The West Lake of Hangzhou

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A dreamy version of Hangzhou’s West Lake. But the reality is a lot less serene. The shores of West Lake, particularly nearer the city, are crowded and busy and great for people watching. After Huangshan, we took the 4-hour direct bus to Hangzhou and spent a day or two there before we flew home. It wasn’t our first time to Hangzhou or to the West Lake, but like all who visit Hangzhou, the West Lake is a natural magnet. On that humid early summer’s day that we visited, the roses were in full bloom and the lakeside promenade was teeming with people. Parents, babies, the elderly, young lovers, cyclists, kite enthusiasts, everyone was out for a walk. It was the Chinese version of the Italian passegiata at sunset.

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The home of poets and Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce behemoth, Hangzhou looks like any prosperous city on the Chinese east coast, its streets in a constant gridlock, construction hoarding advertising the next skyscraper and people everywhere. Malls, restaurants and hotels front the prime lakeside spaces. It’s always crowded but also great spaces to watch the locals have some fun. That day, it was the day before the May Day holidays which explained the massive human crush in the city, especially at the lake shore. The mood was festive despite the heat and the crowd and one of the most charming scenes you can catch is of the locals dancing together.

The Chinese love to dance. We’ve seen impromptu dance floors pop up in parks and squares in Beijing and Hangzhou is no different. While there must already be organised dance groups who gather just to dance for fun, these little dance-offs also attract by-standers who gamely step in and partner someone (even strangers) for a twirl. Classical, 70s ballads, country music, anything goes and it’s cute to see the couples taking to the dancefloor. There’s nothing to be bashful or self-conscious about, it’s all very spontaneous.

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And speaking of music, the Chinese also love their karaoke and in a stately pavilion next to the Causeway, it’s open mic for all. The audience is appreciative and the singers are really not bad at all.

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Walking further away from the city towards the Causeway, we found kite enthusiasts manipulating big kites over the water, attracting wide-eyed awe from children watching. No better way to end a long, humid day in Hangzhou than by the waters of West Lake.

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