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Liam Bates just landed a terrific new gig: tourism ambassador for the southeastern China city of Hangzhou.
The job didn’t come easy, though. Bates had to prevail over more than 26,000 other applicants to earn his place as the first foreign-born tourism representative of any Chinese city, a job that comes with compensation for one year and includes all sorts of first-hand access to the region.
“I'm having a great time,” Bates told TravelAge West via email. “It is a lot of work, as we are going to a ton of places in a short amount of time, which can be pretty tiring. But I’m learning a lot, especially about tea. Every day is more knowledge. It is fascinating seeing how those traditions still exist in people’s lives today.”
The Hangzhou Tourism Commission’s search for Bates was a Facebook campaign that the organization called “Be the Modern Marco Polo Experience.” The campaign to find the city’s perfect ambassador was so popular that Hangzhou was the most searched China destination on Google in 2013.
Marco Polo, a Venetian merchant with a well-documented zest for adventure, traveled to Hangzhou in the 13th century and later called it “The City of Heaven, the most beautiful and magnificent in the world.”
West Lake, home to a number of pagodas and arched bridges, is one of many must-see attractions in Hangzhou, China. // © 2014 Hangzhou Tourism Commission
Long Jing shrimp, fried and flavored with Long Jing tea, is a Hangzhou favorite. // © 2014 Hangzhou Tourism Commission
Liam Bates, recently appointed tourism ambassador for Hangzhou, tries his hand at weaving at the Dujingsheng Silk Weaving Museum. // © 2014 Hangzhou Tourism Commission
At a traditional fish feast, every dish is made with fish — even dessert. // © 2014 Hangzhou Tourism Commission
Traveling by bike is a great way to see Hangzhou, and there are many bike rental shops throughout the city. // © 2014 Hangzhou Tourism Commission
A man pours tea at a traditional tea ceremony. // © 2014 Hangzhou Tourism Commission
The man-made Grand Canal cuts through Hangzhou, and the surrounding area is beautiful at night. // © 2014 Hangzhou Tourism Commission
Raised in Switzerland and the United Kingdom, Bates’ father is British but his mom is American. The 26-year-old Hangzhou tourism ambassador lived in Beijing prior to his selection and speaks Mandarin as well as English and French. Social media promotion will be a major focus of his efforts to get the word out about Hangzhou over the next year.
Hangzhou, one of China’s largest cities, lies near West Lake, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Bates said the metropolis’s dedication to tradition really stands out and is something that U.S. travelers would be interested in.
“Many Chinese cities, such as Beijing and Shanghai, have developed at such a rapid pace that a lot of culture has disappeared from everyday life,” he explained. “In Hangzhou, you really see how traditions are tied into people’s lives. Hangzhou is like the China you expect to see after watching movies about China.”
What To EatBates also raved about the region’s food, describing a few must-try meals he thought would appeal to American travelers.
“One thing to try is a ‘tea feast,’ where every dish is made with tea,” he said. “Red tea, black tea, green tea — all of these are used in the cooking process, creating very unusual dishes. Another is a ‘fish feast,’ where every dish is made with fish. Even dessert is like sweet fish fingers — absolutely delicious. I felt like I was on the Food Channel's Iron Chef America.”
Another must-sample while in Hangzhou, according to Bates, is Long Jing shrimp.
“It’s made with made with Long Jing tea, a local delicacy,” he said. “These are small shrimp fried with a small amount of tea. They taste great and are very easy to find around Hangzhou.”
Although there are no nonstop flights to Hangzhou from the U.S., the city is only a 50-minute train ride from Shanghai, which has several nonstop flights to U.S. cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles.
Travelers will also find a selection of four- and five-star hotels in Hangzhou, including several near the West Lake World Heritage Site and an upscale Hyatt property where rooms go for about $180 a night.