My Winter Travels, Part 12: Hangzhou

Hangzhou Picasa Photo Album
The day after we visited Suzhou, we took a train to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a famous tourist location. There's an ancient Chinese saying that goes, "In heaven there is paradise, on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou." Hangzhou's fame comes from the West Lake, a large lake that has been a tourist attraction since ancient times (Marco Polo visited it and praised it). Maybe it's just because I grew up seeing lots of lakes in and around Seattle...but while there was some beautiful scenery around the West Lake, I didn't think it was particularly exceptional. Hangzhou is a modern city with smog, and when you look across the lake, the opposite shore is hazy. There's not much that's worthy of pictures here. Overall, I'd say that Hangzhou was my least favorite locale of the trip.

Near the West Lake late in the afternoon.

These statues are common throughout China.

The entire lake is surrounded by parks, museums and ponds like these.

There were lots of boats on the lake. This one was my favorite.

This is on Lesser Yingzhou Island, in the middle of the lake. It's got lakes of its own.

My Dad and Allen on one of the pedestrian causeways.

I also had the single most frustrating experience of the trip in Hangzhou. After Hangzhou, our plan was to visit Huang Shan (we already had bus tickets for this) and then find a way to get to Xi'an. Unfortunately, this was right before spring festival (i.e. the Chinese New Year)--the biggest holiday in China, when everyone is traveling to be with their relatives. All the trains to Xi'an were booked out, unless we waited 2 extra days. I went online to try to find a flight and found one, but had all sorts of problems booking it. First I tried to pay using my Chinese debit card. It would come back with a message (in Chinese of course--Allen translated it for me) saying I didn't have enough available funds in my account, even though I had more than enough. I also tried my American credit card, but that would fail without giving me a reason before I would even get to the point of entering my credit card info. Allen and I spent 3 hours one night trying to find a way to get to Xi'an, without success. The internet cafe we used wound up charging us more than twice what they had originally told us it would cost (apparently the first price they told us only applies if you pay a fee to become a member. We're obviously not members if we're asking what the price is, so this was clearly a tactic to get us to use their computers and then pay more). And it was pouring down rain that night. It was a long walk back to our hostel from the internet cafe in the rain, and I hadn't accomplished anything after spending 3 hours trying to find a way to Xi'an. I was beyond frustrated.

The next morning, things didn't start out any better. I figured maybe my Chinese debit card only allowed a certain percent of my account to be used for an internet transaction, so I deposited a couple thousand RMB in order to make sure my account had more than twice what we would need. For some stupid reason, the bank charged me money to make the deposit (Who ever heard of that before? Don't banks want your money so that they can turn around and loan it out and charge interest? Isn't that whey they give you interest for having money in their bank? Why charge a fee and discourage people from making a deposit???). I tried again to book the flight using my Chinese debit card, and got the same message. We asked the bank about it, and they said my debit card has a restriction, and that to book the flight I would need to open a new account at the Hangzhou branch of my bank, transfer in funds, and pay out of that account. Does that make any sense whatsoever? In the meantime, the price on the flight we were trying to book jumped significantly, to the point where it was more than we were willing to pay. So we decided to look for a plan B. And in the end, it worked out better this way (God was good to us). We found a flight to Beijing for about half of what the flight to Xi'an was going to cost us. We talked with a support person from the flight website, and discovered that the reason our credit card wasn't working is because we had entered Allen's name using Chinese characters rather than pinyin, and the Visa website couldn't accept Chinese characters. So we just had to spell his name in pinyin and then it worked fine.

So in the end it worked out well, but it sure was frustrating while it was happening. Thanks for letting me rant :).

We took a bus to Huang Shan the next day.
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About Me

Husband and father, lapsed musician, software engineer at Square, open source developer, world traveler and Christian.