It’s been the buzz word since my very arrival in Hangzhou: G20, the meeting of the world’s financial big wigs discussing how to improve global financial stability and other important issues. For months billboards announcing the prestigious event have been cluttering every corner of the city, the airport, the metro and even the Xixi wetland park, so it’s hard to miss China’s and Hangzhou’s pride in hosting such an auspicious gathering. And this being China, no stone is left unturned, no ID left unchecked, no tree left to wither and no factory left to pollute the air to ensure that when the world’s eyes are zoomed in on Hangzhou and China, everything will run smoothly, as clockwork, and the world will be greeted by an aura of perfection as no other country can achieve.
Buildings shrouded for months by scaffolding and unsightly boards have been uncovered; Wulin Square has indeed become a square again. And across the canal overlooking the Binjiang district, where the dignitaries will congregate, an impressive new skyline has been drawn as opulent hotels and stylish flat- and office blocks have mushroomed in the vicinity to take full advantage of the expected influx of visitors, new businesses and residents in the wake of the event. Hangzhou will present a pretty face, a delightful façade and the world will revel in China’s accomplishments.
With the responsibility of organising such an international get-together of the world’s most influential and highly regarded politicians comes the responsibility of keeping everyone safe.. and security in and around Hangzhou will be watertight, as expected. But whereas in Western countries residents in afflicted areas would be given plenty of notice of what lies in wait, not so in China. Reliable and official information has been sketchy, leaving plenty of room for speculation…
Wild rumours started circulating as early as May when one agency advised its teachers that no foreigners would be allowed to enter Hangzhou between 15th August and 12th September… Leaving between those dates would be at our own peril, with no entry back into Hangzhou guaranteed. There would be no exceptions… Hello, what about schools starting on 1st September?? Although this measure was later (read: sometime in mid July..) clarified to only apply to groups of tourists visiting the area, teachers were engulfed in a flurry of uncertainty about how to deal with the impending holiday break.
J. decided to escape Hangzhou and China altogether during the summit period, booking himself an extended return to the homeland. ‘Do you really want to be around here, with all the additional security?? Having to conjure up your passport at the drop of a hat? Maybe tanks on every street corner…’ He is lucky, his school does not start until after the October National Holiday week, so no rush for him to be back. Canadian A. opted for caution and squeezed all her planned trips – Bali and the Philippines – into the first weeks of the summer and would definitely return before the curfew date. I implored my own agency to shed some light on the matter and maybe see if some trustworthy information could be garnered from the authorities. But after several weeks of being promised an ‘official notice from the general manager’ regarding the arrangements for the G20, I was still none the wiser… Would they really shut down the whole city for a whole month, grounding planes and stopping trains whilst I was perfectly able to purchase flights in and out of Hangzhou throughout August and there appeared to be no restrictions on the sale of train tickets ?? Tighter security, yes, understandable… but total lockdown???
My agency remained on the sideline, advising on my ‘return to teaching duties’-date according to the whims of the school and the requirements of the authorities. Whereas in mid June, I was told all schools in Hangzhou, including mine, would not reopen until at least 7th September and I saw my holiday period luxuriously expanded, the powers at my school stubbornly insisted throughout July on a starting date for teachers of 25th August with the intention of being ready for teaching on 1st September… So, maybe it would be in my interest to be around in Hangzhou from 25th August, just In case the school required my attendance, the agency recommended.
I obediently planned my summer with this date in mind. Well, give or take a few days… Surely a return late on Friday 26th August, just before the weekend rest, counted as being back around the 25th… and after all, we would not be paid for our days of work in August. However, after touching tarmac in the UK on 28th July and with my return flights to China booked (via a relaxing holiday in Thailand starting very soon), I finally got the official word via the global tentacles of WeChat: school will resume on 8th September. I am gutted, I could have had an extra week on the beach in Thailand… or will it still be possible to change my travel date…???
Now it may strike you as rather unkind of the school to make such an important decision at the eleventh hour, but I suspect they had little choice in the matter. In an effort to keep Hangzhou pollution and people free around the beginning of September, local officials have declared a week-long public holiday to coincide with the G20 summit. Offices, factories and schools (?) have ‘given’ their staff extra time off, ex-pat forums whispered. Reportedly, Hangzhou residents – Chinese ones anyway – have received generous incentives to leave town, such as free and discounted tickets to tourist destinations further afield in the province, in an operation aptly named ‘Zhejiang Tourism Carnival’. What is there not to enjoy about the G20…
When Maggie, a Chinese friend, was asked a little while ago whether she was excited about Hangzhou hosting the G20, she looked blankly. ‘G20??? What is the G20 actually all about??’…
And just in case the blue skies should fail outside, one 5* hotel has not left anything to chance..