• Spring Festival Vacation: Hangzhou (1/28 to 1/30)

    by  • February 29, 2008 • China, Hangzhou, Spring Festival vacation • 0 Comments

    We had been planning to take trains during our vacation. In fact, we were stubbornly resolved to do so until it was almost too late. By now, you surely know the story that in the last few months, China experienced some of the worst winter weather in its modern history, that millions of people were without power and that hundreds of thousands were stranded in train stations due to, well, trains that couldn’t go. But during the last week of January, we were unaware this was coming; we only knew that friends and colleagues were saying things like “Are you sure you want to take a train?” and “It’s very difficult to get tickets.”

    Luckily, we were unable to get tickets for our planned Hangzhou to Shenzhen train (a 14-hour journey which would have been made who knows how much longer and more miserable this year), and had to settle for a comfortable 2-hour flight instead. No regrets here! The only real train journey was the 45-minute ride from Shaoxing to Hangzhou, which we almost missed — we ran while some friendly soldiers or policemen (not sure which) carried our bags and ran with us.

    We had a few days in Hangzhou, which may be the most beloved tourist city within China (it’s not quite as high-profile with foreigners). Hangzhou is only about an hour away from Shaoxing, and even though I think about going there almost every weekend, this was the first time we’d even spent a night in it. We found a place to stay through CouchSurfing which, though cold, was comfortable and conveniently located downtown (on “Jesus Church Lane,” no less).

    The lane that led to our accommodation, named for the two churches (Catholic and Protestant) flanking each end

    We visited West Lake, of course, which we’ve already seen the other times we’ve been to Hangzhou, but going to Hangzhou without going to West Lake is like going to a barbershop and not getting a haircut. Everything was dusted in snow — a rarity in these parts — and looking more enchanting than usual.

    Joel in front of West Lake

    A few highlights: an amazing homemade hotpot dinner with our great hosts (including homemade chocolate ice cream!), finding a Chinese-English edition of The Catcher in the Rye and some great (non-pirated!) jazz albums for cheap, stopping by the China Art Academy (more on this in the future, hopefully), viewing the Chinese traditional medicine museum, an amazing display of illegal vendors packing up and leaving a streetcorner in less than 3 seconds after they saw police coming, and, incredibly, breakfast at McDonald’s.

    Sarah in front of the Golden Buddha welcoming tourists to Hangzhou’s (revamped) history street
    On our last full day we ended up at the National Tea Museum, which was fantastic. It was a pretty cold day, so not a lot of tourists were out, and it felt like we had the place to ourselves. The museum is in a kind of secluded location near the lake, and surrounded by fields of tea; it really reminded me of vineyards in Napa Valley. The museum had a lot of cool tea-related things in it, including the biggest bricks of tea you’ll ever see in your life.

    A really old teapot at the Tea Museum

    An impressive display of pressed tea – quite beautiful. This is how tea was processed (and still is, to some extent) – mixed with spices and pressed into molds until dry.
    A great diagram displaying the three steps to making tea: 1) Select Tea, 2) Stamp Tea, 3) Number the Tea Cases. Who knew it would be that easy?
    Next time we go to Hangzhou, the goal is to find some good food, because we were kind of unsuccessful on that front. Happily, the rest of our trip would more than make up for this…

    Not that we had awful food, just not memorable food. The exception would be these cute little hedgehog baozi with sweet yellow bean filling.



    Sarah grew up in Colorado but considers herself a Chinese-Malaysian-English-American. Her favorite thing to do is read in bed, or some sunny spot on a couch.

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