Ah, Hangzhou, what to say about Hangzhou.
Those first two weeks travelling just felt like being on holiday. It was nice to discover that my Chinese (such as it is) came back to me really quickly. I was ‘a bit slow’ the first few days but don’t think I’ve actually forgotten much. It was also great to be back eating Chinese food again. Overall though, it was very much like a holiday, albeit to a somewhat familiar place.
Then we went to Hangzhou… And I promised you an update about how that was. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was excited to go back but at the same time I was sort of expecting that I would have changed, that Hangzhou would have changed and that the overall feeling would be of a place, that used to beÂ familiarÂ and wasn’t any more. That turned out not to be the case.
Well if I learned anything from the experience it was that trying to compare places you have lived, at different points in time is inherently false. You change, places change it’s just not apples to apples, it can’t be.
Hangzhou though… the first thing, of course, is people. I said it on the day I left and it remains true, that the best thing about Hangzhou for me remains the great friends I have there (though the number slowly diminishes with time).
There are also some things inherently about Hangzhou that I love. The proximity of a bustling city with all the eats, drinks and dos that provides to nature is rare. The lake and more so the hills that border the city are a rare treat and whatever course Hangzhou’s development takes that’s unlikely to change. I hugely enjoyed running by the lake again and hiking through the hills, past templesÂ pavilionsÂ and tea fields. I can’t see me every tiring of those hills.
Familiarity is also important. It’s nice to go back to places to which you have a connection. Where you have memories, where you remember feeling comfortable, at home.
There are also some things about Hangzhou that are perhaps just linked to the current period in its development. It remains an exciting place to be. There is some magic combination related to the current stage of development and pace of development. It’s certainly helped by the number of expats (not too few, not too many). It all comes together to make it interesting. It seems (in my limited interactions) that everybody is going somewhere. Starting a new job, starting a new business, checking out a new bar, raving about a new restaurant. The city, for me, still has a buzz about it that I always enjoyed.
Mostly though, what I got from the experience was a sense of perspective on my own relationship with the city. Hangzhou was a very significant part of my life. Depending on how you count it, it was, from this vantage point, half of my adult life. It’s no longer the most relevant part to where I am now, as I approach my secondÂ anniversary in Prague – it’s definitely Prague. Nonetheless, Hangzhou was a big part of my life. That will diminish as the years go by, there is no question of that. It will always remain though, where I lived, for six years, from being 25 years old to being 31 years old.
Hangzhou is not Newcastle, my hometown – that’s special. But, I like Hangzhou. I will keep going back, I have no doubt, and it did feel just a little bit like going home.