Thursday, April 25, 2013

China 2013 Part V: The Most Epic Bicycle Ride in the World

The title is in reference, of course, to what is possibly the most rewarding endeavor one can ever undertake in Hangzhou - once the capital of China under the Southern Song Dynasty, now the center of this former sleeping dragon's fourth largest metropolitan area.

 Tree-lined avenues, the Goethe Hotel (2nd photo from bottom), dedicated bicycle lanes.

They say one day is not enough to cover even just half of what this city has to offer, and that is the true-true (to borrow from "Cloud Atlas"). So to pass judgment on Hangzhou based merely on the Saturday that we devoted to it would be to proclaim this "River-ferrying Prefecture" one of the most beautiful places on the planet. That is too romantic of me, and thus, honest.  

Let's all head over to the touruist center!

A lion plays with its balls outside this Pizza Hut.

To get there, we took a G train (the fastest type) from Shanghai Hongqiao Station to Hangzhou Station, which meant a peek at Hongqiao Airport's Terminal 2. That was fun.

Airports (upper two photos) VS. trains!

To get around the city, we rented bicycles. And this is the most important thing of all: When in Hangzhou, and as long as you're fit enough, a bicycle ride around the West Lake is a must! Not only are the major attractions (or the ones you should see in a one-day trip) situated around the Lake, but it is exercise plus nature time combined - both of which we hardly get in the Philippines. 50 RMB for 6 hours is quite a good deal, too.

Spot the Vincen!

They also have lake cruises, built like floating temples (or again, as how Hollywood has imprinted in our minds the standard look of Chinese temples), but you have to fall in line and pay and do all that stuff.

But the bike ride. We left the rental place at around 11:30 and returned at exactly 17:00. 10.48 kilometers. Our route took us along Nanshan Road, the Su and Bai causeways, and Hubin Road. I will be forever sorry for the shoes that suffered that semi-impromptu fate.

Our first stop was the Yongjin ("Golden Buffalo") Tower area, where, inspired by a playful pair of Chinese women, I shook the branch of a random tree and had my photo taken amidst the falling blossoms, and then played a part in this act:

Random woman (with her husband, both smiling): (Something in Mandarin that I did not understand.)

Me: I don't understand.

RW: Leave them alone! (in the tone of nice grandmothers telling kids off).

Me and T: (Smile, walk away.)

 Note the golden buffalo (right).

Needle-like Baochu Pagoda in the distance.

Next, at the Orioles Singing in the Willows, where pollen and plant particles tried (but thankfully failed) to trigger our allergies (if any). And yeah, couldn't hear any oriole singing. Also, at the monument or tomb or temple of someone famous in Chinese history, but alas, memory fails me.

Spot the Ong Lao Kiat can.

Our friend Hannah would probably say, "It's nice, noh?"

Next, at the place with the bridge where everybody was trying to get him-/herself wet.

Spot the Terence!

Perhaps the most iconic structure around the West Lake is the Leifeng Pagoda, whose relatively towering height plus location on a hill endows it with some of the best views of Hangzhou. 

The best thing about the Leifeng Pagoda complex is the duck, turtle, and rat pond. Yes, there's a rat living on that island (and who knows how many there really are).

The original structure was built under the rule of Qian Hongchu in 975AD, but what we see now is the product of the reconstruction done a decade ago. The Legend of the White Snake, about some immortal who descends from heaven and takes the form of a snake to undertake some snooty business, shrouds the Pagoda with faux-mystery, while an ornately intricate (like seriously, seriously intricate - you can see each leaf of a tree) series of sculptures of the story is displayed inside. 

Su Causeway (upper left) and Small Yingzhou Islet (center).

High-rises in Hangzhou.

 Trio of lake cruises.

Remnants of the original base.

The Su Causeway, in my opinion, is the most arduous part of the bike ride. Five bridges call for the uphill-downhill battle a biker loves in times of peace and abhors in the era of poverty. A woman actually toppled over her bike while approaching the midpoint of one bridge. (And now I remember, that woman was quite irate, honking and ringing her way past everyone). The Bai Causeway's otherwise crystalline beauty is destroyed by the presence of passenger vehicles.

Su Causeway from Leifeng Pagoda.

Spot the Terence (taken from the bike).

"Men by the Lake".

Xili Lake.

After the epic bike ride, we did carbo loading at Honeymoon Desserts, overflowing with customers. Inside, it reeked of durian. How exotic. They also have this place called The Grandma's (but the exact literal translation should be The Maternal Grandma's).

We stayed overnight at the YMCA International Youth Hostel, 500m east of the West Lake. The building used to be a church, which explains the Jesus and Mary portraits in the stairwell. Now, it is a National Heritage property. Interiors were done quite nicely, and the top private room (which we got for a very, very, very good bargain) easily compares with our local offerings. Plus --- doorless bathrooms (the ultimate honeymoon surprise)!

The facade and the citadel.

Spot (a) the Terence, and (b) the bathroom door (or lack thereof).

Sometime in the late afternoon, my dear friend and I got separated by a sort of semantic misunderstanding. I ended up walking quite some distance by the Lake, pouring out my emotions in silence, imagining orchestral notes swelling all around me as the sun faded and the waters rippled by. I would love to go back to Hangzhou, if only for the West Lake, the scenery, the sweet, calming air that blows across this gentle city.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

China 2013 Part IV: High in the Hyatts

I've mentioned in previous posts that weather took a turn for the wondrously better on our last day in Shanghai, providing the perfect opportunity to finally ascend one, possibly two, of the three observatories in Lujiazui. 

Checking out at least one viewing deck (choosing from the Oriental Pearl Tower, Jinmao Mansion, and Shanghai World Financial Center) has become standard tourist practice and no doubt an explosive moneymaking scheme for the city. The top sphere of the Oriental Pearl Tower costs 135 RMB, the cheapest adult price for the Financial Center is 120 RMB, and Jinmao is an 88-for-88 RMB-for-floor deal.  

So how on earth did we manage to take in the views from not only one, but two of those structures - and all for the cost of 0 RMB? The Hyatts, of course. See, unlike most high-end places in the Philippines, the Hyatts in Shanghai (and I surmise, other establishments of their class) don't really care about tourists wandering down their halls. In fact, based on our experience, they actually welcome visitors. Consider this the second installment of our Union Building experience (see previous post; link below).

That is not the way.

First up was the Grand Hyatt in Jinmao Mansion - all regal lights and ostentation. From the 85th floor, one is afforded a hypnotizing view of the interiors, and also, a chance to wave hello at the people who paid for the observatory deck and were rewarded with a hazy midday view of the city (lower right photo).

Looking down (above) and up.

The Oriental Pearl (R) and Shanghai towers from the fifty-something floor lobby.

Do you see the man in the building?

Trivia: The Oriental Pearl spheres can distort themselves.

From the eighty-something floor, the view is not exactly clear. A shame we did it all at twenty-six. (Thank you for indulging me.)

Next was the Park Hyatt in the Financial Center - dimmer, more intimate interiors. Plus, the toilets have a mind of their own and blew mine apart (because I'm promdi like that). Trivia: Park Hyatt is the luxury brand of Hyatt Hotels Corp.

The Two Towers, Shanghai version.

The Bund from a distance.

100 Century Avenue at the 91st Floor. They have cake!

Lesson of the day: When in Shanghai, all you need is thick skin - pakapalan lang ng mukha. For dareth and thou shalt receive.

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