Traveling Around Jiangnan Region

上有天堂,下有苏杭

Above there is heaven, on Earth there are Suzhou and Hangzhou: My trip to the cities literally known as “heaven on earth”.

Hangzhou

After school ended, I had a chance to travel around a bit again, this time to some nearby cities that I wanted to visit before leaving China. I visited Hangzhou, the capital of Zhejiang province. After arriving on the first night, I walked all around the West Lake, which was really beautiful under the full moon. There were a bunch of people all walking around and the weather was really nice, so all in all the atmosphere was quite relaxing. Chinese poet Bai Ju Yi once wrote,“Remembering the Fair South, As always, it is Hangzhou I most recall: Amongst the mountain temples I search for the osmanthus petals, From which the moon did fall.”

The next full day in Hangzhou, we first went to visit Lingyin Temple and the Peak Flown from Afar. It’s one of the biggest Buddhist temples in China with over a thousand years of history. In the surrounding forest and hills are hundreds of Buddha carvings in the side of rock walls and inside caves. The whole area was amazing, definately one of the coolest things I’ve seen in China so far. The stone carvings were so unique, the air inside of the caves was cool compared to the hot sun outside, the smell of burning incense filled the air, it was surrounded by green trees and running water, and it just felt so peaceful there.

After that, we visited the West Lake, Hangzhou’s most famous attraction. As we walked down the path that cuts through the middle of the lake, I could really understand why this lake is so famous. Looking out on one side you can see the skyline of modern Hangzhou with all it’s skyscrapers, and turning around you can see the outline of mountains behind the waterlilly-sprinkled blue water. The lake is dotted with small boats, the sky is blue, and trees hang down almost touching the water. It’s really picture perfect.

The next thing we visited was QingHeFang Old Street, filled with the usual old town street food and souvenir sellers, and bustling with people. At night, we hung out in Hangzhou’s very modern city center, checking out the enormous, all glass Apple Store and the iconic Starbucks, and admiring all the bright lights. We even met some young people from Hangzhou, who we befriended and hung out with for the rest of the night. All in all I’m so glad I went to Hangzhou; it is such a beautiful city.

Jiaxing

After Hangzhou, I went to the small city of Jiaxing to visit my old host family from the first time I came to China in the summer of 2013, and I honestly had the best day with them. I couldn’t be in China for a year without visiting the people who first gave me such a great impression of China! They took me out to eat a Zhejiang-style brunch, consisting of so many delicious types of dumplings, endless green tea, baozi, and rice porridge. I honestly missed Zhejiang food so much. It’s so light and yummy, and always accompanied by tea. After brunch, they took me to see the South Lake, and we went on a boat to the island in the middle, where the boat where the CCP was founded still lays. Afterward, we met up with their cousin and went to YueHe Jie, Jiaxing’s old-style river street, which brought back so many good memories. Since it was raining, we went back to their house to watch a movie and relax a little before going out to dinner. Dinner was so good (Zhejiang food is the best), complete with enormous baozi, black tofu, steak, and so many good vegetables, and it was all around a good time. They’re such an awesome family, and so hospitable. My host sister is now doing high school in the US, fairly near where I live, so I’m sure I’ll see them again in the near future. But this trip was such a throwback to NSLIY-ACES Summer 2013.

Shanghai

Next I spent some time in Shanghai before going to Suzhou. I honestly just love Shanghai. It’s huge and modern, but also relaxing. It has huge skyscrapers that light up in glittering colors every night and elevated roads, but also has lots of little outdoor cafés and streets lined with trees. It also has one of the best transportation systems ever. I love the Shanghai metro. With over 13 lines, it can take you anywhere. It’s easy to navigate, clean, and fast. It leaves me in awe every time. It was a fairly rainy day in Shanghai, so I just had some good pizza and pasta, and did a little shopping in Tianzifang, a super cool little neighborhood filled with unique shops. I also spent a little time walking around near JingAn Temple, sitting outside and drinking a coffee, and had a chance to meet up with some other friends who were also in Shanghai. Although I love the Xintiandi / French Concession area and the Bund, I didn’t go this time. Everyday in Shanghai is a good day, especially since this time I found the Dunkin Donuts!

Suzhou

The last day of my traveling was spent in Suzhou, where I visited the Humble Administrator’s Garden, one of the four most famous and beautiful gardens in China. Suzhou is renowned for it’s amazing gardens, so I couldn’t leave China without having a look for myself, and I was not disappointed.

This garden employs traditional styles of JiangNan gardens, with white walls, black tile roofs, intricate windows, lots of water, pagodas, stone bridges, koi fish, and water lillies. The garden itself was huge and relaxing. It definately deserves all the praise it receives. Finally we took the Gaotie (high-speed) train back to Changzhou, which is always awesome. I love taking Gaotie because it’s so comfortable, so fast, so quiet, and so clean. I just adore Chinese transportation in general I guess.

My last opportunity for independent travel gave me a chance to see all the nearby sights I’ve heard so much about, and as I returned home to Changzhou, I felt like my stay in China was complete. Both times I’ve come to China, I’ve been based in the Jiang Nan area around Shanghai, and I really feel that I know the area pretty well now. In my opinion, Zhejiang, Jiangsu, and Shanghai are some of the best places to live in China. They’re beautiful, have a good climate, interesting architecture and history, and good food. When we returned to Changzhou, we went to our older Chinese friend’s pizza shop, where we talked with his mom for awhile. As we ate our pizzas, she brought us free espresso, and kept telling us she was so sad we’re leaving, that we must come back, and that we should all be 永远朋友- friends for life. In that moment, I realized that this city is my home now, and I’ll be so sad to leave it and part ways with all of my random friends around the city. This experience is once in a lifetime, and I’m not ready for it to be over yet.

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