Friday, May 26, 2006

This is life 4: First day in Hangzhou

20th May 2006
It is a reflex, almost an instinct. Everyone knows they have arrived in China when they see this welcome sign.

A total transformation of sights and sounds. Most people, that look locals, seem to have a microphone attached at their throats. One may be able to hear their loud voices from several metres away, and not understand anything. It comes in all directions, with surround system of cacophonic dissonants.

The wait for the bus ride to Hangzhou was a little less than tortourous. Coffee and snacks at the Pudong airport was priced dearly, more than the likes of dear Changi. The waiting room for the bus was non air-conditioned. Even though the late spring temperatures were still cooler than in Singapore, but without air-conditioned, it becomes unbearable and too stuffy for Singaporeans while they play mainland Chinese popular music videos.

Trip of 2.5 hours to Hangzhou cost a RM100 (S$20), which costs similar for a 5 hours trip from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur. Although it was expensive, this bus ride comes with a Chinese acrobatic performance from the bus driver.

This bus driver who wore dirty white gloves, has his MP3 player stuffed in his ear for the whole journey. He was seen counting money while driving. In the middle of the journey, the driver took liberal breaks of eating gum, drinking, smoking, spitting out of the window, and all these while faithfully driving down the highway at above 90km per hour. It seems ironic that in this communist country, drivers use their horns liberally as they steer their way though the traffic. To a Singaporean, this is an exciting performance of multi-tasking while handling the steering wheel. One is able to have the rough idea how efficient these Chinese are.

The city of Hangzhou, of poetic history and rumoured beauty, welcomes with a streetful of bicycles and loads of vehicles. It seems impossible, but the drivers can be safely be described as reckless and no accident occured. They changed their lanes when they see that their vehicles can fit in. Bicycles stopped in the middle of the road, just to allow the bus to pass.

Dinner was held at the pleasing coffee house only a walking distance from the hotel. It features an array of Western and Chinese cuisines, with their specialty, coffee. The waitresses were polite and helpful although the dishes could take less time to appear. It was quiet and relaxing restaurant, indeed an oasis, away from the hustle of the city outside.

The walk after the dinner, around the city and around the famed Westlake at night appeared to be challenging. Of maneuvering across drivers that quite ignore the pedestrains and traffic signals. But the locals seem to be at ease at their great attempt of crossing the busy roads.
With the cool of the late spring, walking around crowded Westlake seemed like walking in the air-conditioned indoors of Singapore. This included sounds from a live stage band. However, along the sides of Westlake, no one can missed the loud branded names. The stuff in this shop were said to be so expensive, that as long as they are able to sell just one jacket, they have made enough money for the day. Right besides these glamourous shops and luxurious hotels, there were people, children and the aged, begging on the streets. So how poetic is this modern Westlake? seems to be the question for the day.


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