Day 4 – Nanjing to Hangzhou

This was another usual morning where we went to the restaurant to be among the first to get our breakfast fixed. Buffet spread was ready when we arrived and we got our food which was pretty much about the same standards with the previous few hotels we had stayed the past few days. The restaurant was nice and the food was pretty alright with mostly Chinese dishes plus some western items. With breakfast done, we went back to our room.

From our room windows, we could see high rise buildings and the giant ferries wheel at the amusement park. The sun was rising and it looked like a promising day. We brushed up and got ourselves comfortable to get ready to head out for our tour activities. Our bags were already left outside the room for the porters while we rested a little more in our room.

After a while, we returned our room keys to front desk and chatted with other tour members waiting at the lobby. We also went out of the hotel for a quick look and the weather looked pretty good for our morning tour of Nanjing. The surrounding was quiet early this morning except noisy tour groups were loitering at the lobby waiting to leave the hotel.

It was a hive of activities at the hotel with porters busy counting luggage and loading them up buses. Eventually, we boarded our bus and were soon on our way to tour Nanjing. The local guide Jimmy wasn’t at the hotel to join us this morning. He was waiting for us at the first destination at the Yangtze River Bridge.

It was a good day with the sun shinning brightly so it was not so cold this winter morning. Whenever we visited Nanjing during winter in the past, this city had been freezing cold. So we were rather glad we had good weather this time.

We left the hotel around 8 am. Our driver seemed to know the way around as we pulled away from this shopping district to rendezvous with Jimmy at the Yangtze River Bridge. We were in good time to begin our day. Just 15 minutes into the journey, we were caught in a horrible traffic jam near an underpass. It was so confusing and everyone was speculating whether there was a terrible accident down the road. Our driver was getting impatient and started cursing.

Vehicles of all sorts were switching between lanes trying to get ahead. It was chaotic on the road to say the least. Jackie’s phone was ringing as Jimmy was calling to find out why we still had not arrived. After getting through the underpass, our driver managed to force his way across lanes to the right and we finally got through the bottleneck. We were however, not any wiser to the cause of this crazy traffic congestion. We didn’t see any vehicle broke down nor any traffic accident on the road. It was early morning on Boxing Day where road traffic was light when we left the hotel. It was really a mystery. Anyway we were glad to get through the traffic and finally headed towards our first destination.

We arrived at Yangtze River Bridge and met up with Jimmy at 9.30 am having spent an hour and a half on the road which was quite ridiculous. Anyway, Jimmy greeted us happily and brought us up the top floor of the building to view the Yangtze River Bridge; the first bridge built by the Chinese across Yangtze River. All foreign experts couldn’t help as the water flow of the Yangtze River was too fast so there were casualties during the building of this bridge that spanned the Yangtze River, the pride of China.

Up on the the roof level, the sight of the bridge across the river was indeed amazing and magnificent. It was a great day to view the bridge. Our past few visits were disappointing where chilling wind and foggy weather greeted us up on the same rooftop. We could hardly stay up on the roof to admire the bridge. This time was really good and we took our time to enjoy the sight. Vehicles were running on the top level of the bridge while trains were crossing the river on the tracks at the lower level. Everyone was soaking in the moments capturing pictures after pictures with selfies proving we had been to this engineering feat of the Chinese people.

After viewing the very nice bridge, we went back into the building to view the model of this Yangtze River Bridge. Inside this hall was where foreign dignitaries were received to view this model. The seats in front were occupied by some famous local and foreign leaders in the past including ours from Singapore. We took our seats while Jimmy gave his presentation and explained more in details about the design and construction of the bridge. This was the third time for us to listen to this story of the Yangtze River Bridge. Other tour groups were coming in and when we were done, we left the room.

Next we were ushered into an art gallery to visit a shop where crystal balls, glass bottles and glass teapot sets were painted from the inside of these objects. The master had to painstakingly paint the art pieces under good lighting condition. This was no easy task and with the master’s failing eyesight, such art pieces would become lesser in the future unless more artists would learn the trade and continue with this tradition of painting such objects from the inside. No photography was allowed. Anyone buying any art pieces may have their pictures taken with the master. The art pieces were indeed very beautifully painted. There were many other tour groups present here as well and the place was really busy.

We were not interested in collecting art pieces so we simply look around while sales representatives would try to persuade visitors to buy something. An elderly gentleman from our group bought an object so he and his young daughter had their pictures taken with the master. While we were still browsing around, sales staff continued to introduce other more costly art pieces to him and persuade him to buy more. When his daughter returned from a toilet visit, she was really displeased. Eventually, they didn’t buy more and walked away and left with our group. So Jimmy didn’t have much to show as far as sales turnover was concerned. Most of us from our small tour group were not keen to buy any stuff here and in addition, some of us had been here before. A couple of years back, a businessman from our tour group bought a big glass object costing thousands of Singapore dollars.

