On the weekend of 18th to the 21st March Juliet, Molly, Beana and I went on a quick trip to Suzhou and Hangzhou as both are really close to Ningbo compared to many other parts of China. I was pretty excited because this was the first time I was going to travel since I arrived here two months ago. I get to see China! YAY 😀
We caught the train late afternoon on Thursday and the journey was easy. I had a nap for an hour – I have become a serial napper in this country.. – and pretty soon after we arrived. We found the hostel easily and surprised to find that it was right next to a little shopping area than ran along both sides of the canal. After putting the bed sheets on our rock hard beds and organising our things we headed out to explore and find food around half past eight. It was very nice to walk along the canal with the beautiful lanterns and lights glowing around us. We ended up walking further afield to find lots of street food and passed many shops selling silk scarves, dressed, pyjamas etc. Beana really wanted to get a silk dressing gown so we stopped at quite a few in hope of getting a good quality one for a low price! In the end we ended up going for a cocktail at a bar beside the river which was a lovely way to end the night.. and ensure I was going to fall asleep the minute I landed on the plank we were calling a bed!
We had roughly planned Friday in Suzhou on Thursday night however it was changed a little when we left the hostel as we hadn’t realised that it had rained quite a bit overnight. So we decided that we should start the day by visiting the Silk museum in hope that it would clear and warm up a little for when we would be in the gardens. We caught the metro closer to the centre of the city and decided to catch a taxi from there. Even though we had the name and address of the place the taxi driver seemed a bit confused from the start. Normally they roughly know where they are going and seeing as their profession is driving around a city daily, one would expect them to know the streets perfectly… Alas no.. We knew that it wouldn’t be far from the metro at all so after five minutes driving without much traffic slowing us down, I decided to get my phone out to look at the map. I instantly saw that we were already too far south and needed to turn back. The museum was next to a seven storey pagoda so we even had a landmark to judge the journey by. I showed the map to the taxi driver, insisting that that is where the museum is, but he kept shaking his head at us. Then we stopped and he said he needed to ring a friend to ask where it was. At this point we were getting more and more frustrated with him as we tried to explain where we wanted to go a few times. Juliet also stated that she was going to refuse to pay no matter what and we agreed. It was getting ridiculous! Even after a few minutes he still refused to listen to us or take us to the right place so we got out of the taxi and walked in the direction we came in. It was only a short ten minute walk up to the museum and the pagoda.
As our luck hadn’t panned out very well so far.. it hadn’t started turning yet.. It turned out that the museum was being refurbished so we went into small silk factory next door. I was quite surprised and saddened to find out that they have to kill the silk worms to get the silk cocoons 😦 but it was impressive that one cocoon can make up to a thousand metre long silk thread! It was a quick visit but worth it. The silk products the factory sold in their shop were incredibly soft and beautiful… How I would love a silk bedspread!!
After that we decided to head towards one of the famous gardens called the Humble Administrators Garden. As Suzhou is quite a small quaint city we decided to walk rather than get in another taxi. We came across a small restaurant selling dumplings on the street which we keenly bought. There is a traditional type that is shaped like a bell and has sticky rice with pork in it. The others were the the typical round ones with meat and vegetables in. We were in food heaven.
The gardens were both beautiful. We also went to another famous one called the Lingering Garden. As I am quite a spiritual person I find that I do have some sort of affinity towards China. When I was walking around both gardens I felt pretty calm and somewhere that felt quite close to the heart. Despite China being a chaotic, sometimes confusing, sometimes really frustrating, I would definitely consider coming back out here after graduating to live and work for a few years. When my parents moved to Calgary I became extremely attached to the UK and clung to the fact that it is my real home. I shied away from any possibility or idea or moving myself as the idea of leaving the rest of my family and friends was too hard to bear. Even though the UK still is my home, I have relaxed in the sense of starting to become more positive toward the idea of moving abroad myself. I know a garden is just a garden but the beauty and serenity definitely reminded me that I am passionate about China and everything in it. 🙂
We also went to the main shopping area of Suzhou and it was bigger than I expected! It’s a smaller city than Ningbo yet it has a Marks and Spencers! There were also a couple of market stalls where Beana managed to buy the silk dressing gown she’s always wanted 😀 After spending most of the day walking about we went back to the hostel to relax for a few hours. I managed to have another nap! Then we headed out again to the same little area by our hostel. I could definitely spend a few more days in Suzhou just wandering around the little streets by the river, eating delicious street food and maybe chatting to the locals every now and again.
