My visit to Hangzhou.

Since my last post, we have travelled east to Hangzhou. Because I have been in a bubble in western China, when I came here, I now realise how vastly different western and eastern China are. I’ve become used to Chengdu’s life, with its more laid back style, it’s more traditional shops and restaurants. I now realise how much more modern eastern China is! Although I’ve been to Beijing, I couldn’t compare it to Chengdu as I didn’t visit it yet, but now I see it!

There is a saying ‘In heaven there is paradise, on earth there is Hangzhou.’ I must say, there is a truth to it. My Chinese friends would ask me ‘Where are you going during Spring Festival?’ I say Hangzhou, with the reply ‘Hangzhou is a beautiful city’. And it is. The city is modern, the buildings are nice, the weather is much better than Chengdu. The famous West Lake is iconic in the city. There are beautiful walkways along the lake. A vast expanse of mountains where you can hike and visit pagodas and temples. For those who like hiking, this is a perfect place to do it.

For foreigners, this is a city for us. A lot of restaurants have English, or at least pictures. There are bikes to rent all over the city so it’s a lot handier to travel around the city. A lot of signs have English. In comparison to Chengdu, it’s a city that is more foreigner friendly. This is because it is a major city to visit with regards to both Chinese and foreigners.

We have been here about 7 days and within those days, we didn’t even see half the things that are here. Our last few days we are going to relax and prepare for our trip back to Chengdu.

There is a certain charm to the city, and I think its a great place to visit. It is close to Shanghai, Suzhou and a 5 hour train ride to Beijing, meaning you can visit many more places around the city.
In Chengdu, we are limited to only one other major city to visit, Chongqing.

So here is a list of the good and bad that I’ve experienced from Hangzhou.

Good:
1. Restaurants (usually) have English menus. There is also a variety of different food on offer, from Hangzhou, Muslim (Xinjiang province) and Korean.

2. There are many cultural places to visit; West Lake, Hefang Street, Wuzhen Water Town, Six Harmonies Pagoda among many many more.

3. Rent bikes from stalls found all over the city.

4. Beautiful scenery around the Lake and the mountains.

5. Close to Suzhou and Shanghai.

6. Good drivers. We were so surprised that drivers actually stop for us when we are crossing the road. Drivers are much more patient, much less honking of the horn, and generally they are better drivers.

7. More conscientious about the environment. There are blue busses that are electric, and I have seen some electric cars also. It’s nice to see that somewhere in China they are thinking about the environment.

8. The city is quite small, with around 7 million people,  meaning it is easier to travel to more places.

Bad:
1. People are not the friendliest. From my impression, the staff in restaurants and shops aren’t very polite or helpful. Maybe this was because it was Spring Festival, I’m not sure. In Chengdu, because there aren’t as many foreigners, we are treated with more respect. In Hangzhou, I’m sure they see a lot more of us. You won’t get many smiles in Hangzhou.

2. It is more expensive. This is seen especially in restaurants where the food is dearer. A 2 person meal in Chengdu would cost between 40-60 yuan, whereas in Hangzhou, it would be 100 yuan and upwards.

3. More foreigners. Although some people may like this, I personally don’t. I like the more authentic experience of living in China with Chinese people, and not bumping into foreigners all the time.

4. During the spring festival, the traffic was MAD, and there were Chinese people everywhere! But this was during the spring festival so It wont be as bad during normal times.

Although we planned on visiting Shanghai, we decided not to. During this time, it is too busy with people travelling and it would much harder to get train tickets. Also, we booked our hostel for 10 days, meaning if we stayed in Shanghai for a night, we would have lost money in our Hangzhou hostel.

But it is a beautiful city and the lake is beautiful. Although we were quite unlucky in that the weather isn’t great here at the moment, I can just imagine what the city would look like during the summer when the sun is shining.

Aisling.

Chinese New Year/ Spring Festival.

At the moment, everyone is busy getting ready for Chinese New Year. Unlike the west, their New Year isn’t fixed, meaning it changes dates every year. Usually it is held from the end of January to the end of February. This year it is quite late, on the 19th of February.

Their New Year is our Christmas. I’ve actually seen tinsel! Lights are everywhere and there are red lanterns hung on the sides of the roads. I haven’t seen them at night but I’m sure they are beautiful.

This year is the year of the sheep. Apparently, (from what I’ve read on the internet) is that many parents don’t want their children to be born in the year of the sheep because it represents bad luck! My thinking however, if you’re blessed at being able to have kids then you’re extremely lucky!

Because of the festival, I’ve had a few classes cancel this week, but not as many as my co-workers. I’m trying to convince myself that my students love coming to class and thats why!

So, to make the most of our time off, myself and my boyfriend are going to visit Hangzhou. It is in eastern China, about 2 hours bus drive south from Shanghai! Apparently Hangzhou is a nice place to visit, but I know, at this time of year, it’s going to be hectic travelling around China. As one person said ‘the whole of China is moving’. Most Chinese families stay together during this time, with most of my friends going home for the festival.

I didn’t hear of many travelling around, as they know all too well how busy it will be. But I’m expecting it! We are staying in Hangzhou for 10 days, If we decided to stay in Chengdu, I know I’d have been bored! It’s rare to get a 10 day holiday, so our idea was to make the most of it.

Last year I was at home when the Spring Festival was on, meaning I missed it. I promised myself that next year I would be there for it, because its such as important time for Chinese people.

And while I’ll be in Hangzhou, my sister will be having her baby! I may try and search for any wifi spots in the city so I don’t miss the action! A good start to the (Chinese) year for my sister and boyfriend.
Oh and xīn nián kuài lè! Happy New Year!

Aisling.

We’re coming for you Ireland!

