Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Travels in Zhejiang

Before returning to Shantou, I had the good fortune to do a bit of traveling in and around Hangzhou -- definitely one of China's nicer cities.

The trip began bizarrely, by meeting a young woman on the airplane who turned out to be the wife of a high school classmate of mine. Said classmate's mother was something of an arch-enemy in high school; she was born-again, and I was punk rock, a stormy marriage from the start. Still, it was kind of nice to step off the plane and see a high-school mom from the suburbs of Florida there in old Shanghai.

After a brief soujourn to the Bund and LuXun's former residence, it was on to Hangzhou. Set right on the lake across from the Chinese Academy of the Arts, the International Youth Hostel there was like a little bit of Thailand further north; cool music in the cafe, and an international crowd. Okay, no great beaches so maybe my analogy is a stretch. But nice.

One night I'm in a bar that's touting a hip hop night, and my girl and I are dancing to some old school rap. Suddenly, the music goes quiet. These two young guys get up on stage and start having a rap duel in Chinese. One guy fits his favorite English word, "motherfucker" into each sentence about twenty times, to the roaring approval of the crowd. I feel I'm in some post-modern video about young China.

The highlight of the trip: Hiking the mountains outside the city. You take a taxi not more than thirty minutes and you are in a truly rural area. Couldn't a lot more of China have this kind of urban planning?

The worst moment: I'm in the Hangzhou bus station, enroute to Wuzhen. This guy is standing next to me at the urinal trough. He literally leans over, and stares at my junk. I glare at him and offer some choice angry words. But it deters him not. Incredible. Later on, I try out a solution to this kind of behavior that seems to work: "Hey, are you gay? That's cool. But I'm not. Please stop." When I say this to a boatman who's started stroking my arm, he jumps back about three feet. It's rare that you can produce exactly the desired effect in someone's behavior with a sentence.

Wuzhen, one of the so-called water towns, is a bit of a disappointment. I barely have a sense of smell, but the stench overpowers even me. Still, I have some nice chats with the old folks in the streets, though their Putonghua is barely comprehensible.

At dusk, on the eastern side of Wuzhen, the water taxis in the canal form a broken line heading for the sinking sun, and if you ignore the blatantly artificial nature of the place and the scent on the wind, it is beautiful.

1 comment:

Kyle said...

I agree about Hangzhou -- one of the few backpacker friendly towns in eastern China -- though it's a shame you didn't visit Shaoxing instead of Wuzhen; another "water town," but far less smelly, and it has the distinction of being the birthplace of Lu Xun.

BTW: If you want to take a cool weekend trip from Shantou, try Quanzhou, about 2.5 hours north of Xiamen. It's got a lot of artifacts from the Tang dynasty, including a mosque, a city wall (20 minutes outside of town, which tells you how big the place USED to be), and a thousand year old bridge.

And next time I'm back, I'm gonna try the "ni shi duan bei (brokeback) ma?" approach whenever I get creeped out by all the staring and fondling ;)