Hangzhou was very different. Most of the tourist or beautiful sights are on the edge of the city near the West Lake (西湖). We arrived on the Saturday afternoon around one o’clock and once we stepped out of the metro to walk towards our hotel, we were melting. The sun was out and it was boiling. I had to stop and take off the many layers I had on before I was written off for heat exhaustion! Okay, it wasn’t that hot but it was not coat weather for sure! We walked along a main road towards the hostel and found that you couldn’t cross it overground. Instead we had to go up and down three underground passes which were mostly a tall set of stairs the whole way. I fortunately had my boot on for this journey which definitely save my foot from being put under too much pressure!!
When we finally arrived at the hostel we were pleasantly surprised to see that 1. it was right next to the massive lake and 2. (and most important) the mattresses were the best ones I’ve experienced yet. Encouraged by the idea that we were all going to sleep like babies that night, we dressed up in summery clothes and headed out to see what there was around the lake. Firstly we grabbed a quick lunch in the cafe adjoining the hostel. It was western food… But as we were pretty hungry, we didn’t mind!
At about three we walked towards the lake and decided to get a boat across to the small island in the middle where we can catch another boat to other parts of the lake. The little island was so cute. Even though it was quite full with people, I find that Chinese scenery and nature cannot be ruined.
The amount of photos Chinese people took of us is uncountable. I feel like we are surrounded by paparazzi half the time! It is amusing to hear them all say “laowai” to each other not realising that we can understand what they sometimes say. We asked someone to take a photo of us and as we posed many other random Chinese passers-by stopped to take photos too! It was incredible. You would think that many Chinese see tourists a lot but actually, there aren’t many tourists in China. Even though some of the others got a little agitated about the constant photo taking, it could be worse. Beana made the good point that if seeing us is the first time for the Chinese, it’s best we smile and wave because then we’re giving them a good impression of what “laowai”s are like. Molly made me laugh saying that she was the ‘token brunette’. The Chinese only want pictures of her because she’s around three blondes. Heheheh XD
We got on another boat to take us to the north side of the lake where there was a temple. Even though we didn’t end up going into it, it was nice to see different sides of the lake anyway. Unfortunately we spent a good half an hour trying to catch a taxi back to the hostel but not one would take us! Many passed us but they were either full or refusing to go where we wanted to go. Some quoted prices to us which were extortionate so we rightly refused. We even asked this group of young people who were wearing vests that said ‘volunteer’ on them to help us but they couldn’t get a taxi either. Thus we thanked them and headed in the direction of our hostel on the east side of the lake. It was a looong journey home. Though we did get to see the sun set across the lake and take quite a few pictures of the lights on the lake once the sun had set.
That evening Juliet, Molly and I went out to a bar on the same street as our hostel and had a drink. It was very busy in there but was full of a slightly older crowd. It was quite nice. But the shame of it is we went to McDonald’s afterwards. I’ve eaten more fast food in the past two and a half months than I ever have back in the UK. This is slightly worrying as I did used to have McDonald’s often because Will and I had a tendency to go there at least once when we saw each other! 😛
Luckily we had a little sleep in on Sunday morning. We checked out at about eleven and headed out for a walk in Hangzhou before having to come back to catch our mid-afternoon train. We wandered in the opposite direction of the lake in search of a pedestrianised street called 河坊街- He Fang Street. It was a verrrry long street full of shops, stalls and restaurants. I enjoyed it but by the end of it I was exhausted. I was ready to come home and was aware my foot probably needed a rest. I really wanted to catch a taxi home but as it was a beautiful day Beana made the good point that it was a shame to not walk back. I considered going back on my own but as that would make it difficult for Molly and Juliet to decide between not wanting to leave neither Beana or I on our own, I just walked home anyway. The girls stopped for ice creams on the way back. When we were only a third of the way back we realised time was catching up to us fast.. So we tried to catch a taxi again but for the second time we had no luck finding one.
Long story short we made the train with ten minutes to spare, Beana was a gem by running ahead to get the tickets and also taking my little suitcase for me on the many staircases. I was very happy to arrive home on Sunday evening. Even though it had been fantastic to travel and see two wonderful places, I love having my own space again and be somewhere where I can settle. This surprises me because in the past I’ve hated the idea of a weekend of nothing!
Now, off I go again.. I promise not to leave it too long until next time!
Big love to my homeland 🙂
Ps. Bit late but I wanted to mention: Happy Birthday to my little brother, cannot believe he is seventeen! 😀 25/03/2015 .. But also should say: get well soon bro! The plonker has managed to crack a rib whilst skiing…. Last year he broke his collarbone around his birthday… Our family and breaking bones recently!! xxx