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Paradise in Hangzhou

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Shanghai is a very busy city and it's huge, eighteen million people including the outlying areas. You can find anything in Shanghai, except paradise.

In 1280 Marco Polo described Hangzhou as the paradise of the world. The Chinese saying is: “As there is paradise in Heaven, so there are Suzhou and Hangzhou on earth.” Hangzhou, our next stop, is just a one hour train ride from Shanghai.

One of the most fearsome experiences for a foreigner is trying to buy tickets without being able to read the language. There was no English at the Shanghai Railway Station, but wherever we go we find someone that is friendly and willing to help. Even if you don't speak Chinese you could navigate by just smiling and asking for help. A young woman helped us purchased our tickets, sat with us as we waited for the train, and even made sure we found our seats on the train.

I can't say the same for the ticket agents. They are often rude, abrupt, and sometimes downright mean. We bought four first class tickets but the agent placed one of us in another cabin area. I had to switch my ticket when I got on board. I found a very nice girl who was willing to make the swap. It was certainly obvious when we bought the tickets that we were together but the agent just simply didn't care.

It was a smooth ride to Hangzhou. I watched the trees sweep by while listening to George Winston's Forest album on the iPod. Occasionally another train would swish past going the opposite direction and I'd feel a slight tug at our side. In an instant it was gone like a whisper that's forgotten. Telephone poles stabbed the landscape like toothpicks on a baker's cake.

Ruth was able to get some incredible deals on hotels on this trip. I think we ought to open our own tour company. The hotel in Hangzhou is very modern and clean. The decor in SSAW Hotel has a Danish feel. We have free Internet (to support my blog readers), a restaurant on the third floor, purified ice, and a free folding hair brush. What else could a traveler ask for?

One of the beautiful aspects of Hangzhou is the lake and lighted walkway. The city is situated around Xihu (West Lake). Pathways, stone bridges, sculpture, and restaurants skirt the lakefront. On our way to the lake, which was just a 10 minute walk from the hotel, we found a Starbucks. Wow! So, Starbucks in hand we walked the pathways and listened to live Chinese music. We found two old men playing a Erhu (give a listen) and cymbal. Two people were singing Chinese opera which requires some getting used to, but a cultural experience nonetheless.

Hangzhou is a mix of modern and ancient experiences. We found another Starbucks, Häagen-Dazs, and Jazz Cafe right on the lake. So really you can select the environment of choice.

We chose a hot table meal (I don't know the proper Chinese name). This is a restaurant that doesn't cook for you. They only supply the raw meat, vegetables, and noodles and you cook them yourself in a large bowl in the center of the table. They start you off with a wonderful broth of various seasonings. We met a friend who did the ordering for us (the menu was all in Chinese). We were unprepared when we saw the size of the dishes. We ordered enough for an army. Folks were staring at us. We tried to send it back and get a refund but they would have it. They said we could exchange it for something else on the menu but we explained that it was too much.

"How about an exchange of beer?"


"Water bottles?"

"No. Only other dishes!"

Which, of course, ignored the issue of too much food. This discussion was all in Chinese and I didn't have a clue what was happening. In the end though, we only spent $7 total for the five of us. It wasn't a big deal.

We went back to the room to talk of our plans for tomorrow, our first full day in paradise.

Half the fun of the travel is the esthetic of lostness. ~Ray Bradbury

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