The Yangtze Delta has rather a resplendent ring to it, to my ears, but it is quite disappointing to ride through it without being offered too much variation. While famously not the most attractive environment in the country, it can be interesting to pass enormous bridges, glimmering power stations, copy-pasted apartments (times infinite) and occasionally an old monument.
I arrived in Hangzhou, another city which makes Chinese people's eyes water with patriotism when mentioned. The main reason is the West Lake （西湖）(What not to say: 'It's just a lake'.), but the city is more recently known as the home of Alibaba, (China's gigantic e-commerce giant), its resultant millionaires, and generally, the Chinese super-rich. So having heard this, I was expecting a step-up from Nanjing.
Sure, the lake is gorgeous, and there's bits and pieces of Chinese heritage circling it; tea fields, pagodas, tea shops, musicians and actors. I rented a bike (for free, cheating the system) and got around the lake in a couple of hours. It gave me the immediate sense that Hangzhou had something special that most Chinese cities don't.
However, the rest of the city is almost indistinguishable from the other cities I have visited on this trip and others. Is this the symptom of what I have been told is a very small selection of architectural blueprints allowed by CCP? Hangzhou is just another Chinese city, but it's wearing a really pretty engagement ring, and showing off to all its friends.
I got in a spot of bother with the Couchsurfing malarkey this time round. I got shacked up with a very popular Couchsurfing host, who has hundreds of positive references. However, he seemed distracted the whole time. As soon as we sat down for dinner, he started playing a game on his iPad, while unsuccessfully trying to listen to my engaging stories of worldwide travels. His preferred topic of conversation was his sock company, and the number of people he has hosted. And their nationalities. All arranged into neat statistics. It got me thinking that some people consider Couchsurfing a game, where you collect friends and references.
We went down to his company, situated in an office on a high floor of a tower in a shiny new district. Some of his colleagues dressed me up in some designs they had been working on (away from the principle sock game). One memorable piece looked a bit like a wetsuit, but you could zip open this big felt heart on the front. I tried to pretend I liked it, and they tried to pretend it suited me.
I've been using the time to learn some more Chinese characters, and have been feeling quite confident asking people how to get from here to there. Again, it's a smaller city than Shanghai, so people are quite curious, and engaging. One man and I had quite a long chat, from which I learned how to say 'I rented a bike.' He was a tourist from Shaanxi, which is like the industrial heartland to the well-mannered Southern gentlefolk of Hangzhou. He showed me a picture of his family on his flip-phone, and then we saw a dead fish floating past us.
By far the most interesting part of the trip was my visit to a suburb called 天都城. Anticipating a growing middle class with a taste for all things French, the local government developed this suburb of Hangzhou in the image of Paris, complete with Eiffel Tower. Its poor location, and let's be honest, the weird idea, were less than tempting, and now the suburb remains at about 10% capacity. It was great to catch a break from the crowds, it was surreal to walk around a huge model of Paris, and it was an awesome photo opportunity.