Back on the ground floor, we were told to take pictures of Chairman Mao’s imposing statue in the main hall of this building. There were pictures and more information on the walls concerning the Yangtze River Bridge. We then walked to the carpark and boarded our bus to head to another destination for more shopping tour.

While on the way Jimmy continued to introduce Nanjing’s famous Jade carvings. Skilled craftsmen are mostly found in Nanjing so we were encouraged to buy some items to bring home at the next destination. The first shopping venue recorded poor sales so obviously Jimmy hoped the next shop stop would bring in more sales for him. There was a hint where everyone had to buy something.

Soon we arrived at the Jade Factory. Sales staff came out to welcome us into the building. Again, no photography was allowed. There were many different groups of visitors there. A few sales staff attended to us and brought us to a huge table and began to introduce jade ornaments, pendants and carved figures to our group. Initially, they were quite polite and were doing their job trying to make sales pitch. We were taught how to tell the difference between good and inferior jade. There are artificial jade as well. We were told Chinese believes in keeping jade and jade would keep us and protect us as well.

One of the staff noticed one of our group members was wearing a jade bangle and she enquired where she had purchased the item and the cost but she didn’t get the information she wanted. So the sales talk continued where more and more stuff were brought out to be passed around hoping we would buy some of these jade products. Besides pushing for sales of jade bangles, pendants and other jewellery items, Chinese mythological figures such as the Pixiu were introduced where most businessmen would love to have such items to help them accumulate wealth because these creatures have a big mouth but no real end for discharge. No doubt some people do believe such stuff in geomancy but other educated people regard such beliefs as folklores. Such myths are definitely good brainwashing propaganda to sell products to superstitious people for self preservation and self gratification.

We were given the impression that everyone had to buy something even during the bus ride here to help Jimmy out. Unfortunately our small group were in no mood to buy a lot of stuff, let alone expensive items. So due to pressure one after another took turns to look at some smaller pieces of jade Pixiu which wasn’t very expensive and a few bought a piece each while others remained unmoved. The sales staff became rude and unfriendly soon after where sales were inevitably poor from our small group of 15 persons. The push to sell superstitious objects to non believers was offensive. If the products were so good like the silk products at Suzhou Silk Factory, many would be willing to buy even though they could cost quite a lot of money. For questionable products no matter how cheap, this would not be appealing to say the least. Even if given free, some of the tour members would not have taken them either.

So poor Jimmy had poor sales turnover again. This wasn’t his fault. It was simply a case of mismatched audience though we were all captive audience but were unconvinced of the value of the products peddled in Nanjing this morning. There was a requirement to remain in the premise for at least 90 minutes. Thus we just sat around and the sales staff eventually gave up and of course showing displeasure with our tour group. When we were in Singapore, we were told by Dynasty Travel that we were not obligated to buy anything but we must nevertheless sit through the sales talk. This morning’s sales events left a sour taste with an otherwise wonderful day for sightseeing on a winter day with clear blue skies.

Back on the bus, we were driven to a restaurant for lunch. It was the usual arrangement of two tables and Chinese dishes came with meats and vegetables and again the Nanjing specialty of saltwater duck. The food was pretty alright and by now on the fourth day we were pretty much used to one another. Before leaving, Jimmy came over to bid us good bye with good wishes even though his expression could not hide his disappointment with the poor sales this morning. Jimmy was nevertheless a jovial fellow and a good talker. At least he came and bid us farewell while the lady guide in Wuxi simply disappeared without a word after the poor sales experienced the previous day. Frankly speaking, I would rather personally tip the guide rather than to spend money on useless objects. Unfortunately, their company expects to see sales turnover otherwise the career of these guides could be jeopardized.

We returned to the bus after lunch and made our way to Hangzhou. Jackie was quiet again probably he was disappointed with the poor sales as well even though this didn’t affect him directly. We were going to have a long drive so without talking too long with us, we were given time to rest during the journey.

Around 3.15 pm, the bus pulled into a rest area. We had been on the road for about two hours already so it was a good time to get off the bus and move around. After a toilet inspection, we went into the huge complex to check out the shops. We bought rice dumplings again and the elderly man from our tour group also bought some and gave some to the driver. This rest area was rather big but it was quiet when we were there. There was a food court and a supermarket as well as other smaller shops in the building.

We were on the road again after spending half an hour at the rest stop but lingering leftover cigarette smell in the bus from the driver was nauseating. It was time to catch up with more rest or listen to music from our device. The journey was smooth and uneventful. We finally arrived Hangzhou around 5 pm.

Our first stop here was to visit the Eight Diagrams Field of the Southern Song Dynasty. This is the place where sacred ritual activities were performed by the ancient emperor. This place also reveals the history and culture of ancient Chinese agriculture. We were here two years ago and found the place interesting and relaxing where we could venture into the fields and walked among the paths to see the different types of vegetables grown there.

