Saturday, August 11, 4 pm
We’re on hour 17 of our 36-hour train ride from Hangzhou to Kunming, and I gotta say, my H&M harem pants with their massive elastic “I’ve given up” waistband are coming in pret-ty handy.
When I was uploading photos to Flickr the other day I looked back at my Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam sets from our last big trip, curious to see how many photos I took, then versus now. It looks like I averaged 7 photos per day then, whereas now I’m rolling along at 4 per day. I’ve also noticed that, last time, I probably took three times as many photos — all the time, of everything, fueled by my anxious need to get really really good photos for posterity goddamnit — and then I edited things down later. This time I’m carrying my camera around less, and when I do, sometimes I just take a picture of whatever we’re eating and call it a day.
Ryan has also noted that, this time around, he hasn’t been spending nearly as much time standing around on sidewalks, waiting for me to finish taking a picture of whatever stupid thing.
All this may be due to simple lens choice. Last time I had a telephoto with me, so I could stop and spy on people from across the street, like this:
But this time I only have the 50mm and the 24mm primes, and so I must spy on people from up close and on the move, like this:
Either way, I am a scumbag who takes photos of people without their permission. Oh well.
But also, like I’ve said a million times already, I see this trip differently. The last one had a “We are EXPERIENCING THINGS and DOCUMENTING THESE THINGS, GAAAAAH” vibe to it, whereas this one has a very distinct “We are rewarding ourselves, ooooo” vibe. I like this vibe. This vibe means I can ask myself, “Do I feel like carrying around four pounds of camera right now?” And then I can say “no I do not!” and go have a beer.
[Editor’s note: As I’m typing this Ryan is sitting across the table from me, trying out a Lao language app on his iPhone; one of the top phrases is “these drugs aren’t mine”]
We went a little too far with rewarding ourselves in Hangzhou, though. Once you’ve wandered around the UNESCO heritage part of the city with its pretty old alleys and ye olde tyme tea shops, there is essentially one thing to do, and that one thing is to rent bicycles and point yourself in the direction of the hills and villages southwest of the lake. “We’re here for a week,” is what we thought to ourselves, “so, no rush, we’ll get around to biking, and stuff.” But then we spent a lot of time lounging around, and I spent a day or two trying to find some danged pants to wear cycling (thank you ugly H&M harem pants), and there was that typhoon that rolled through (I suppose this wasn’t our fault). So, all in all, we spent maybe four hours on bikes. And half of that time was spent on the traffic-clogged roads around the lake.
I felt like a pretty big idiot for seemingly squandering a whole week of our trip just loafing around. But let’s look on the bright side. The countryside we did manage to see was pretty, and we sure looked goofy in it:
The lake was beautiful, too, although holy cow was it ever crowded. The photos I took don’t really capture it, but walking around West Lake reminded me of the Tidal Basin in DC when the cherry blossoms are out. So many people. Not very many obese people in motorized scooters though.
We also ate well in Hangzhou, not only because of the aforeblogged-about street food ladies but also because of Weiwei:
Friend of a friend, writer of the invitation letters we needed for our visas, and über-host who squired us about her fair city for a day and didn’t let us pay for a thing.
And finally, our guesthouse was photogenic and populated with three groggy Siamese cats who let you manhandle them however you wished.
So, Hangzhou: Not so bad after all!
P.S. There were also some hash browns.
So we’re riding 2nd class on this train, which bears a lot of resemblance to the 2nd class trains in Mongolia: Lots of snacking and card playing. Just different snacks and different card games. Plus the compartments are three bunks high instead of two. Oh and there’s motherfucking air conditioning.
The landscape is starting to look more like Southeast Asia outside. Lots of rice paddies, a few karst-lookin’ things, water buffalo. It’s nice to be getting out of big cities for a while — did you know Hangzhou has SIX MILLION people? (we didn’t)