Saturday, 29 May 2010

Hangzhou - Day 1

Hard Landing for my Soft Hiney 

overcast 24 °C

Boarded on South Shanghai Railway Station the CRH about 1pm bounded for Hangzhou. Unlike our trip to Suzhou, which we boarded the train on Shanghai Railway Station. The South Shanghai Railway Station is much newer than Shanghai Railway Station. From a distance, it looks a little like a flying saucer with a round structure.

The CRH we caught is also known as Harmony (和谐号), more commonly nicknamed the Bullet train because of the shape of the nose of the train. Sometimes called 'D' train because this line of trains are numbered with the initial 'D'.

The distance between Shanghai and Hangzhou (160km) is about twice that between Shanghai and Suzhou (80km), and so we expected its travelling time is about double. We were right, it's about 1 hrs and 15 mins. This CRH train is newer than the two we'd taken to Suzhou and back, but the leg room is much less. Still spacious, but we can't place a 20kg luggage in front of Atta, and still have some leg room left. We placed it between the space in front of our seats.

We'd caught 3 CRH trains up till now, but they all different in conditions, and spaciousness, although we are quite happy with all of them (just to a different degrees). This one is the newest of the three.
We caught a taxi to our hotel. Going by the chaos, traffic congestion, and the hustle bustle, it's hard to imagine that this is paradise on earth. We booked at the Friendship Hotel. This is a Chinese hotel (as supposed to international hotel like Hilton). The traffic jam is as bad here as Suzhou. In both cities, they're building a Metro system to alleviate the traffic congestion. But at the mean time, the traffic jams is worsened temporarily by the construction. In a few years time, when they finish the metro, this gridlock should clear up.

As Atta was checking in the hotel in at the front counter, I checked out the hotel's credentials and accolades on the wall. It's a 4-star hotel, and won The Best Service Hotel in Zhejiang province. It's also a green hotel. Well, I'm a little impressed, which says a lots from a stoned traveller.

The hotel tries to attract foreign guests, and hired an European lass who works in the lobby and ready to lend a hand (or ear and mouth) for non-English speakers. The front desk staff can speak some English, but don't expect them to exchange philosophical discourse with you. Another thing they can build on if they want to capture the foreign market is adding more English channels like BBC, CNBC, Bloomberg, ESPN, etc. There're over 80 local TV channels available in the hotel room, and only one (CCTV-9, just renamed to CCTV-News a few weeks ago) is in English.

They advertised that their rooms with views of the West Lake. From the window of room 1505, if I glued my face to the window pane, and looked right, I could see about half of the West Lake. When I looked squarely at the window, I got an unfolding panorama of the local hospital building in front of our very eyes, completed with detailed views of drip bottles, sick beds and nurses in pretty pink.

It was a very misty day, and West Lake was under low visibility anyway. As I sat on the bed, my butts woke up abruptly (a rude awakening). It had a bumpy hard landing. I recalled that Chinese hotel beds are typically much harder than those in the cushy international hotels. This one is hard, but not as hard as the one I stayed in Guangzhou. I guess they already softened them for foreign guests. This hard bed was made up by the choices of pillows that they provide from feather downs to memory foam. They also provide buckwheat, oolong tea, and Jasmine pillows. Tea will keep me up all night. So I opted for a couple, and had teas in the morning when we woke up from the pillows.

The hotel is only 10 minutes walk from West Lake on its main road.

We had a stroll down the West Lake to look at a near dusk scenery.

One last thing, I was quite impressed by its breakfast which caters Chinese, Japanese and Continental food. They even provided yams, which is considered a lowly street food (considered a little more down market than, say, street hot dogs in the West). It's a Staple food for the poorest rural Chinese. When the poor couldn't afford rice, yams are eaten instead. I liked yams too (but didn't try it here as there're quite filling, and there were just too many things to check out). I yam, therefore I am.

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