Word of the week: guàng
My apartment in Hangzhou (háng zhōu 杭州) is just around the corner from Hofang Street (hé fáng jiē 河坊街) The place is a complete tourist trap but still well worth a visit if you’re taking a trip to this historical city.
The other day I was walking down this street on my way home when one of the tourists in front of me pointed at an old Chinese medicine shop (now a museum) and said to his friend wǒ men guàng yí xià zhè lǐ 我们逛一下这里 (let’s take a look around here).
there are some side streets with fewer tourists
Here I’ve translated the verb guàng 逛 as “take a look around”, and you can certainly use it to mean take a look around a museum, but the connotations are often closer to the English word “wander” or “stroll”. Basically, guàng means to walk around or look around a place because walking around that place in itself is enjoyable, you don’t have a specific aim. So, if you’re visiting Hangzhou with some Chinese friends you might say wǒ men qù guàng yí xià xī hú 我们去逛一下西湖 (let’s go stroll around the west lake).
guàng 逛 is also part of the extremely common collocation that is guàng jiē 逛街 (wander street). This phrase doesn’t mean to wander around the streets like a homeless person. It means to go window shopping (maybe buy something, maybe not) or to just hang out in a shopping area to soak up the atmosphere.
There are a lot of department stores and shopping malls in China so when Chinese people say they will guàng jiē what they often end up doing is walking around the shopping mall. When I think of guàng jiē I often think of the film Mallrats, with people just hanging out/ walking around the mall but not there for any specific reason.
However, if you’re a tourist in Hangzhou and want to guàng jiē then it seems the place to go is hé fáng jiē 河坊街. Yes, there are swarms of Chinese tourists, but there are also a couple of nice hostels on this street (one is tucked away on a much quieter little alleyway). hé fáng jiē is also at the bottom of a hill that has a temple and a couple of pagodas on top with a nice view of the lake and tea fields in the distance.
my son watches locals singing on top of the hill
For some reason most the Chinese don’t seem to get that far, they just prefer to guàng jiē at the bottom of the hill. If you guàng yí xià shān shàng de sì miào 逛一下山上的寺庙 (wander around the temple at the top of the hill) you’ll find it’s not crowded and the people you do bump into will most likely be locals.