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.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Finding silks and losing my way

Hangzhou silk town between Fengqi Lu and Tiyuchang Lu
June 3rd, Friday

Once again, I found the Feel Best Coffee shop above the Foreign Bookstore on Fengqi Lu, had lunch there, and following my map also found Hangzhou's famous silk market, (zhong guo si chou cheng), which took my breath away, it was so extensive. This street of shops selling silk products is more than a kilometre long, colourfully decorated and closed to traffic other than bikes and scooters. I shopped for gifts here, keeping in the shade; even so, the heat that day was debilitating.

The other end of the thoroughfare
In order to reach the bus stop I had to follow a path by a canal, walk under the Zhonghe flyover onto Huangcheng Lu along a cycle path, then up and down the steps of a pedestrian bridge and then another few blocks by the ring road. It was approaching the rush hour by the time I boarded a bus that would take me back to our hotel, as I thought ... only the B2 doesn't always take the same route and doesn't always end up at the shi min zhongxin where I needed to get off. Because I was too illiterate to read the destination stop on the front I was ignorant of that fact until the broadcast announcement, translated into English: "next stop, Railway Station." The railway station is several blocks south of the Jiefang Road, and between the station and our hotel lies a canal and all the railway tracks. The only way across is to drive through a tunnel or across a flyover. Walking is out of the question.

Wikimedia image of taxis emerging from the Hangzhou station
I told the bus driver that I wanted to be at the shi min zhongxin, but he just shook his head and waved me off the bus with everybody else. My Chinese wasn't up to asking further questions, so I went right up to the station. Other buses galore, but none I recognised. No taxis. Finding an hotel on the concourse, I went in there to ask where the taxis were. Go down the stairs and turn left. I did as I was told and found myself in a deserted corridor. I walked in the other direction into a corridor jam-packed with people and luggage: the queue for the taxis, obviously. It was going nowhere. People kept joining the queue but I was always at the back because, being British, I don't push in front of other people. Taxi touts kept approaching me and the other despairing types at the back of the line to offer alternative transport for big bucks (big yuan?) but my son George had warned me about these people so I dismissed them with: bu yao! I also pretty soon dismissed the idea of getting a taxi from here any time before nightfall and climbed the steps back into the heat and chaos of the station approach.

A driver of the No. 96
It bore some similarity to that squalid bus station we had seen in Beijing, near the zoo, not an area you'd want to linger in.

I set off walking in a random direction and soon found myself at the bottom of the motorway flyover. Wo mi lu le, I was lost! The traffic was at a standstill and the three taxi drivers I tried to hire from there shooed me away again. I kept walking, hoping it was towards a district that I knew. Hordes of schoolboys were crossing the big roads with me; there's safety in numbers. Finally I spotted some buildings I remembered seeing from my faithful old Bus 96 and this oriented me. I had guessed right; the Jiefang Lu was ahead, the bus stop for the 96 still a fair distance away, but at least I knew how to get there. I saw the Sunny Hotel and felt relieved.

Bus and taxi on Jiefang Lu
In the evening I didn't have much recovery time from this exhausting experience before Chris' colleague Andy, visiting again from Shanghai, invited me to join a supper party in a glass walled booth at the lower level hotel restaurant where the tables were decorated with elaborate Ikebana arrangements. The flowers were removed before supper was served; otherwise there wouldn't have been room for all the dishes. The slender waitresses wore black and gold satin trouser suits, the epitome of elegance. Much of the conversation around the table was in Chinese because Chris and I were not the only ones present. I could understand very little of this but was fascinated by the body language of the Chinese gentlemen doing business over that meal.

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