Upon arrival at Hangzhou with my three colleagues, things turned out a tad differently from what I had expected. For instance, what I thought was mist shrouding the city was actually haze. I recognised that familiar smell of smog. But the weather was cool at 21°C. And the toilets did have doors, after all, contrary to the rumours I had heard.
Despite being Chinese by ethnicity, I found the practices and customs of Chinese society in China to be foreign to me. I learnt that you should not address any woman you see on the street as xiao jie (young lady) like you do in Malaysia. It is deemed rude as it refers to prostitutes. You should use gu niang (a more polite way of saying “miss” in Mandarin) or fu wu yuan (waitress or customer service staff).
Dining in restaurants was a boisterous affair. Before stepping into the premises, I could already hear the waiters and customers hollering at one another. This continued until we had finished our meal.
Speaking of meals, food is also not sold throughout the day like in Malaysia. Yes, this was a shock when we got off the plane at 2.30pm, famished and looking for something to eat (authentic Chinese cuisine would have been great). My guide said this was always an issue for Malaysian tourists.
“Breakfast here is sold from 7am to 9am; lunch, 11am to 2pm and dinner, 5pm to 8pm. That’s it,” she said, before we headed to the nearest convenience store to get something to stave off our hunger.
Hangzhou: Enchanting Natural Beauty
At the mention of Hangzhou, many would say West Lake is the place to visit. The weather here was warmer but that was not a problem for five couples as they posed for their wedding photoshoots.
The lake was a dreamy sight. With the silhouette of the Leifeng Pagoda in the mountains against the clear blue sky, it was easy to see why this lake inspired many poets and emperors of old.
There’s also Hangzhou’s famous Longjing tea. We relaxed and savoured our cups of freshly brewed tea at one of the tea plantations not too far from West Lake.
Our visit to Songcheng theme park, a replica of a Song dynasty town, was an eye-opening experience. For a fee of RMB200 (RM126), we could dress up in costumes to look like one of the many characters found in Song dynasty novels. Sashaying in traditional costumes, we received many stares (and camera clicks) from the people around us. You can book a ticket for RMB300 (RM189) one or two days in advance to watch The Romance Of The Song Dynasty show which offers a grand theatrical experience.
Suzhou: Venice Of The Orient
The first thing we learnt about Suzhou’s history was that most of its people lived along the river. The cruise along Suzhou Grand Canal took us back in time. We marvelled at the old buildings and houses still occupied by locals today.
We then had the chance to check out an ancient mansion which belonged to a rich official, at Ou Yuan – A Couple’s Garden Retreat. It is well guarded, with whitewashed walls, so no one could tell that its unassuming exterior belies the luxury and grandeur within.
“The walls are meant to hide the true depth of the official’s wealth,” my guide pointed out. A lot of Instagram-worthy spots can be found here as well.
As the sky turned dark at 5pm, we quickly made our way to Suzhou’s most famous walking street, Guanqian Street, which is 150 years old. But it’s still bright and vibrant, with many shops and eateries. Beer here can be enjoyed for as cheap as RMB3 (RM1.90)! So we enjoyed some during dinner.
Shanghai: Modern, Bustling Metropolis
Shanghai needs no introduction. By day, it is a hive of activity, but it is only at night that its true pulse and colours shine through. Apart from shopping and sightseeing at the Bund and Yu Garden, we were treated to an exhilarating spectacle of one of Shanghai’s famous acrobatic shows in Pudong New Area.
Wuzhen: Ancient, Romantic Water Town
This place is, without a doubt, the icing on the cake for this tour. Unlike other modern Chinese cities, Wuzhen seems to be frozen in time.
Everything in this picturesque place – from its houses and stone walls, to the bridges and canals – was built 1,300 years ago. They have been beautifully restored and preserved.
It was evening when we arrived, and the sky was already as dark as at midnight. Golden hues of light illuminated the entire town. It’s even more magical to see the scenery reflected on the river that flows through this town.
The temperature was quite cold at 14°C. There are a few high-end hotels here, but staying in one of the many guest houses – like we did – provides a more authentic experience. Each guest house is managed by a host.
We explored the area, and enjoyed long, moonlit walks. The intermittent clicking of cameras sounded as we tried our best to capture Wuzhen’s beauty. But we soon realised the vastness of this place – we barely explored a quarter of the town!
The streets were quiet in the early morning. The air was crisp and cool, a temporary reprieve from the pollution of the nearby cities. Breakfast was served at 8am (pre-ordered the night before). A hot, savoury bowl of noodles in this cold weather? Nothing could be better.
China has an enduring charm. My trip here merely scratched the surface! It has certainly left an indelible impression on this Malaysian gu niang. I am already counting down the days to my next trip there.
This media trip was sponsored by Hwajing Travel & Tours Sdn Bhd (tel: 03-9200 2929).
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