The scaffolding outside our hostel is being dismantled by a bloke with a pair of wire cutters. Lengths of wire and piles of bamboo litter the street.
The rain of yesterday and the increase in temperature means it’s really humid this morning. Weather you definitely don’t want to carry a heavy rucksack through, onto a subway, in a city of 24 million people, at rush hour. The crush thins as we head out of the centre and my sweat dries.
We visit an ATM …. also known as a CRM in China.
Today we’re on a Z class train. It’s the cheap ticket, cattle class, hurley burly, lived in train. The last few we have taken have been sleek G class bullet trains which are more expensive. Today’s fellow passengers look far more interesting than G class punters. Fashions are more garish, suitcases are more broken in and voices are coarser. A man carries a plastic box full of chicken eggs on a wooden pole, ladies in sequined knitwear scream and cackle at each other, a young lad stares unemotionally at his son who keeps thumping him. Our train number disappears and is replaced by red characters. I look around but no one seems bothered. The time to board comes and goes but no one seems bothered. Al goes up to the board and Google translates it. ‘Train delayed. Time unknown’. It turns out to be only 30 minutes. We sit with a young woman who speaks excellent English and an older lady who speaks English too. We chat for some time and are asked – where are we from? Where are we going? What are we going to do in Hangzhou? How old are we? What is my job? Is she your wife? We answer and smile.
We arrive at Hangzhou which is the final stop and as doors only open at one end and we are at the other, we have to walk the entire length and witness all of the carnage. The carriage is a bombsite with litter everywhere. Tin cans, plastic bottles, newspapers, food cartons, sunflower seed shells and despite no smoking, cigarette ends. Every section of seating has litter discarded in it. As I step off, the inevitable cleaning lady is getting on. I wish her luck.
Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Song dynasty after 1126 and Marco Polo visited here describing it as a beautiful city. It’s a major tourist site for the Chinese and our hostel is just off the bustling, redeveloped, tourist area. We are becoming used to the redevelopment of history in China and less resistant to its charms. The area is lovely to stroll around, with upturned pagoda roofs and winding narrow alleyways to explore. There are many tourists and many tourist shops. Tea, snacks, sweets, notebooks, tea sets, calligraphy sets, flutes, hats, selfie sticks, plastic kids toys. An emporium of unnecessary trinkets which are essential on holiday. We find snack street where 40 metres of tiny food stalls are maned by women. Duck leg, garlic aubergine, rice and meat dumplings and fried rice are devoured whilst checking out what else could be eaten. Al is asked to hold a baby and photoed. 4-2 to her.
We walk down to the west lake which is the main draw card. We cross through a lovely park beforehand, which seems very atmospheric with the humid, low cloud. As with Nanjing, you can’t see the other side of the lake and we’re both shocked by the air quality.
Tired from Shanghai we sit on a bench until uncomfortable from the multitude of insects flying around us and we head back. We cross a coach park where boisterous day trippers wait for their ride home. The atmosphere has an edge like the british seaside can have. Young men in cheap fashion swagger their egos along the main drag with toothpicks or cigarettes casually hanging from their mouths with Hollywood machismo. They stare at us with cold eyes.
I try the tv in the room and find an historical fairytale chinese kung fu soap opera love story teen fiction show. I’m hooked and make up my own plot. It goes on and on and on , the plot thickens but goes nowhere. Suddenly, out of nowhere, it finishes and I’m watching a girl review a Sichuan restaurant. Time for bed.