After leaving Pingxiang (thank GOD), Ben and I headed to Hangzhou - the place that Marco Polo described as paradise on Earth. I say thank goodness because 1) we missed most of that snow that ya'll saw on TV as China's worst winter in 50 years and 2) because, despite snow, freezing temperatures, power outages, and no water, Hangzhou was indeed beautiful. The main attraction is West Lake - about 3km wide and long, surrounded by temples, pagodas, parks, and other assorted items of beauty. We ended up being there for just over a week due to train delays but I am almost positive I will make a return visit in the spring to see all of the same sights covered in green instead of white.
Highlights of Hangzhou, other than West Lake itself would have to be LingYin Temple which is surrounded but a huge park area including some caves with carvings some 800 years old. The city itself is rather inundated with Western culture; namely Starbucks, KFC, and McDonalds. It was nice however, that near the lake, and even 5 minutes off a main street and you could forget that you were in a city of over 7 million people.
After Hangzhou, Ben and I traveled to Nanjing to meet up with a friend. While there was a lot to see and do in Nanjing, we really didn't get the opportunity due to time and weather restrictions. The city is unique in that two-thirds of its ancient city walls still remain. The city was a capital twice - once for the Ming dynasty and once for the Republic of China. There were a ton of other things to see that were missed so perhaps it will also have to be revisited.
From, the 3 of us traveled to Shanghi to meet up with Andreana (fresh from Thailand). I was hoping for some amazing celebrations for the Chinese New Year, but that didn't really happen. We arrived in the city on New Year's Eve and searched for hours to find a restaurant that was open and would take us without a reservation. Chinese New Year is part of the larger Spring Festival and most Chinese get anywhere from 1-3 weeks off work. Many of the stores and restaurants are therefore closed as there is no one to staff them. The huge shows seen on TV of New Year's celebrations with dragon dances, singers, and fireworks are apparently only on TV. Many people set off fireworks, but since Chinese are free to buy and set off fireworks whenever they want, it was rather anti-climatic. At least I spend my New Year holiday in good company.
We briefly left Andreana in Shanghi for a weekend trip to Suzhou - the city that is 2nd only to Hangzhou. Granted the lovely parks it is known for were winterized, I feel safe in saying its a dirty little town with not much to offer. There we did finally decide to go up into a pagoda at a temple, but the views weren't really worth it.
After all that whirlwind travel, I spent 1 more night in Shanghi before leaving early the next morning for Tibet with Andreana.
New pictures are up of all the places traveled in China Proper...