Although one's first impression of Hangzhou upon arriving at the train station and taking in the main tourist attractions around West Lake is that it's quite a bit like Shanghai, only smaller (and with seemingly worse traffic problems thanks to the absence of a metro), a short walk away yields a very different, and more pleasing picture.
Hangzhou is a city peopled more by those who value quality of life over pursuit of ambitions and riches. This is evident not only among the expats you meet there, but also in the attitudes and lifestyle of many of the Chinese. Here you find people who care more about where they are, what they are doing, and who they are doing it with, than about how much what they are doing will benefit them and contribute to their future success.
It’s easy to find a place to live (the forums on hangzhouexpat.com and morehangzhou.com can be a great resource). Hangzhou can also be quite a bit less expensive, if you don't insist on living near the city centre or on having a lake or mountain view. A cute little 2 bedroom loft apartment in a quiet complex can cost as little as 2500 RMB per month.
After you’re settled in, you'll want to start exploring your new city. Walking is a great way to do this, and Hangzhou is small enough that this is a very reasonable option. A good first stop for the new expat resident to Hangzhou is Maya Bar. This small, unassuming place is located at 94 Baishaquan, Shuguang Lu (曙光路白沙泉94号; Tel: 0571 8799 7628), in a row of Chinese restaurants just north of West Lake (Xihu). It is quite possibly the friendliest bar in China; you'll almost certainly feel like a regular within a few minutes of pulling up to the bar and ordering a drink. The owner, a rather mysterious fellow named Tim, seems to channel the essence of Humphrey Bogart's Rick from Casablanca, and the other denizens are an interesting and colourful lot, good for a much more engaging conversation than your average expat hangout in China.
Hangzhou is also a unique city in having a bike sharing program, which is in the process of increasing its fleet from 16,000 to 50,000 bikes at a myriad of collection points around the city. Non-residents are allowed to use the bikes after showing their ID and paying a 300 RMB deposit at one of the many service outlets. Rides are free for the first hour, 1 RMB for the second, 2 RMB for the third, and 4 RMB for each hour thereafter up to 24 hours. The collection points near West Lake are the most popular, so bear that in mind when going to collect one yourself – at peak hours it gets pretty busy!
Hangzhou's rivers, canals, and parks provide almost endless opportunity for exploration, and it has many architectural and artistic attractions that rival their more famous brethren in Shanghai and Beijing. With time and patience, you will quickly find yourself falling in love with the city and wondering why it hadn't occurred to you to move here sooner.
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