There are times when the mind believes teleportation is possible. I thought I was still in Beijing that morning. Before I knew it, one look outside the window told me our bus was rumbling through the dark streets of Hangzhou, pouring rain blurring my vision.
Chatting with the Wanxiang student ambassadors was merry. I wanted to know everything about Hangzhou. But like any city, it has its secrets. My first night already alerted me to three.
- How dangerous is being in a typhoon?
- Is there really a mystical city underneath West Lake?
- Are the Xixi Wetlands really wet?
Okay, so firstly, we’re fine. A typhoon is just a “mature tropical cyclone” that occurs in the Indian and Pacific Ocean. Basically, heavy rain and heavy wind – water is being blown in your face. So I knew we were fine when a light drizzle greeted us the following morning. Umbrella? Problem solved.
A comrade of ours had pumped me with the gossip that there was some kind of city underneath the West Lake, a famous scenic site of Hangzhou. Because no one is allowed to swim in this body of water, it will never be known whether there is actually a city underneath the lake. Case closed.
Only one task remained on my checklist. Right in the backyard of Hangzhou Wanxiang Polytechnic. The wetlands. By day 5, I was ready to begin my investigation.
Armed with a dingy hotel flashlight and the strongman on our program, I setoff just as the last rays of sunlight glanced off the horizon. A brief ten minute walk brought us to the gates of wilderness.
There sure were a lot of people for supposedly unforgiving wilderness. Joggers, motorcyclists, and even rampaging children. Nonetheless, we heeded the call of the wild and ventured onward.
Humidity and cicadas. You’re sweating buckets and you can’t escape the buzzing all around you. I remember a couple bats flying overhead us. A very well-paved road seemed to stretch on through the interior of the wetlands. Hmm… suspicious.
We continued to penetrate deeper down this path, as all around the us, vegetation and darkness began to engulf us. Every so often, a clearing would emerge, showing the water part of the wetlands.
I was eager to investigate the wildlife, as I perhaps thought we were at some biodiversity hotspot. The weak ray from my flashlight barely illuminated the surrounding trees; every sign of life apparently invisible. For the time being, the wetlands weren’t as inhospitable as I made them out to be.
Then we rounded the next corner. And my jaw dropped. From the seemingly endless sea of verdancy, there were bright green lights. “Starbucks Coffee.” The investigation was over. Just a bit further and we hit a village that loomed to our left. Lights aglow and jazzy music playing. Bah, humbug. It was just a lie.
We ended up relaxing in some refreshing air conditioning, stuffing our mouths with spoonfuls of ice cream. After a purchase of cookies, we decided to call it a night and “retreat” back to civilization.
So what became of this final secret? The Xixi Wetlands aren’t really that wet. Sure, you got some water here and there with a lot of cicada-infested trees. But that’s really only the backdrop for what’s really going on. Tourism has mainly grown through its fancy interior, almost like a sprawling city within the wilderness.
So don’t get too caught by the allure of a natural exterior. You really want the red bean paste ice cream and mango shaved ice on the inside.