On our second weekend in Hangzhou, we were taken on a trip by Zheijiang University to the Bamboo Mountains, Wukang Town and Anji. The whole weekend was somewhat bizarre. We left Hangzhou at 2pm, being told that we would get to Wuzhen Town to check in at 6. Preparing for a 4 hour bus journey, we loaded up the sweets and hunkered down for a serious nap. About an hour and a half in, we stopped in the centre of a small town for no apparent reason and were told that “this was an opportunity to explore a small town”. The town was quiet, empty with massive apartment blocks and tiny shops: quintessential contrasts.
Without anything to do really, we headed to some public toilets and found half size doors and a canal that run under all the toilets, that you were just supposed to squat over: talk about a bonding experience. It almost made me miss normal squat toilets! These were however slightly better than ones we experienced in a club which had half size cubicles minus the doors. Unfortunately I now know my companions far better than I would ever want to!
In the town, the poverty that China is very much known for was far more acute and the pollution less so: for once, we were not quite lost in the tourist pomp that somewhat masks it in bigger cities. After doing a massive circle across the town, we came across what looked like a military training march, a lot of small shops, a Mcdonalds (as always) and then headed to a park where we spent the rest of the afternoon. A strange waste of a day?
Our programme organisers seemed intent on keeping us away from rural China which is what we thought the point of the weekend was. Instead, we were taken to a smaller town, the bamboo mountains (where Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was apparently filmed) and stayed in not quite 5 star hotels, but they were definitely nice enough. The weekend seemed aimed more at finding somewhere to spend the massive government grant that were given. The University definitely wanted to avoid us seeing anything “contentious” or anything more than what a general tourist would see coming to China. Whilst I suppose this is understandable, it is telling of the view they want to perpetuate to tourists and foreign students coming to China.
It is however interesting that the military presence cannot be escaped in China: in clubs, bars, tourist spots, everywhere. Taking pictures of them is also verboten, but doable if somewhat on the sly. It is one of the few reminders that China is a communist country, which beyond the tourist paraphernalia and the Communist flag, is easily forgettable. As a tourist, it is hard to see the differences between China and “democratic” countries abroad, but I imagine the longer you stay there, the more cracks would begin to show. We did have some history and economic lectures, discussing China’s more open economy, the one-baby rule (to which someone asked, “what about twins?”. No real response.) and the history of Chinese dynasties and briefly the Cultural Revolution. Unfortunately, the scarcity of these lectures meant that asking anything somewhat controversial was frowned upon and rather difficult to orchestrate.
The lack of an opportunity to visit rural China did not dimish the chance that we had to see more modern China, which seems in many ways vastly ahead of some parts of the West, however, the chance to see how the vast majority of China lives would have enriched the programme far more.
NB: Obviously I’m back at uni now, however, I wanted to do these last two entries to finish this blog off for the sake of some sort of conclusion as with mass amounts of work and a lack of internet access, I’ve only just had the chance to do so.