The driver was again trying to find his way and eventually parked near an entrance for us to walk into this attraction. It was a different entrance we entered the last time. It was after 5 pm when we entered the Eight Diagrams Field and since this was winter, the place was getting dark soon. As we walked into the park, it was a far cry from the beautiful park we visited two years ago. The fields were dug out leaving pools of dirty muddy water and the place didn’t smell good at all. There were some sheds around the area with some rundown houses in this otherwise interesting park. As we walked further in, it was getting really dark. There was no way we could call this dirty dilapidated place a tourist attraction at all. We turned back and then walked back to our bus.

Jackie was apologetic. It seemed like this was his first time leading us here. We showed him and other members the beautiful pictures we had taken two years ago on our mobile phone. This place was simply unrecognizable. Another family had been here a year ago testified likewise. We thought we might have come to the wrong entrance. Had we entered from the other end across the muddy fields, it might be a different story.

Anyway, it was already dark and we were getting hungry. Jackie brought us to a local restaurant nearby for dinner. The setting here was no where near the setup of those restaurants we had meals during the past few days. The food dishes were however pretty decent and surprisingly tasty. It was those normal small restaurant where locals would patronize and we found it quite good.

It was 6.30 pm and Hangzhou was really dark now. Since it was still a little early, Jackie brought us to Westlake for a night visit. It wasn’t really far away and we soon arrived and had to alight quickly. Our driver couldn’t find a place to park the bus and he had to drive around the city to wait for us. Parking charges in the city were insanely expensive.

So we crossed the road and walked into the park of Westlake. It was a cool winter night with no chilling wind to prevent us from enjoying a night out at the lake. The park was a little dark in some areas but was beautifully lit up in other areas of the park near the lake. The unmistakable Lei Feng Pagoda nicely lit up in the lake was very pretty at night. We were scheduled to watch sunset here according to the itinerary but it was likely we had missed the opportunity. The park was quiet and quite deserted but the night view was nevertheless very enjoyable.

We stayed around the park to take pictures and listened to Jackie tell stories and jokes at the park. He was back to his normal self now with no pressure on him to help local guides with sales activities. However, he brought along samples of two types of perfumes for us to try out. He mentioned he was helping his friend to promote this small little souvenirs from Hangzhou to bring home if we were interested. The perfumes smelled good and the price was dirt cheap. The small little bottle cost only CNY10 each. So most of us made some order and he would arrange for his friend to deliver them to us the next day.

After this nice evening outing to make up for the horrible Eight Diagrams Field attraction, we went back to the main road while Jackie called the bus driver to come back to pick us up. A short while later, the bus came and we made our way to the hotel in Hangzhou.

It was close to 8 pm when we arrived Haiwaihai Hotel in Hangzhou. So we went to the lobby to wait for our room keys while the hotel porters went to the bus to pick up our luggage. We noticed our driver was quite rude to the hotel staff at the main entrance. Not long after, we were given keys to our room. As we walked to the lifts, we passed an empty restaurant which looked pretty nice and a massage outlet that looked quite decent.

Our room was very big and had another extra bed next to our double bed. The room looked rather basic and didn’t awe us with their five-star rating. At least there was a clean short bathtub in the bathroom. TV had mostly Chinese programs and wifi worked so we had no complaints.

It was still early so we went back to the hotel lobby to check out the restaurant and the massage outlet. The restaurant looked very clean and nice and the staff were friendly too. There were discounts given for massage in the hotel next to the restaurant. Eventually, we decided to eat something at the restaurant. We weren’t really hungry so we ordered a set meal to share that came with a soup of the day, spaghetti and fruits.

When our food came, we were really surprised. The soup of the day was Chinese clear soup with bean curd and vegetables and the spaghetti Bolognese turned out to be minced meat noodles. A piece of banana made up the desserts. Actually we shouldn’t really be taken aback. A month ago in Dali, we ordered Carbonara from a restaurant and a cheese covered clay pot dish came with noodles inside. Anyway, the food didn’t taste bad and the meal didn’t cost much either.

We returned to our room to settle down after this unique supper. We didn’t want to go for a massage after our meals. So it was time to get ourselves comfortable and catch up with the children at night. A little packing was in order and the extra bed was really convenient for us to do our packing with this extra space.

So other than the splendid view of Yangtze River Bridge in the morning, the sales talk at two different venues was a disaster. Jimmy though disappointed still came to bid us goodbye. The whole afternoon was spent on the road. The Eight Diagrams Field turned out to be a visit to a waste land resembling a battlefields scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan. The redeeming part was a visit to Westlake at night to view Le Feng Pagoda which was quite nice and a new experience for us. The supper was something to laugh about and so this day wasn’t spent with much enjoyment compared to the previous few days. To put it mildly, we didn’t accomplish much this day. Notwithstanding, Hangzhou is a beautiful and relaxing city so we would look forward to a great day the next morning.

Continue to Day 5

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