Hangzhou is probably the biggest city you’ve never heard of. Wikipedia lists the population in the urban area at 7 million, but it’s dwarfed by the close Shanghai with its 24 million. Whenever i’m asked where my wife is from, i’ll say she’s coming from the Shanghai area. As you might imagine, the people living there don’t like that very much- Hangzhou is very different to Shanghai, much more “chinese”, i’d say. That title picture is breakfast, by the way.
When i go out with our son, there’s a difference between these two cities: in Hangzhou, many people will stop and take a look at him because he’s the child of a foreigner and a chinese woman- they want to look at him, get a sense in regards to his resembling more like his father or his mother. In Hangzhou, when i go into a supermarket and spit out some of my hard-learned-and-yet-so-basic chinese, they’ll commend me on my good chinese. With those few sentences i have, they’ll even sometimes assume i can really speak mandarin chinese and talk normally to me.
In Shanghai, no one cares.
So nobody knows about Hangzhou, despite Marco Polo calling it paradise on earth when he visited and it actually being quite big and, for its size, quite beautiful. This might change, however, come september, when the G-20 summit takes place there. The G-20 summit cast its shadow on our visit to the city, as well.
Construction sites. Or, to be more accurate, Hangzhou was simply one big construction site while we were there. Now, it’s China, there’s always some suburb as big as big german cities simply growing out of the soil, to accomodate all these people coming into town. While i have to wonder how a “normal” chinese person can afford housing prices ranging from 13000 to 33000 Yuan (2000 to 5000$) per square meter (or 186 to 465$ per square foot), there’s always some “little place” built- or tens of them, in fact.
But this year, construction topped all of that- whenever we went outside, there were buildings under construction / renovation by the street. Sometimes there would be scaffoldings as far as you could see along a road and many roads themselves were being re-constructed. From hearsay, i was told Hangzhou is spending 7 billion Yuan (~1.1billion $) to beautify the city for the G-20. I’m totally convinced that, when we go there next year, the whole city will look different than this year.
There are downsides, however. See, there’s this really nice apartement hotel very close to the homes of my wife’s grandparents. We stayed there in 2014, i think, and it was all good- to reach both of these families, we’d have to walk for either 5 or 10 minutes. Unfortunately, when we arrived there, the receptionist told us we couldn’t stay- and this after a 45-minute-drive, 12 hour flight and 5 hour transit from the plane to that apartement hotel. Why? Because foreigners weren’t allowed to stay there. We didn’t know why and we didn’t find out exactly why, but we guessed that probably, there have been some “standards” set for hotels who want to take in foreigners in the wake of the G-20 summit. It is something i can believe, as the housing standard varies a lot in that city. But the last time we were there, i couldn’t find anything wrong with the apartement. And of course, i was upset. At least we aren’t real tourists, so we could have found a place to sleep, but it was still annoying to find another apartement after 24 hours of travel with a three-year-old kid. In the end, we found something in a different area.
The new apartement hotel was situated in a nice area with lots of different restaurants- from the small ones that serve great breakfast up to multiple japanese restaurants, a market right in front of the door, bus stops close by and actually not that very far at least from one couple of great-grandparents, it was suboptimal, mainly because i couldn’t figure out directions from there (i know the area of that first apartement hotel very well) and there was this huge elevated road/street between us and them. It would also take 15-20 minutes to walk to them and about 25-40 to the other great-grandparent, so we often took the bus or a cab to visit either.
I was able to find a good coffee shop, once again. Coffee, free wi-fi, loneliness (they’re usually not well-visited as they’re also expensive- a cup of coffee coming in at around 8$). Actually, this year i noticed that cheaper coffee shows itself on the street- i was able to get a normal cup of coffee for about 1.50$ – it’s getting easier to have some coffee from year to year- in my first visit, i had to drink iced coffee from bottles, this year, there was never a coffee shortage, because those shops sprout up everywhere.
This year also marked something noteworthy: it was the first time i didn’t feel like a visitor, at all- i felt as if i were “coming home”- well, a second home, but still- it felt like home. Slowly, i know the city, i know how things look in China, i know what to look for when i’m searching something (a recharge cable, for instance). While i still can’t read chinese letters and am still far away from talking, it’s getting better year-over-year, as well.
There’s a lot more , as we visited some nice places in the city, but that tale will have to wait for another time. I’m sorry to say i didn’t make it to Jingci temple this year- but i hadn’t had the drive after seeing it was under construction, as well.