We arrived in Hangzhou at 6:00am. The city is well known for its beauty, and along with Guilin is one of the most beautiful tourists spots in China. I had traveled here in 2005, my first time in China, and this city alone is what had eventually led me to return to China. The city is shrouded in everything one comes to love about China, and its history is startlingly ever present. We grabbed a cab to West Lake, the centerpiece of the city, and tightened the straps of our backpacks as we set of to circumnavigate the lake. Slightly remembering the features of the area, I set of pointing out aspects of my previous journey. We sat on the lake shore with a group of over twenty elderly Chinese and drank coffee and tea as we watched women in their nineties do tai chi while men did their morning exercises of military drills from years long passed. The elderly were surprisingly limber, and possibly in better shape than ourselves. They laughed and chatted amongst themselves while they exercised and drank their tea, and we aware that we were on the outside, looking in. I admired these old people, who were light years ahead of the American elderly who sat decaying in old folk’s homes, antisocial and full of self pity. Chinese elderly are the life of the country, they meet at night to dance in the parks with each other, and congregate every morning around the lakes to exercise and socialize. I hoped then and there that when I aged, I would age with dignity and grace like the Chinese in Hangzhou. We watched them for quite some time before the sun fully emerged, and then we set off along dragon bridges in the early morning light.
We continued our tour around the lake, sometimes losing sight of the shore as we strolled through deep woods, always keeping the lake in the distance. Emerging back on the shores, we encountered hundreds of boaters and fishers, eager to offer us a ride (for a fee, of course). The mood around the lake had shifted as the sun climbed in the sky. Younger people emerged, and with them some of the charm of the lake disappeared. Loud tourists came out of nowhere by the bus load, and we were happy that we had been there early to sense the quiet energy of the elderly. Eventually we were overrun by tours with megaphones and camera shutters snapping in our faces and decided we had had enough of tourism! We were tired of calculated trips where a lady with a bullhorn would screech into the crowd, “look how beautiful and serene the lake is. hurry. hurry. look. okay, moving on….” There is hardly anything to appreciate when one is in a crowd as massive and noisy as a Chinese tour group. We waited for the groups to pass so we could make our escape, but they did not cease. Finally we fought our way through the crowd to the nearest exit and hailed a passing cab. Exhausted and tired, we directed him to the train station where twenty minutes later we found ourselves sitting on a fast train home to Shanghai.
Though it had been an amazing week on the river, we were tired and eager to be back home. It was odd thinking of our tiny apartment in Shanghai as our home, but when we walked through the door to familiar smells and fabrics, we smiled and truly realized how fortunate we were to have such a nice place, with so much security and comfort. A week sailing through poverty had made it so nothing would be taken for granted for a very long time.
-posted by Lauren.