A Fine Line btw the Rich and the Poor – Hangzhou

You may not know, Hangzhou is among the richest cities in China with its property price the second highest among all China cities, only after Shanghai. Zhejiang Province, whose capital is Hangzhou, is a main production base for garments, textiles and shoes. The wealth is created mainly from exports of items like garments and shoes. Wenzhou, Ningbo and other cities around Hangzhou are where you can find many manufactuing factories and cheap labor force which works day and night to generate wealth for the new rich.

The wealth generated will then be spent in Hangzhou, where higher-end housing projects are underway on a large scale and luxury shops and restaurants are many.

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The picture here features Hangzhou’s emerging prime business area – Yellow Dragon and the high-rise building is World Trade Centre. The banners and flags hanging in front of the center promote an up-scale housing project. This is typical. Everywhere in the city is promotion and show rooms of housing properties.

Hangzhou

This one shows a residential property in Yellow Dragon. I lived there for a short period of time. The property is a good place to live in with reliable security system in place, good management and state-0f-art infrastructure. This, coupled with its prime location, means that its rent is not cheap. For a one-room apartment, the rent goes up to 3,000-4000 Yuan. A 4-room furnished apartment costs about 8,000-10,000 Yuan. Given that the monthly salary of the local residents is about 1,000-2,500 yuan, the place is no doubt not for the poor.

Having this in mind, you will understand these two photos.

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Take the upper left photo first. See the up-scale residential property mentioned above? It is at the background in the photo. And see the blue shed in the front? That is the housing quarter for construcion workers who were working on an up-scale office high-rise just next to the up-scae residential property. The photo at the upper right is a close-up of the construciton workers’ housing quarters – the blue shacks.

I recalled passing by the shacks and a stale smell wafting into my senses. It was summer time. The shacks are rows of small rooms with six people crammed into one, along with bunk beds and their luggage. Workers had to bare their upper bodies and wearing shorts in the sweltering heat and humi weather. Sweat and body smell mingled with the hot air, exhuming suffocating stink. Just a little further away, lies the luxury residential housing with all modern conveniences an comforts. The worlds of the rich and poor is glaringly close, yet so painfully different.

Anji – the bamboo forest

Anji is about 1.5 hour bus ride from Hangzhou. It is China’s biggest bamboo forest. The film Couching Tiger Hidden Draggon was shot there. Remember the beautiful martial art scenes taking place in a bamboo forest? It is there, in Anji. There are two bamboo-related spots in Anji. Don’t get confused. One is the forest itself. To visit, you pay 20 yuan for the entrance ticket.  Another is a man-made bamboo museum, with performance, display, etc. The entrance ticket to this Zhu Bo Yuan (Bamboo Museum) costs about 75 yuan. I didn’t go to the museum – it looked too artificial and touristic for me. The forest (Da Zhu Hai) was my destination. Da Zhu Hai is not as great as I imagined. It was a good walk, though, in the shadow of bamboos, and listening to the wind wisphering to the trees. The authority is planning to have cable cars here and a hotel is being built in the forest area. I hope Anji bamboo forest won’t become a tourist trap too soon, like other tourist attractions in China.  At the entrance to the forest, some locals sell ready-to-eat spicy bamboo shoots. 2 yuan for a cup. Very delicious! To go to Anji, take a bus from Hangzhou’s northern bus station. Buses depart every hour. The fare is 23 yuan. When you get to the Anj bus station after a 1.5 hour drive, take another bus at the same bus station to the bamboo forest. Fare is 4 yuan. The journey takes about 30 minutes. Don’t get surprised if you have to leave the bus and be picked up by a broken mini-bus half way. You don’t pay extra for the pickup, though. There are guesthouses and restaruants run by local farmers about five-minute walk from the entrance to the forest. The people living in the forest area and in the town of anji are among the friendliest people I’ve ever met in China! A local woman I met outside the entrace to the forest, invited me to her home, offering me “white tea”, a local variety of tea, and telling me stories of her family. I initially thought she wanted to sell me stuff. But it turned out that she was just being friendly and hospitable. My friend said, hey you are Chinese, how come you do’t know if the people are friendly or just want to cheat you? Well, the fact is I really cannot distinguish. Human nature is too complex for me to gauge.

Wuzhen – Quintessential China Water Town Spoilt by Commericalism

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 I heard about Wuzhen last year and was engaged by the photos – corridors along the river, houses built above the water, willows, pagodas, brick streets… I visited the place this year, during the May Day Golden week. My goodness. The whole place was swamped with people. You actually moved inch by inch and all around you were just people and people. A sea of people. I was completely drowned.

Adding to this, is the commercialisation of the town. A town is supposed to be a public place where the residents and all others go in and out as they like.  But due to commericialisation resulted from the fame the town has gained in the past couple of years, gates have been put in place to make the central part of the town a “theme park” and you have to buy tickets (costing about 70 Yuan) to visit this part of the town, the old part. Some local residents still live in the area, whose lives are constantly under close scrutiny of throngs of visitors. The wood houses are only one or two stories high, and you see everything inside the house through the window, passing by.

I think I would not want to live here – but they don’t have a choice, do they?

A variety of shops and restaurants are lined along the street and river, selling sourveniers and food, catering to tourists’ needs and curiosities.

What can you feel in such a touristic place and ambience? Saddly, all over China, scenic spots, once they gain fame, are relentlessly turned into the current Wuzhen-style tourist attraction, leaving at the end, no attraction at all.

Zhouzhuang is another ancient water town in southern China. It gained a fame earlier than Wuzhen, and therefore was turned into a tourist trap years earlier. That is sad.

Anyway, if you still want to go and see Wuzhen, go to the Yello Dragon Tourist Center from where there is a bus tour to wuzhen every day for about 120 yuan.