Saturday, August 7, 2010

Hangzhou to Shanghai: Day 5

A decent night's sleep improved our outlooks greatly, and the weather was gorgeous. We only had the one day in Hangzhou before being scheduled to catch the train back to Shanghai, so we started early. Breakfast at the Lily hotel was pretty decent, a combination of Chinese foods -- including dumplings, fried rice, and other savory stuff -- alongside Western options. Jenny and I sampled from both sets of choices and congratulated ourselves for showing up to China with some confidence with chop sticks. We'd noticed by now that, unlike Shanghai, this place had fewer people (including members of the hotel staff) who speak English. Thus we had to rely on our inchoate grasp of emergency Mandarin and lots of pointing and smiling.

Jenny on West Lake
Recalling yesterday's walk around West Lake, I kept thinking that it'd be swell to rent a boat. I feared, though, that the businesses would be closed again. And what if the shop were open? Then I imagined the various hassles we'd face. I mean, come on, we hoped to rent a boat. There'd be problems with identity cards, or questions about certification, or perhaps some issue with our passports. Heck, they may not even have any boats to rent. For all I could imagine, there was a crowd swelling into the hundreds, all waiting to grab one of a handful of sailing opportunities. The massive queues at the Shanghai Expo spooked me. Plus, it doesn't take much for me to dread that the worst can happen.

In fact renting a boat proved to be incredibly easy. We merely had to drop off 100 Yuan as a deposit (about 15 bucks; locals got to pay less, but that's understandable). The actual price was about 20 Yuan per half hour. After donning clumsy lifejackets we boarded a four-seater model, finding a motor with three positions: on, off, and reverse. The speed was something close to walking. We loved it. Dragonflies darted around us (one getting snapped up by the jaws of a baby duck) and other boaters hailed each time we passed. Children were particularly thrilled to shout variations of English greetings at us. We'd reply with our best efforts in Mandarin, earning giggles. Lotuses and weeping willows dripped into the water as we drifted for about an hour and a half. The whole trip cost less than we'd pay for a movie back home. Worth every penny.

Lovely trees dipping into West Lake
Afterward we walked most of the length of Su Causeway. It's such a lovely place, and pretty much everyone seemed to smile at us. Many shared friendly greetings, and a few stopped and asked us to take pictures with them. Jenny and I even paused along the shore to take a nap, lulled to sleep by the constant buzzing of cicadas.

Around lunchtime we paid for our priciest meal yet, a serving of Beggar's Chicken, a separate plate of shrimp, and some Longjing tea. Beggar's Chicken… how to describe it? Well, it involves a whole chicken, some lotus leaves (sometimes tea), mushrooms, cabbage, and ginger, and other flavorful additions. The concoction is stuffed, wrapped, and shoved into a glop of either mud or clay, which is then baked for hours and hours until to glop hardens. Crack it open and get a whiff of a smell that can hardly be imagined. Muddled in a stew of bones and veggies, the chicken is so tender that it might be confused with soup. Yum?

Temple of Yue Fei
Following lunch we toured the twelfth century temple of Yue Fei, a courageous general of the Southern Song Dynasty who was executed after facing trumped up charges of treason. Knowing little of his history, we nonetheless appreciated the artwork that told the general's life story and the examples of calligraphy that surrounded the main complex. Then it was time to grab a taxi back to the train station. We arrived a bit early, which allowed me a chance to discover a new favorite soft drink: Green Apple Soda.

Yue Fei, beloved patriot the Southern Song Dynasty
While we waited in the station, Jenny passed the time by crocheting, attracting plenty of attention from many women (and a few men) sitting nearby. From their expressions, it appears that this kind of needlework is unfamiliar to folks around here. One woman joined Jenny and they began a piecemeal conversation in scratches of English and Mandarin. Thrilled to make a new friend, Jenny offered the scrunchie she was making and received an embroidered handkerchief in return.

By nightfall we arrived in Shanghai. Right away, I wanted to tour Nanjing Road, which is well known for a dazzling assortment of animated neon signs. Problem was, most of the signs were turned off. It was around ten at night; what was the deal? OK, I figured we could at least see the famed Pudong skyline. But Jenny wasn't too impressed with that idea. She figured that we were too far from the river (She was pretty tired too). Well, I kept drifting toward the river until she said she'd had enough. I agreed and turned back toward our hotel. And that's when Jenny spotted it: the glittering, blinking Oriental Pearl Tower.

This is where the 21st century was born
My heart raced. I'd wanted to see this building for years. There was no way I'd wait one more minute. We both ran toward the river, joining a throng of photographers standing along the Bund. There were thousands of them, all thinking the same thing. It was hard to find a spot along the railing. Finally, though, I would get a picture of that glorious, futuristic cityscape: the heart of the 21st century. Smiling, being exactly where I wanted to be, I spent a moment tweaking the controls of my camera, fiddling with settings to interpret the high contrast lighting situation. At last, I got the composition set, just as - the lights went out.

Sad skyline
Unbelievable! It was just like that night at the China Pavilion, like the power went out for the entire place. I looked despairingly at those towering shadow shapes. I think I actually moaned. Jenny had been a bit upset with me for my impatience, but she knew how bummed I was. She held my hand as we turned around. Street cleaners were spraying Nanjing Road with water cannons, shutting that part of the city down too. We grabbed a quick dessert at an outdoor cafe, but I felt too forlorn to enjoy it. We found our hotel room and turned out the lights. So far, I wasn't loving our return to Shanghai.

Sign in our Shanghai hotel. Not much to add, really...

Day 4 | Day 6

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