We depart Shanghai this morning and drive two hours southwest to the city of Hangzhou. Known as one of the seven capitals of ancient China, Hangzhou has a population of 8 million people in the city proper and 21 million in the greater metro area. I find it remarkable that there are all of these Chinese cities with gigantic populations and yet I have never previously heard of a single one of them. The sight of possibly hundreds of construction cranes on the outskirts of this city only reinforces this notion. One of the main reasons for our excursion to Hangzhou today is to take a scenic boat ride along the city’s West Lake. Having majored in international relations during my college days, I am thrilled to see the place where President Nixon visited during his historic 1972 trip. It was at a theatre next to this very lake that President Nixon and Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai hammered out the final details of the Shanghai communique. It’s hard to believe that this tranquil and somewhat random setting is the site of where one of the most important and far reaching agreements of the twentieth century was made. Perhaps it was the lack of distractions that this serene location offered that allowed the agreement to be worked out and finalized here. Regardless of what your opinions are of the Nixon administration, one can not deny the far reaching impacts that his trip here had in shaping China’s relations with the rest of the world.
Leaving twentieth century history behind for a moment, we next journey just outside the city in order to visit a village that specializes in the production of green tea. As we depart the bus, all around us is the sight of terraced fields of lush tea plants in all their glory. After getting more than enough photos of the local scenery on my cell phone, we take a short tour of the premises. During the tour, we are enlightened on how green tea is picked, dried, and eventually turned into the stuff you find at the market. It’s amazing to think that such a simple looking plant could be so popular around the globe. Having never been a fan of green tea myself, I turn down the chance to purchase some of the local product at the end of the tour. It is at this moment that I am told by one of the tour guides that green tea can also be consumed with cold water. Apparently there are quite a few people like myself who don’t care for the taste of green tea as it is traditionally prepared. I reluctantly try some of the cold tea and am surprised by the refreshing and subtle taste it provides. Seeing the satisfied look on my face, our tour guide seems fairly certain that I will be departing this village with a significantly lighter wallet.
As we reach our hotel back in downtown Hangzhou after a long day of bus rides and sightseeing, I decide to do a little websurfing on my tablet before heading to bed. It is at this moment that I am formally introduced to China’s notorious internet censors. Also known as the Great Firewall of China, both Facebook and the New York Times website seem to be blocked. As much as I enjoy sitting back and scanning through the headlines of the New York Times, I am at least able to gain access to lesser known news websites and get updated on the day’s events. What I can’t replace, however, is Facebook’s ability to keep me in touch with friends and acquaintances that live on all corners of the globe. I’m not on the site every minute of the day like some people. But it has become one of the main ways I communicate with friends and family. It is fair to say that the inability to gain access to Facebook would unfortunately prevent me from even considering moving to this country for a possible job opportunity in the future.