blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

To the lake and back by bus

May 24th, Tuesday

Gardens by West Lake (Xi hu)
The front desk staff burst into beaming smiles when they caught sight of me––"Hello Mrs Hobbies, how are you? Is everything OK?"––but were horrified when I told them I'd be going to go into town by bus. "Can't we order you a taxi?" But I insisted, and one of the girls scuttled into the office to provide me with the names of the stops on the B2 bus. The nearest stop, not unlike a station on Ottawa's transitway, is just a block away down the Jiefang Lu. I was recommended to get out 6 stops further on at Wulin Square on the North Ring Road.

At the wicket, I bought a ¥4 single fare (four times as much as a bus ride in Beijing), and was allowed through the turnstile without needing a paper ticket. The red, express buses are smart, clean and modern, broadcasting a different TV station from the older, green vehicles on the slower routes. I followed the map without difficulty until we emerged from the tunnel and started turning right. More streets were on the ground than on my map and hardly any of them had names displayed in Pinyin or English, only the major roads, so I counted the stops and identified the names of the stations over the loudspeaker.

I'd told the hotel girl I wanted to go to the city centre, and where I got off was indeed at a very large crossroads with imposingly large buildings all around it, but then, so are most of the other intersections in Hangzhou. I worked out later that I was actually off the edge of the map, but I had a rough idea of the area. My mission that morning was to buy a local SIM card without fail. I entered a suite of offices / shops advertising China Mobile on its doors, where cellphones were on display in a big foyer with settees and desks. Several people approached to offer their help and someone asked for my passport, but only one girl spoke a smattering of English. I know the words for "need," for "mobile phone" and for "SIM card" in Chinese and could say "one month," but that's about it. In the end, after I'd chosen an auspicious number for my new connection, we worked out that I'd come to the wrong place, because these people only sell permanent phone numbers, and I'd have had to go to he trouble of cancelling my account before leaving China (crossed fingers and a shake of the head to indicate "cancel"). The girl kindly offered to come with me to the humble roadside newspaper kiosk round the corner where I could buy a temporary, local connection. Again, the man here showed me a selection of lucky numbers on little blue envelopes from which to choose. I chose one at random.

Pleased with my mission accomplished I decided to walk in a random direction towards trees in the distance which I hoped would be near the lake. There was a pretty park to walk through––a common feature of this city––and some canals to cross, down which men in straw hats angled for fish. I saw somebody catch one. I asked at an information booth for another city map, but as there was no English nor Pinyin on it, it took me a while to make out the street names. While I was at it, I asked if I was anywhere near the lake, and understood the answer which meant go down there and turn left ("wang zou"). I must admit the hand gestures help. Down there and turn to the left meant another few kilometres' walk. The Chinese think nothing of walking long distances-- they're really fit. I don't mind it either, especially when there are leafy, wide avenues and further parks all the way, the paths, walls, seats and park buildings being kept clean all the time by teams of people wielding reed brooms or mops.

I found the lake, a walkway skirting it with many trees, flower beds and sculptures. Souvenir shops too, of course. There were hundreds of punts for hire (with an awning for shade and a man to steer you) or you could take a ride on a larger pleasure boat with a pagoda-like roof. The misty hills on the far side looked enticing, ancient pagodas on some.

My internet research before leaving Ottawa paid off. I knew I could catch a K96 bus directly from this part of town almost to the hotel, so I gave it a try. I found a K96 waiting to leave and got on to speak to the driver, showing him the name of the hotel on a card. He didn't recognise the name and waved at me to get off, telling me to try at that big shop over there because he couldn't speak English. I got off, gave it a bit of thought, and got on again, this time asking him if this bus would stop near the Civic Centre near the hotel (the name of which I also had written down––the shi min zhong xin). No problem, he knew that place! And it was a much quicker ride than on the B2. Although this older bus rattled and swung around far more, its route was a recognisably straight line down the Jiefang Lu till it reached waypoints I could recognise.

The word for "directions" in Chinese is "dongxinanbei" (literally: east-west-south-north) and the four gods of orientation are
Hangzhou IC hotel at night
  • Dong –– a green dragon
  • Xi––a white tiger
  • Nan––a red bird
  • Bei––a black turtle
I hereby acknowledge their help on that day and on other days.

In the evening, back to the MixC mall with Chris where I introduced him to what I'd discovered on its seven levels the previous day and where to his amazement he discovered for himself bottles of Old Speckled Hen beer and Cadbury's chocolate in the Olé supermarket. We sauntered back along the riverside, the cityscape and promenade dramatically lit, with the lamposts (not to mention the lamps themselves) incorporating neon lights and the illuminated steps down to our hotel changing colour as we walked down them. The hotel itself and other high buildings were also lit up like Christmas trees.

Beside the Qiantang River, Hangzhou, after dark

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