Thursday, January 22, 2004

China Trip: Touring Hangzhou

This was Chinese New Year, and our bus took us to Hangzhou on this day. I took a lot of pictures out the window of the bus, as I had finally fully charged my camera, and could afford to take them without fearing that I would miss something really interesting later. We saw our first hills in this part of China. Everywhere else had been completely flat.

Everything was much more crowded than before, as the Chinese were on a holiday. Our first destination was a place where there were a lot of natural rock caves that had been widened and carved by ancient Chinese monks into figures of Buddha of all different sizes. It was a lot of fun to explore through all the nooks and crannies of the cave, and it would have been interesting to climb the hill above the caves, too, but we didn’t get to do that.

From there we planned to go to a famous temple, but we found it to be so crowded that we didn’t go in. We didn’t really mind, as it held no religious significance for us.

We ate lunch at a delightful restaurant nestled on a hill. Walking up to it, we passed a sort of clothesline right next to the path, on which were hanging various pieces of meat drying in the sun (fish, fowl, at least one piece of dog, and plenty of other unknown specimens). We were served one of those in the restaurant. It was a duck, and came on a platter with head, bill, feet, and all. Some of the more humor-prone members of our group were feeding prawns into its bill with chopsticks, and making it quack and say “Aflac.”

The city of Hangzhou is built right on a large lake called West Lake, and on the opposite side of this lake from the high-rise portion of the city was a very newly constructed 7-story pagoda, where you were allowed to climb all the way to the top. This was a wonderful experience, and inside, there was a different thing of interest on each level. 

At the bottom level, you could see the ruins of the old pagoda, which had collapsed. They built the new one right around the crumbled old bricks, with a glass wall that allowed you to see the heap of ruins.

The next level had incredibly intricate carvings all around the room, sequentially depicting the story of the legend of West Lake. Our tour guide told it to us, but I never really got the story straight. It had a maiden and a lover in it, though, and a dragon and a wicked man and magic… just like a good legend should. Each level was interesting, but I don’t remember them all, and that was my favorite.

The view from the top was breathtaking. 

You could walk around the entire circle around the pagoda, and the scenery was spectacular. In one direction, there were rural mountains, and in the other direction was the lake, and beyond it, the skyscrapers of the city of Hangzhou. I walked around, taking pictures of the view, and enjoying the diversity of things to see. A flock of white birds flew below me and landed on the roof of a low building near the lake. A gold-painted ship with a dragon’s head prow floated silently out, carrying tourists on a sight-seeing trip. Lines of people down below waited their turn to climb up to the pagoda. Little boats rowed people out to the lake’s island. It was all very peaceful and orderly.

When we got down, we walked over to where the little boats were, filled up five or six of them, and took a ride around the island and back. It was right at the time to experience a beautiful sunset, with the sky glowing pink and gold, and the sun sinking behind a large dramatic dark cloud just above the mountains. The breeze was brisk and bracing, but the rowers kept the boats running strong and smoothly through the water. We all got a competitive spirit, and wanted to race the other boats. The guys in the boat got a paddle and started rowing enthusiastically at top speed… but we never did pass the front boat. Oh, well. Perhaps our rower was dragging his paddle. Who knows?

We got about 30 minutes to go shopping after the fun way we spent the day. It wasn’t nearly enough time to get everything we wanted, but we made the most of our time. I went into one shop and was surprised to hear an instrumental version of “How Great Thou Art” playing. I thought, “Oh, I wonder if these people are Christians?” Someone else came in soon after that, noticed the music too, asked the people about it, and found out that they were Christians. I decided right then that I would pay what they asked me and not barter them down. I bought 4 handkerchiefs for 10 RMB and three silk scarves for 8 RMB each, for a total of 32 RMB (about $4), which wasn’t even a bad price. 

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