Hangzhou, the Postcard

As of tomorrow, August 15, Hangzhou will change drastically. Shops will start closing down in preparation for the G20, police will check ID’s, and some roads may be more congested as people start to leave the city. Many reports I’ve seen all say “Beginning August 15…” though what precisely will happen is still a mystery.

Not that you’d guess that from my neighborhood.

It’s like a world of its own in the shaded streets, where families of all generations stroll, waving themselves with wide fans. Down the street, a shop selling hand-made cotton clothing, a frame store wherein the workers glue calligraphy carefully onto cloth strips with paintbrushes, a restaurant selling northern food with one lazy electric fan putting throughout the evening, a small liquor shop. Locals amble, bikes wheel around on sidewalks, and the workers at the local carwash occasionally hose their own feet “on accident” to stay cool in the heat. A woman carrying a bag of groceries smiles at me. The vendor at the fruit stand tells me to buy more peaches, because they’re in season.

From my little study alcove in my apartment, I read articles and see photos of what Hangzhou is supposed to be. Of course, there are photos of West Lake, and green tea fields, but if I’m being honest, nothing captures Hangzhou better than a simple walk through my neighborhood. Obviously, the tourism bureau is not going to market a fruit stall. It will emphasize the lake, the hills, the large concert hall (that kind of looks like a Ferrero Rocher chocolate), and as a result, visitors get a postcard understanding of Hangzhou. Don’t get me wrong, I do love the natural beauty of Hangzhou, but it’s more than that perfect shot of West Lake. It’s definitely more than the hours of snapping photos for that shot, too, and the act of marketing it on social media.

What really makes it for me are the lazy walks along the street, and the direction-less conversations with people about the weather, the tightening restrictions “Beginning August 15,” and the continuing mystery of the lost delivery boy. Construction continues around town, promotional videos are still being shot (and, hey, I’m even in a few), jingles are made about how people need to come to Hangzhou. But Hangzhou itself continues to do what it has always done.

Do the postcards ever really address why they “wish you were here?”

When we go places, how often do we think of them as a series of interconnected neighborhoods, and how often do we think of them as destinations?

I guess my small hope is that I can remember to look through the postcard and see the person going to buy their own peaches, or the families watching their kids maneuver their first bicycle. I hope I can remember that every place is a home to someone, and that destinations are about more than arrivals, but of actually being present. Perhaps not just “beginning August 15” but beginning every day when I walk through my own neighborhood, my own pocket of Hangzhou, my own home for now.