Experiencing ‘Real’ China in Hangzhou
Nick – Internship Participant in Shanghai, China
By Nicholas J. Cruise – Nick is participating in a Custom Date Internship in Shanghai. He is from Providence College.
With the hopes of experiencing a more cultural, authentic China, I planned a trip to a local city named Hangzhou. Famous for its gorgeous lake and a great disparity of natural landscape and a vibrant metropolis, Hangzhou offers a great escape from the widespread international atmosphere of Shanghai. The bullet train arrived into Hangzhou’s Chengzhan station in just under 45 minutes. An amazing fact in itself as this distance of nearly 120 miles would be a driving adventure for someone who comes from New England. The initial plan was to visit three completely different locations in the city, all of which combine to create Hangzhou’s unique identity. The morning would commence with a hike up the mountains of Longjing Imperial Tea Garden, home to China’s famous Dragon Well Green Tea. In the afternoon, I planned a walk around West Lake (Xi Hu), which is known as China’s most beautiful natural lake. The day would come to an end by walking around the city’s local streets, filled with silk markets and genuine Chinese shops.
Longjing Imperial Tea Garden
I am not a big tea drinker and had never before seen a tea plant in my life, but the vast array of tea bushes scattered throughout the mountains was truly something to appreciate. My friends and I took the Hangzhou bus, not knowing what stop to get off at. Luckily I was able to communicate with a local who knew little English, and she directed us where to go. Step 1 completed, but we had a long day of challenges ahead of us. In order to get up the mountain, we needed to take a taxi. When taxi drivers in China know you are a foreigner, they like to drive around aimlessly assuming you have no clue where you are and ultimately jacking up the fare. I had a feeling our taxi driver was doing this to us, so I said, “Ting,” which means “stop” in Mandarin, and we then proceeded on our 3-mile walk up to the Longjing Tea Garden. The garden was an amazing site, with tea plants positioned up and down the sides of the hills, only to escape your vision as they hit the horizon. Every local on the mountain approached us trying to bring us to their homes to share some tea. A very interesting fact about China is you can rarely find iced tea, as it is mainly drank hot, even when the heat index is approaching 100 degrees and above.
As noontime approached, we set off to West Lake (Xi Hu), located on the western part of Hangzhou. This enormous lake is one of the most famous tourist attractions in all of China. With a 7-mile circumference, it would take nearly 5 hours to navigate around the lake. Luckily there are three causeways that were constructed years back, enabling tourists to cut the lake into sections and see as much as possible. What was most special about Xi Hu was its beautiful nature and gardens that surround the outer banks. We walked for miles passing by various trees, plants, and wildlife that I had never seen before. Just when you thought you had seen it all, something new would come into sight. With a constant sound of June bugs and singing orioles, Xi Hu was truly an exclusive place.
After miles of walking, my body was screaming at me to feed it, so I knew we needed to stop somewhere soon. We entered into the city center, walking up the popular parallel roads of Yan’an Lu, Zhongshan Lu, & Zhonghe Lu. Very similar to the grid style layout of New York City, I expected we would be able to find lunch very quickly. After reenergizing ourselves, we continued north to Hangzhou’s renowned Silk Market, filled with over 300 small shops selling the finest silk clothing. From there we spent time exploring the enormous malls of Wulin Square. This location is every woman’s shopping dream, filled with a wide variety of fashion and every designer brand you could possibly imagine. The malls were like a maze, as each different interconnected building was labeled A, B, C, & D, and there were about ten floors in each. Traveling with a few girls, this part of the trip definitely took some time, but also gave me a second to relax from the long day’s journey.
As the sun began to set, we continued to walk around other parts of the city en route back towards the metro station. Having only one major metro line, Hangzhou was very easy to navigate. Our greatest difficulty was trying to locate the nearest Starbucks to keep us going after such a tiring day. The red line took us back to Chengzhan station. The process of purchasing the train ticket back was somewhat complicated. We missed the next “G”-class train by a few minutes, and had to settle with the next “D” train that would depart in 45 minutes. Not knowing how to speak mandarin, we had no clue as to how long this train would take to get us back to Shanghai Hongqiao station. But by the time we were even able to figure out how to translate the phrase, “When do we arrive in Shanghai,” we were just 15 minutes away. After a nearly 10-hour adventure in Hangzhou I was very happy to experience the ‘real’ China, and I hope to make many more trips just like this during my remaining weeks in Shanghai!