Welcome to Hangzhou!
I didn’t really know what to expect coming into China. People will tell you so many different contradictory things–half of them vague observations, half of them lazy racist stereotypes. I’ve been here for almost a month now, and I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.
People told me that cities in China were gross and dirty–but Hangzhou isn’t gross and dirty. There’s certainly less trash in the streets than Los Angeles, and less dog shit than Paris. Although sometimes doormen will get in a crowded elevator with an already lit cigarette, which is kinda gross.
Driving and walking through traffic is truly the elegantly conducted orchestra of which I had heard legends–there is a constant dance of electric bikes, pedestrians and cars. You can assume cars will stop for you, however abruptly, but you also have to remain vigilant, watching where you are going and reacting to the environment as it moves around you, because there’s no such thing as truly standing still, even on the sidewalk.
While Chinese culture can certainly be old-fashioned and superstitious (imagine being told to drink warm water for an eye infection at a Western-style hospital), you will also see literally everyone glued to their phones. You use your phone for everything–online wallets have pretty much usurped cash and credit cards, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone reading a book on the metro. (‘Cause they’re all watching videos on Chinese YouTube.)
So there’s your push and pull (or dialectical materialism, if you’ll permit the dumb Marx joke): in some ways, China is dazzlingly fast and modern and convenient. In others, it’s slow and tedious and seemingly unnecessary confusing. Our school principal told us that we’re only allowed to ask “Why?” once a day here, otherwise we’ll go crazy. Just enjoy the fact that you can get pretty anything you could ever want shipped directly to your door, for half the list price on Amazon.