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VIEW FROM SHANGHAI: A day trip to Hangzhou

Sharon Marshall

VIEW FROM SHANGHAI: A day trip to Hangzhou

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On Saturday, when the Shanghai Expo was about to set a new record for daily attendance (more than one million visitors), I – along with some of the other official participants – was heading out of town. 
We had accepted an invitation from the Hangzhou Municipal People’s Government to attend the opening ceremony for the 12th West Lake International Expo.
From our meeting place at one of the several entrance gates to the Expo Park, we could see the people streaming in from early as we prepared to set off on our two-and-a-half-hour trip to Hangzhou.  
There was a full day’s programme ahead of us once we arrived – a buffet lunch, a boat tour on the West Lake, visits to the West Lake Expo Museum, the Culture Creation Industry Expo and to the Urban Planning Exhibition Centre, as well as the official welcome banquet. 
A caravan of coaches, each coach with an official guide, left Shanghai as the city was settling into its Saturday routine.
On the trip were as many nationalities as are represented at the Expo, including Polynesian women with flowers in their hair. 
There were two young women at my lunch table who are ethnically Chinese but are Swedish, and then there was a man whom I came to think of as “Hamid Karzai” because of his headgear. He just needed the cloak.                                                                    
CARICOM Pavilion director Leela Ramoutar and I were representing the Caribbean.
Italian traveller Marco Polo was reportedly the first Westerner to visit Hangzhou at the end of the 13th century. He described it as “the City of Heaven, the most beautiful and magnificent in the world”.
I can see why. 
With weeping willows on the shores of the lake, and pagodas and mountains receding into the mist, we were sailing into a Chinese watercolour painting. A city with a 5 000-year history, in our travels we would get to see the old part of Hangzhou in addition to the Qianjiang New Town.
In a chandeliered ballroom at the Hangzhou International Convention Centre, young waiters bearing an array of dishes to our tables struggled under the weight of the trays. The sumptuous banquet was followed by a pyrotechnic show. 
From our vantage point on the City Balcony overlooking the Qiantang River, we were wowed by the fireworks display that lit up the night sky and was reflected in the river water. It lasted for 45 minutes.
Our sights and stomachs sated, we boarded our coaches for the long ride back to Shanghai.
•Sharon Marshall is Information Officer of the Caribbean Development Bank.