On completing one year in Hangzhou

So the end of October marked the year anniversary of my moving to Hangzhou, two weeks after I moved to China. My post about China was difficult as I am still a little unclear about how I feel here. When it comes to Hangzhou, however, I have much stronger opinions. I learned that I had such opinions during a bout of pre- and post- G20 shitposting to reddit about the trials and tribulations of life in Hangzhou during that most odious of events[1].

So, when I took this job I was hoping to get sent to Shanghai. Shanghai seemed like a great fit for me. Alas, I was given Hangzhou instead[2]. So I did a quick google search and after a few hours on Wikipedia decided that Hangzhou couldn’t be all that bad. After all, I prefer to live in large cities and Hangzhou was a city of eight million. Surely, I would love it there.

Well, I was wrong on many accounts.

Hangzhou is a terrible and boring place. But before I go into why this is the case, I should say in Hangzhou’s defense that part of the problem is the fact that I work long hours and I work in the middle of fucking nowhere. They have me working in a terrible terrible suburb to the west of the city where there is absolutely fuck all to do. I refused to move out that way, and so I loose about two hours of commute time daily, which when added to the 9 hours a day I work (eight hours and a non-existent break) means that I spend about 3/4 of my waking day at work. To pile on the crap, my work has two shifts, later and later. I am lucky to make it home by 11 most nights, and at that point it is rather late to plan a night out or join someone else’s night. And because I work for a shit school in a shit suburb of a shit city, there is a constant teacher shortage which means that I have to take the odd hours.

But I wasn’t meant to dogpile my job in the post, but the city I live in. Forking over some of the blame to Hangzhou, this problem is compacted by the fact that this city has the smallest and most ineffectual metro system I have ever seen, an unreliable bus system, and some of the worst fucking traffic I have ever seen. If you need to get somewhere, the best way to do it often is to bike it. The bus to work is 40 min. Biking to work is 30.

But who cares, right? So long as you get to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the big shiny city on your days off, its worth it, no?

Absolutely not.

Big cities are all about the amenities they provide to the people living there. In theory, the larger the city the more opportunities for enjoyment that city provides to its citizenry.

Now, it might be that it is the case with Hangzhou, but if it is, it is such with speakers of Mandarin. But as a person who doesn’t speak Mandarin, I have found the opposite to be the case. Lots of places are a bit in hospitable to foreigners. In sitcom fashion, I was once told “we don’t speak English” in practically fluent in English by a restaurant employee who simply had no desire to look from his smart phone[3]. I bet you he then wondered why his restaurant was so empty. This is a worst case scenario, but most places do not easily cater to foreigners. The menus are in Chinese, the wait staff speaks Chinese, and this is normal and good, because I live in fucking China. I don’t fault them for speaking their own language.

What I do fault them for is the fact that so many times when I eat food in Chinese restaurants here I end up spending more time than I would like in the bathroom. The food here is extremely low quality, and this is coming from a person who used to be considered to have a proverbial cast iron stomach.  But the food here goes through me pretty easily. Admittedly, the nicer restaurants do this a lot less, but it still happens (even at nice restaurants) with a frequency that, if applied to air travel, would guarantee no one ever got on a plane again. Can I make this worse? You bet I can! At my shopping center I have to use the public bathrooms, and I often see the chefs from the various restaurants step out of the bathroom stalls with their smartphones in their hands and, without ever stopping the videos they are watching, walk right by the sinks as if they don’t exist.

Foreign restaurant are not better. Though not with as high a frequency as Chinese restaurants, foreign restaurants still do a number on my digestive system (excepting a few places, which have always treated me well). The problem is that most of the restaurants are not very good, and the food feels like a chef is trying to reproduce foreign food by vague guesswork (“Hey what’s that white stuff in the tacos? Huh, must be mayonnaise”). It isn’t really worth the price unless there is something you really really need to have.

But what is often nice about the foreign restaurants is that the have non-Chinese standards. At an Italian restaurant here I saw a Chinese chef washing his hands int eh bathroom so incredibly thoroughly that he was risking washing away his skin. It was a relief to see, and pretty much the only reason I go back there (the food is mediocre at best. But at least its fucking clean). As well, the foreign restaurants often have foreign wait staff who know how to do their job. Chinese wait-staff is so incredibly incompetent that over G20 when many of the foreigners were kicked out a Western pub lost all of its clientele till it could get its regular staff back. The Chinese staff simply had no desire to work.

But then there are the cultural differences as well. I am not the biggest fan of karaoke (KTV as it is known here) but it is something that I can do. Or at least, could, where it not for the fact that the English selection is so thin and that the lyrics are often wrong. The nightclubs are even worse, as they are often more about showing off than dancing, which is the only reason I will go to a club those few occasions where I am inebriated enough to feel that itch (and if I do, the last thing I want is to be seen by anyone. That’s fucking horrifying!)

The bars are fine as far as bars go and they are even sparsely populated for bars, which for me is a virtue. But the alcohol is damn near poison, as I have mentioned previously. This seems to cease being the case if you go to more expensive bars, but I really have a hard time justifying 15$ cocktails to myself, unless there is some kind of occasion.

To sum up, this city fosters no desire to go to bars, restaurants or clubs. For a point of perspective, I have lived in much smaller cities where there was much more to do whilst still not speaking the language. And that city didn’t seem to punish you for engaging in those activities, nor make you feel like you were being robbed.


(This blog post will be concluded next week.)


[1] And reddit being reddit, they completely ignored the point I was actually trying to make and just assumed I was some kind of arbitrary Hangzhou hater.

[2] Which was bullshit. I was told that the reason I was given Hangzhou was because more qualified teachers were given the position in Shanghai. This was a lie. When I arrived in China I met several teachers who were staying in Shanghai and I was years more qualified than they were.

[3] Vengeance is mine! That restaurant is now closed. Though my flat mates swore that it was excellent.


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