17 September 2018

Suzhou to Hangzhou by fast train, tea ceremony

Rainy morning in our hotel, we decided to take advantage of the luxurious facilities, we have not used them much these days, always busy visiting. The saunas, steam room, and swimming pool were pristine and inviting. After absorbing some heat in the first two I headed for the pool. There is no one around even though the hotel is rather full.

In fact there is someone around: the lifeguard, who looked kind of bored on top of his high chair until he approached me and said something that I did not understand but then pointed to his head and it was clear he wanted me to wear a swimming cap. Most pools require that in China these days. I tried to explain in my broken Chinese that I am completely bald, and rubbed my clean cupola with both hands to drive the point home. He insisted a couple of times, pointing to a sign on the wall that made it clear it was mandatory, but I insisted even more and in the end he smiled, climbed back up his high chair, and left me alone.

In the afternoon we take a trusted didi cab to the station, but when we reach the modern building I realize I forgot Lifang's necklace in the hotel's safe, even though she had asked me twice to check the safe before check-out. Now, if I had forgotten to check, that would be bad. But I HAD checked, and still forgot the necklace, so that made me feel even worse. Leaving it behind was not an option, this was a special one I had bought her in New York.

But my wife is not someone who gives up easily. She almost got upset, but regained her cool quickly and while calling the hotel, she told me to wait and stay put with both eyes peeled on our bags while she rushed back to the hotel. She made it quite fast and found the necklace, but we now had another problem. We would have missed out train, and we had a dinner appointment with one of her former English students in Hangzhou tonight. It would have been regrettable and impolite to cancel.

No worries: on the taxi back to the station she changed our reservation to a later train, though this one would depart from another station, so we had to rush across town with the local underground, which was slightly stressful but we made it! Just before boarding we even managed to grab a bit of black pepper beef and pork belly with white rice.

The train ride was smooth, the new CHR (China High-speed Rail) trains are quiet and very fast, over 300km/h. The passengers however do not always meet expectations one has on such luxury service. Most people are either on their cell phone, or streaming videos, without earphones, or both at the same time and at high volume. Some passengers even smoke though it is strictly forbidden!

In the end we made it on time to meet our friend, who took us for a tea ceremony in an upscale teahouse by the West Lake. here is a short video. He was a soft-spoken person, a manager in a large automotive company who said little but always made a lot of sense. He quoted Confucius to us: "Is it not a pleasure to have friends visiting from afar?"

In Chinese 有朋自远方来,不亦乐乎? (yǒu péng zì yuǎnfāng lái, bú yì lè hū?)

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