Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Hangzhou Longjing tea

Longjing tea is a famous type of green tea from Hangzhou and, depending on who you ask, is one of the best green teas in China. So on Sunday I was wandering around the city and after soaking my shirt with sweat in the 95 degree humid heat, I figured I would cool down with a cup of boiling hot tea. I stopped in at a tea house near the West Lake tourist area to give the famous tea a try. When I looked at the menu, there were two options for Longjing tea. One merely said "Longjing tea," while the other said "Best Longjing tea." While the "best" version was a little more expensive, I didn't come to China to try some kind of second tier green tea, only the best would do. so I pointed out the "best" option to the waitress. She gave me somewhat of a strange look, but took down my order and took away the menu. Before I knew it, waitresses started bringing me several plates of fruit as well as a large container of tea that probably held around two liters. I realized that the tea portions must be intended for multiple people, hence the strange look from the waitress. She was probably thinking, "I knew Americans tend to be overweight, but what could this guy want with two liters of tea and a couple pounds of fruit?" Overall, though, the tea was really good and it was good to have some fresh fruit to balance out my diet of fried, starchy foods. I wasn't able to drink all the tea or eat all the fruit, but I came close, attempting to live up to the American ideal of excess consumption. It was a fun experience and I'd recommend the Hangzhou teahouses, just make sure to bring a group of friends instead of going by yourself.
The Spread
Hangzhou Teahouse Interesting Fruit (Tasted like fresh peas from a pod)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Starting out in Hangzhou

For everyone who I haven't spoken to in awhile, I can give a brief update of what's been going on for me. I recently decided to move to Xining, China to work for a British NGO called Appropriate Technology Asia that promotes technologies for sustainable development. Although I was supposed to start working for ATA in mid June, I ran into some issues getting a business visa in China due to the Olympics, so my start date for work has been postponed to the beginning of September. After leaving Deloitte I spent about 1.5-2 months being a bum, lazing about, and enjoying the Chicago summer in a way only those who are unemployed with nothing to do can fully understand. However, I figured I should end the party and do something productive. So, I am going to study some Mandarin in Hangzhou before I start working to make things easier during my time in China. I decided one of these newfangled blogs would be the best way to keep in touch with everyone, but I hope that it's not just a one-way conversation and that everyone else sends me an email once in awhile ( I'm going to try to avoid getting sappy with this and telling everyone about my feelings, why I'm sad, and what girls I like. Hopefully it will be more of a reporting of what's going on in my life. I don't claim to be a great writer so if someone points out grammatical errors like split infinitives or hanging participles, I will kindly direct them to get a life. However, since I did spend significant time doing the corporate thing, I am open to constructive criticism of the content (more pics, different subjects, etc.) Anyway, I arrived in Hangzhou on Thursday (July 24) night. The flight was really long (around 24 hours+ of total travel, including to/from the airports) and I was pretty tired by the time I finally made it. The only problem I had actually was in Vancouver. Those deceptive Canucks told me I had to go through customs and recheck my luggage since I had an international transfer, but after waiting in a gigantic line for around an hour for customs, I found out that I didn't need to do that. Since my layover in Vancouver was only around 1.5 hours, I had to run to the gate and was the last person on the plane. Besides that, though, everything went smoothly. Since I've been in Hangzhou, I've mostly been wandering around the city and checking things out. It seems like an interesting city, although I have just scratched the surface so far. Hangzhou is extremely hot and humid right now. I feel a bit dirty when I walk outside and after 15 minutes my shirt is soaked with sweat, and I'm not even that sweaty of a guy. But I like walking around quite a bit and will walk around for a couple hours and check out different areas. Mostly, though, my life has revolved around eating and finding restaurants with either picture or English translated menus. These types of menus can be somewhat hard to find, at least in the vicinity around my apartment. Even though Hangzhou is a big tourist city, it is mostly a tourist destination for Chinese nationals, so they don't necessarily cater to westerners. I also visited the school where I'll start my language course on Monday and it looks pretty nice and modern. It's also the one of the few times I've spoken to anyone in English since I've arrived. I'm sure there are people who speak English around, but it's not like Beijing or Shanghai where it seemed more common. I've only seen around 2 or 3 white people so far (besides at the language school) and we always stare at each other with the utmost suspicion, wondering why the other person is invading our turf. This fits into one of the concepts of "Stuff White People Like". I haven't really ran into other people from the school in my apartment/hotel building, so I'll have to wait until I start my course to start mingling. I'm excited to start learning Mandarin so that I can at least have some basic communication with people. I haven't yet been to the main tourist area in Hangzhou around West Lake, but have seen most of main stuff in the area around my apartment. There is a street nearby that has several huge "IT malls" that are basically sprawling multi-story buildings full of different technology items. I mainly went through on the weekend and they were filled to the brim with eager Chinese consumers trying out the products (mostly Western and Japanese brands). This is the type of sight that makes many a western businessman salivate at the thought of gaining marketshare in the relatively untapped Chinese market. If the prices are any indication, most of the goods seem to be legit, as the prices are similar, if not more, than what you could find online in the US. It was pretty funny, though, because most of the buildings had really modern and clean main floors with flashy LCD monitors, digital cameras, iPods, etc., but gradually as you got to the higher floors things seemed to get a little more sketchy.
Flashy Ground Floor
Long Hallway with Multiple Stalls at IT Mall Pile of Printers on Upper Floor
It seems that selling bootlegged DVDs in Hangzhou is more restricted than in other cities in China, because on the upper levels some stalls would secretly say, "DVD! DVD!" and bring you behind a curtain with tons of DVDs, whereas in Beijing I remember DVDs being sold near train stations and in the open in markets. I bought a few, including The Dark Knight, and everything was around $1-$1.50 per DVD. I also found a potential gold mine for Wii games. They're selling them for 10 RMB (~$1.50), but I'd have to get my Wii modded to be able to play the games, which would cost me about 190 RMB (~$30). I'm a little skeptical about giving my Wii over to them, though, even though they seemed trustworthy, because only one of them spoke broken English, so I'll have to decide about that later. Anyway, that's about it for now. Sorry this post was so long. In the future I'll try to keep the posts shorter and with more pictures to keep people interested.