The Chinese town of love: Hángzhōu
Tunxi (China), January 1st 2010

Hángzhōu is our second destination in China after visiting Shànghăi. The contrast between these two cities is big. While Shànghăi is one of the Chinese economic powerhouses where money and business are always in the centre of attention, is Hángzhōu the city of romance. The city has a lot to offer. The first National Wetland Park and the tea villages in the vicinity of the city are certainly worth a visit, but the main reason for travellers to come to Hángzhōu is West Lake. For centuries, this large lake in the centre of the city has lured visitors to Hángzhōu and it certainly attracted us.

While West Lake already seems quite big on the city map of Hángzhōu, you really appreciate the sheer size of it when you are standing on the promenade surrounding the lake. On typical Chinese hazy days you won’t be able to see the other side of the water. In the ninth century the people of Hángzhōu started to develop the lake. Already in the ninth en eleventh century, they built causeways of several kilometres through the lake with dredged sediment. They even made complete islands with beautiful parks and temples. The causeways and islands are still there, but the paths and parks are from the last decades. Construction has been done with great care. They haven’t made a kitschy replica of earlier times, but they have created a nice mixture of modern times with classical influences. Most importantly, a place is created where everybody can find the thing that they are looking for. Love couples often enjoy the rides in the rowing boats, while the residents of the cities make full use of the parks that surround the lake.

Karaoke in one of the city parks in Hángzhōu

Our favourite activity regarding the West Lake is to simply stroll around. To walk the full circle around the lake is approximately 12 kilometres and the surrounding parks have numerous other walks of offer. As a visitor, it is great fun to observe how the Chinese are enjoying themselves in the parks. Chinese have the good quality that they are not ashamed easily, which means that they don’t have inhibitions to make a good time in public. Karaoke is one of the favourite pastimes of the Chinese and this also takes place in the parks. The accompanying music isn’t from a tape, but from musicians who can play a big repertoire of songs. The singer pays a certain amount to be able to sing with these professionals and to feel like a star. For Westerners like us the Chinese music sounds more like a cat in heat, but the Chinese love it. The musicians are often surrounded by elderly people who are enjoying the music for hours folding chairs that they brought along. In the West, karaoke is often associated with a lot of alcohol and laughter, but here it is take very seriously. Nobody is laughed at when they hit a wrong note and everybody receives a polite applause when finishing the song. Training the vocal cords is only one of the purposes of the park. Young and old are doing sports and are having a lot of fun. At one of the parks, somebody has brought along his ghetto blaster and tens of people have gathered to practise their ballroom dancing skills. Also art has found its place in the parks. In and around the lake you will find statues made out of bronze, but an elderly man has also found a way to give his own kind of art a place in the park. Every day, he makes water art. With a large brush, he writes Chinese characters artistically with water on the path. Nobody even thinks about stepping on it and everybody looks with admiration at his calligraphy skills. Because of the cold and humid weather conditions, people can enjoy the art for hours until it finally vanishes.

After enjoying West Lake and the surrounding parks for two days, we are going to visit the other attractions. Due to the well organised city bus system of Hángzhōu, several surrounding scenic spots are within easy reach. The first Chinese National Wetland Park is at the edge of town near the Western Bus terminal and certainly makes a good outing out of town. The area consists out of many natural shallow pools surrounded by reed and is the home of many birds. When the high entrance fee scares you (as foreigners, we were asked to pay 8 euro instead of the publicized 4 euro on their website), there are also possibilities to walk in the areas surrounding the official park. This is the option that we took and we have seen many beautiful things. Tea village Lóngjĭng is another place that is easily accessible by bus and attracts many (mainly Chinese) visitors. Its picturesque location in the hills makes it a nice outing with splendid walking options.

Street water art is admired by both young and old

Back in the city, West Lake lures us again to its promenade. The evening before leaving the city, we can’t resist going back to the lake for one last time. We just want to take a final look at this beautiful lake and the people who enjoy of its surroundings. Research says that people from Hángzhōu are the happiest people from China and when sitting next to the lake, you certainly start believing it. There is just a very pleasant atmosphere. While we noticed in Shànghăi that most people dress functionally, in Hángzhōu emphasis is on more frivolous dresses. It just looks friendlier on a whole. We buy some paper thin breads filled with spices at a street stall and find ourselves a nice bench near the water. Sitting closely together on a bench. Hángzhōu, the city of romance, is a perfect place to do so.

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