HANGZHOU

I get to Hangzhou by bus from Tangkou. It takes four hours on a brand-new highway (called Expressway in China) on which gas pumps have yet to be finished. »The journey goes by smoothly but I can't avoid noting the warning "Do not drive tiredly" along the way; I'll meet more Chinglish sentences in the following stages of my travel. I also note that there is almost noone on the highway.

I meet a young Korean on the bus. When we get off in Hangzhou I feel completely lost: the town is huge, it's dark, noone speaks English. He can speak with people, though!, so I wonder why. He explains to me that he is studying Chinese in Beijing. Now, since there is a lot of room for improvement in his English, I ask him if he hadn't better study English instead (actually, I use a roundabout expression not to look too direct). His answer "English is the past, Chinese is the future" provides me with something to think about in the night .

I make up my mind with the silly idea to go around Xi Hu (West Lake) on foot the next day. The lake is the star attraction in Hangzhou. It is in the town centre but, thanks to the surrounding gardens and hills, it is shielded from the traffic and the noise, which contributes to its unique landscape:

The atmosphere is joyful and relaxed:

Halfway along the lake, on the Su Causeway, I feel tired and I sit down on a bench and eat an apple. A Chinese in his sixties seats by me. I look around and I see a lot of empty benches. That's weird, I think. Later on I'll learn that, in many Chinese' frame of mind, if you are alone it means you are unhappy and therefore they feel the need to help you. Go figure!

Near the North end of the Su Causeway a nice bridge:

leads to the beautiful Quyuan Garden, with lotus flowers

and flowered meadows:

Loudspeakers broadcast music, which further contributes to creating the right atmosphere:

On the north side of the lake lies the Park of the Yellow Dragon Cave , with breathtaking views on the lake. While I look for the trail leading up to the park I meet an English couple from London who is also trying to find their way up. We go on together and they tell me that they came to China for the wedding party of a friend of theirs in Beijing. The Chinese wedding, they say, consists of many rituals unknown to Westeners, so they had to learn all of them in order to take part, and this took them a fair amount of time. The wedding has then been canceled and so they have got some time in their hands to visit the country. The story, though tragicomic, is true.

While we walk and talk of this and that, I report the thought of the young Korean on the increasing importance of Chinese with respect to English. The Englishman answers that he does not agree in the least. Not sure why, but that's not surprising to me...anyway, I am out of the contest (Italian is spoken by a small number in Italy and part of Switzerland only), may the big contenders agree upon and leave me alone .

The park is beautiful and so is the view on the lake:

we also have the chance to assist to a theatre performance:

I am feeling more and more tired but I have enough strength to come back by the lake and watch the sunset:

and to take one of my favourite pictures:

before I reach my hostel. My soles are burning after having walked nearly restless all the day long. The day after I rent a bicycle, which allows me to visit many places, including the buddhist sculptures:

and the Dragon Well (Long Jing) tea plantations, the most famous in China:

which flank a flagstone road closed to the traffic, very enjoyable to go along by bicycle - the Chinese flavour of Paris-Roubaix . And yes, you guessed right: the Dragon is once more part of the name...

I get to the train station by taxi just in time to catch the train to Shanghai. I am struck by the enormous crowd in and out of the station. For a moment, at the sight of that unbelievable amount of people who even prevents me from entering the station, I am pervaded by a feeling of aversion and panic.