A contradiction in terms it may be, but there is a Hooters restaurant in Hangzhou.
But I’ll get to that later. We got to our HI hostel on the eastern shore of the West Lake very easily. We checked into an 8 bed dorm and decided we needed to go clothes shopping. Martyn has been walking without insoles for a while and his feet are manky. He also forgot a t-shirt in Shanghai. My socks have disappeared and my other clothes smell bad. Rather than have a shower immediately it would have been better to get nice clean threads. After a brief meal, where we discovered a beer that proudly claims it has no formaldehyde in it, we found the shopping precinct. My oh my, Chinese clothes shops are no easier than ones back home, but whilst they are cheap their style is dubious. After a lot of walking and yet more offers of ‘Rolexes’ we retired with Martyn buying a replacement top and me getting a few expensive socks. We walked home along the beautiful West Lake. The sun was setting by now and the area looked amazing with orange light flooding the water and silhouetting the lillies. Back at base we bought some cheap food from the kitchen and wolfed it down, then we made a new friend. James the Aussie was a very nice guy from Melbourne. He’d just climbed one of China’s most scenic and important mountains and was full of tales. We sat and and chatted for a few hours sipping yet more Tsingtao beer before bed.
***I’d like to point out at this point that these blogs may read like we have become raging alcoholics. The grim reality is that bottles of Tsingtao are around 3% alcohol and it takes quite a rampage to become drunk on them. Although it is often cheaper than bottled water…***
The next day we did what we came here to do – explore the lake. The weather was dodgy and at breakfast I predicted rain. By the time our ferry reached the first island in the lake there was a gentle pitter-patter of drops on the surface. The lake was actually more interesting in the rain. The distant hills and pagodas were shrouded in mist or drizzle and the whole place seemed far more vivid up close. I sat by the water for a while just watching everything and being happy I was away from a metropolis. I noticed so many little things from whisps of thousands of flies spiralling up from the top of all the trees to the birds playing with each other. I’d needed some quiet time. The second island was also really really pretty. I used my umbrella as a shield against the heavier rain but also as a disguise from the Chinese. This way I could actually sit in peace without the attention that was beginning to grate on me. Here I watched dragonflies whizzing around and fish breaking the surface of the water to snatch insects from the air. It was very peaceful. Except of course for the non-stop stampede of Chinese tourist groups on the bridge across the pond. There they continued their relentless whistlestop tour of every possible sight in the park. That seems to be the way it’s done over here though. When we left the islands we walked all the way around the lake in the pouring rain. At first I didn’t mind at all, it was nice to see rain and it was nice to think whilst it fell. After quite a while though my legs were getting drenched and the water was climbing further and further up. Just in time we dropped in to a restaurant and bought our first western meal in China. A nice big hamburger with curly fries, cheese, bacon and egg. God damn it was glorious. With a couple of pints of Carlsberg and full bellies we felt far better and completed the circuit quickly. That night we tested the Hangzhou nightlife for the first time using another listings mag. After visiting a night market near the hostel and scouting a site for good street snacks we headed to the first place. ‘1828 Bar & Grill’ was dead. And it played a live version of a Blue concert. They did however serve a homebrew beer which Martyn says was nice. The next place was as surreal as anywhere we’ve seen in China. So far as I could tell the basic premise of ‘Night & Day’ is that it’s a latino inspired bar with an all-Chinese cover band doing extremely poor versions of famous tunes from South America or Kylie Minogue. The TVs mounted above the bar show semi-naked can-can dancers followed by some chubby guy wrestling alligators, and the Mojito cocktails are made from lime cordial which makes them taste like Hubba Bubba chewing gum. We sat and took in the scene for quite a bit before I just bombed in tiredness and had to go.
The next day was a mixture of socialising and exploration, and that’s where Hooters comes into play. In the morning we met James and talked for a few minutes. Then a new guy in our dorm called Shannon (Aussie) joined us. Soon after we gained a guy called Janus (Dane). We piled off to the street snack alley and bought a delicious selection for almost nothing. Then we went to the Carrefour supermartket where I picked up a t-shirt, which makes me look like a sailor, and a pile of food. Back at the hostel we met a few more people and before we knew it there was a huge crowd around our table. I even met ‘Peter’ from Streatham Hill (down the road from where I live for those who don’t know me that well). Suddenly the cry went up ‘Hooters, Hooters!’. After a few moments consideration I went along, intrigued by the prospect but fearing a huge bill.
Hooters Hangzhou is VERY funny. Between the predictably less than buxom women and our drunken rabble it was like nothing I’ve ever seen. It was totally lame in pretty much every way but very funny. The staff brought one German guy a helium balloon so he could sing ‘Old MacDonald Had A Farm’ very squeakily, and then soon after they lazily chased each other around whilst giggling. I assume this was to make their bossoms wobble, but it didn’t work… As we left they tried to make us leave by jumping through a hula-hoop but nobody was quite ready for personal injury yet. We left thoroughly entertained but for all the wrong reasons. It was exactly what we’d wanted to see.
Following Hooters was tough but we went to a club where yet another covers band led by a Goldie/Phil Mitchell look-alike screamed into the mic and went bright red. I found out that Janus had lost his copy of War And Peace in the Napoleon Hostel in Moscow and that I’d actually held it in my hand. He was less than impressed that I hadn’t dragged that hulk of Danish language pulp across the world but I reckon he’ll forgive me eventually. As we left I suddenly realised we’d been in the place we’d been in for our burgers the night before. Strange again. Martyn took some time to decide whether he was coming home so he would be able to get up for the early train tomorrow or whether he was going on to the next club. His brain slowly cleared and he definitely made the right choice as a much older woman called May (Mae?) was after him quite seriously.
The next morning we jumped out of bed early and shot off to the train station to head for Hangzhou, partly refreshed from big city life but not quite. We hoped Xiamen would be better for that.