Saturday, April 21, 2007

Zhou So Crazy

Our plans to arrive at Hangzhou to see the pictureque West Lake by sunset faded abruptly when our one hour and forty minute train ride from Shanghai turned into a three and a half hour one. With none of the almost-exclusively Chinese occupants of our compartment appearing troubled by the delay, we focused our attention on the passing scenery. Factory parking lots full of bicycles, small towns abutting dirty canals and several seemingly-endless developments of cookie-cutter homes passed by our window. In time, high-rise apartment blocks began to amble past, marking our arrival into the outskirts of our destination.

When we finally arrived in Hangzhou's sober central railway station, we walked down a long, dark and cramped passageway to join a queue of 300 others awaiting transport from all-too-scarce taxis. Instantaneously, we found ourselves privy to one of the daily rigors of China's billion-person middle and lower classes as we were pushed and shoved in all directions while trying to hold our place in a vague semblance of a line. To our surprise, many of the travellers introducing their forearms and elbows into our personal space did so while simultaneously offering us friendly smiles or curious stares. There was absolutely no malice directed at us in line, just a bit of expedient impatience.

After the wait, a mercifully-brief cab ride delivered us to our hotel, and we took an evening stroll around West Lake. Tiny, white lights scattered amongst the trees illuminated our path while captivating examples of traditional Chinese architecture beckoned. After taking a few minutes to get our bearings, we decided to escape the tourist-heavy strip directly on the lakeshore, and ventured into the maze of streets a few blocks away. Soon, we happenstanced upon a discreet establishment serving decent pasta in a trendy lounge setting.

After sleeping in until 8:30 AM the next morning (an act which rendered Kaberi livid over such a lackadaisical approach to sightseeing), we made our way back to the lakefront. We hopped onto a ferry shuttling tourists across the lake and enjoyed riveting views of temples nestled into a backdrop of misty, green hills. Disembarking from the ferry at both the Mid-Lake Pavilion and the Three Pools Mirroring the Moon, we took semi-tranquil walks where temporary refuge from hordes of similarly-minded tourists was offered by waterfront weeping willows and lined bamboo trees. Given her stubborn perfectionism defying logic, Kaberi was befuddled by the many Chinese tourists willing to blissfully snap photos of themselves with a sea of strangers crowded into the background. In stark comparison, Kaberi was quite content to wait an eternity for the crowds to clear in order to capture an absolutely-unimpeded shot.

When the Nikon was finally put away, we managed to enjoy the impeccably landscaped surroundings a little too well. We soon lost track of time. Upon finally realizing that we had a mere 90 minutes to return to the hotel to collect our bags and catch our onward flight to Beijing, we quickened our pace. Unfortunately, we mistakenly took a ferry even further away from our original entry point. We had no choice but to walk the picturesque, tree-lined, three-mile Su Causeway back to the shoreline where, to our chagrin, vacant taxis were nowhere to be seen. After a harried jog back to the hotel, we had only an hour before our flight was scheduled to depart with a 40-minute ride to the airport still awaiting us.

Bathed in sweat, we hurriedly checked out of the hotel, jumped into a nearby taxi and theatrically pantomimed urgency to the driver. With the benefit of light traffic, we made it to the airport with a few minutes to spare. We managed to make the check-in deadline at the domestic airline counter by the skin of our teeth. Boarding the plane, we undoubtedly made a distinct and not-particularly pleasant olfactory impression upon the unfortunate passengers sitting nearby. Fortunately for all of us, the flight to Beijing was only two hours long.


Susie said...

As someone who has done my share of traveling with Kaberi - I laughed out loud at the "lackadaisical approach to sightseeing" -- indeed, I saw more of Paris in my three days there with her than I had before or have since. The benefit of travel with her is that you really do miss nothing!

Anonymous said...

We are fasinated by your trip. Getting caught up after a slow start. Thanks to your birthday wish,we came aboard. Marge and Hortie