youtube promotional video of it. Click on the link, it is worth the four minutes of your life. One of my favorite shows we have seen.
So the next day we woke up, and wandered the lake again. This time we bought tickets for the sightseeing boat which takes you to all the islands and around the lake. Click on my pics to see everything we saw. In Hangzhou I'm not sure they are as used to foreigners as they are in Shanghai. I had a lot of people taking my picture. Joel and I were even asked to pose with someone's child. I just wander what they will do with those pictures later. Show them to their friends and be like "you won't believe it...I saw two blond people!" Lol, its weird but something I am getting used to here. After sightseeing and lunch we had a few hours to kill so we rented a small motor boat and Joel drove us around the lake. It was fun, not sure how safe our boat was but we survived and that is all that matters. Then we headed back to the train station and went "home".
So, all in all we had a really nice time. We also learned that we are brave enough to explore China on our own and to me that bodes well for our future here. It will also make us fantastic guides for those of you coming to visit. So goodbye for now, don't worry, lots more to come in the future!