I am so excited at the fact that we have booked our flights to IRELAND! HOME! After a year and a half in China I’ll be able to see my family and of course my new niece or nephew. By that stage, she/he will be around 6 months old which is a great age. They can actually do more than just eat, sleep, cry and poop.

We are flying from Chengdu on the 1st of July, so only a few months to go. I think I can wait that long.

I can’t wait to;

-Drink Irish tea.

-Eat Mums dinners.

-Sleep in my own room.

-Watch and understand TV.

-Visit my friends.

-Play with my nephew.

-Play with my new niece/nephew.

-Let my boyfriend meet my family.

-Get him to try Irish food: Tayto crisps, sunday dinners, my Dads pancakes, Irish coffee.

-Have chats with the family about the past year and a half.

-Burst out my knowledge of Mandarin to people.

-Bring my boyfriend to Dublin, Northern Ireland and around the whole of Ireland.

But most important one of all is just that I’ll be with my family.

I hope the weather will be great, but if not…. it’s Ireland. I’m prepared for it.
Aisling.

What to expect when looking for an apartment in Chengdu.

Apartment hunting in China can be somewhat exasperating. If you don’t speak the language that is.

Once you have gotten over that hurdle, it can still be troublesome. Since searching in Chengdu, I’ve become accustomed to expecting less, apartment wise. So this is not a general view of all of China, just Chengdu.

Here, there are three types of buildings, old, moderately new, and new. We’ve been to all three. But, a new building doesn’t necessarily mean a nice, clean apartment.

I was expecting; new building equals a nice apartment. Wrong. We visited a few new buildings. Yeah they look nice on the outside; modern, clean. But walk down the hallways and you realise it’s all a show. The doors are plastered with either stickers or posters denoting the Spring Festivals. The hallways themselves are sometimes dirty with little lighting. So; hallway not so good, but maybe the apartment itself will be nice.

I was wrong again. You enter into dust, literally. For some reason, the Chinese people, when renting, don’t seem to clean their apartments. Dust gathers everywhere. There are bowls with spices in them, dirty cups. I’ve came to the conclusion that there are so many people in China, there will bound to be someone that will rent it. However the conditions.

Now I can’t exactly judge in Ireland, as I’ve never lived in an apartment, but I reckon they may actually try and make the apartment reasonable looking.

In some apartments you won’t find a table or any chairs. With our apartment we don’t have chairs so we will have to buy them. You may not find a cooker, meaning having to buy a portable one. Maybe no TV, air con, no western toilet. One thing that I need is air con, as I get cold very quickly.

In our new sitting room there is one, but in the bedroom no. So we will either invest in a portable one or buy a second hand one to install. In most Chengdu apartments there will only be one; in the bedroom or the sitting room. The Chinese think ‘open the doors and the warmth will travel’. I disagree. I’m used to the roaring hot fires from Ireland. A measly air con blowing warm air wont do it.

They also don’t consider if something, such as a bed or a sofa will actually fit in the room. They have no conception of whether it would be suitable for the area. They think ‘I want a big bed’ and they will get it, regardless of if it will actually FIT in the room! We saw one where the bed was that big you couldn’t close the bedroom door.

In another apartment there was a rather nice L shaped sofa. But, the L part cornered off an area of the room, presumably a reading area. So you literally had to step over the L part of the sofa to get to this. My thinking ‘Just because you like the sofa, doesn’t mean you can buy it…get a measuring tape!’

As for bathrooms, some are tiny!! They are that small that the sink is located outside the bathroom itself. We saw one where literally there was a the shower less than 1 foot away from the toilet, and that was the whole bathroom.

And if you want a Western toilet, you need to say it to the agency. Many are squatters which the Chinese prefer, and especially in the older buildings. Another thing, older buildings wont have an elevator, so be prepared to walk up 7 flights of stairs. And these are the apartments that are usually available to rent, because no one wants to walk 7 flights.

So in conclusion; be prepared for some not so nice apartments. Now you may be lucky and find a gorgeous one, and a lot is by luck and if the agency shows you a suitable one….

But, keep looking and you’ll find the one that’s just right!

Aisling.

We’ve found our apartment!

We have found an apartment! After what seemed like months of looking, we have successfully signed on the dotted line for our apartment.

I must admit though, it was a lot harder than I expected. For my first apartment, I looked at 4 in the same complex. After 1 hour I chose one, signed the contract and payed the money. This time round, it must not as smooth.

First we had to find a Chinese person to help us. That meant choosing a time that suited both us and them. We researched on the internet and we found out that we could essential skip the agency, meaning ask the security men in front of the gates were there any apartments available to rent. So we did this.

This was fruitless. Many said no, some said we needed to go through an agency. Simply put, it turned out to be too bothersome, slow and unreliable.

We decided to seek out an agency. So they showed us some alright places, some terrible places, some nice places but with not so nice price tags.

Finally we found one which was decent and surprisingly for the area, quite cheap!

The apartment is quite big, the community is nice and it is close to the University. It’s also closer to the centre of Chengdu than the apartment we are at now.

We plan on buying a new sofa though, as the one in the apartment doesn’t exactly look comfortable. We had a nosy around IKEA and found a great one that turns into a bed for any visitors.

Officially our contract starts in March, but the landlady already gave us the keys! I haven’t met her, but apparently she is very very nice, even knowing a little bit of English. A little bit goes a long way!

Although I will miss the two apartments I’ve been living in, (my own and my boyfriends) it will be good to live somewhere else. Experience a new area of Chengdu.

Looking at all the apartments made me realise how much better it would be if you could build your own one. I liked different things from each apartment; the sofa from one, the location from the other… if you could only combine the best bits of each apartment, that would be fantastic.

But with every apartment, it will never be perfect… especially the ones in China. I will do a separate post about apartments in China.

So at least this apartment hunting business is over. Next is moving time!

Aisling.