Sunday, October 22, 2006


"Scenic" West Lake, Hangzhou

It is lonely sometimes to be on your own when you are travelling, particularly in a place where just about no one speaks English. So I was pleased to meet up with Jann, a German student who is in my dorm, in the Captain Hostel’s bar. The bar has a fantastic view of Pudong, whose skyline is ablaze with light at night. One of the skyscrapers becomes a screen for ads. A few drinks become a lot of drinks later in the concourse of our floor. Half the hostel turned up. Inevitably, someone had a guitar.

Tai chi in the park

So I caught the train to Hangzhou with a hangover that would make a whale wince. I talked for an hour with Jian, a Chinese woman who was taking her parents to Hangzhou for the weekend. She is pushing the region because she wants them to move down from Shaanxi province. She said she liked Shanghai because of its clean air. I let her talk about herself and her love of shopping (easily indulged in Shanghai). She had a beautiful smile. A lot of Chinese women are attractive — they run counter to the stereotype, in all sorts of size and shape of face: Westerners’ problem has always been in any case not that we cannot tell one Asian from another but that we cannot easily remember them again. (This is simply because we use eyes and nose as primary distinguishing features but Asians are more readily distinguished — and distinguish each other — by hairline and shape of face.)

Orioles Singing in the Willows Park, Hangzhou


Pagoda in the West Lake, Hangzhou

The Chinese have a belief, it seems, that everything is improved by music, particularly horribly tuneless mushy RnB and pseudoclassical of a Jean Michel Jarre plays Mantovani type. So the view of Hangzhou’s West Lake, a beautifully scenic stretch of water backdropped by mountains, one of Chinese tourists’ favourite destinations, is accompanied by something Vangelis probably knocked up in the bath one Sunday night. Even the train journey is punctuated by music, which is at least a distraction from the symphony of hawking, squawking, mobile phoning, shouting and begging that ensures my head is still throbbing at Hangzhou. The view is pretty, but it is foggy, so I will have to try again in the morning.

Fine weather for boating