Hangzhou April 12, 2013

This was to be another long day of fighting traffic and touring the city and area.  First stop – breakfast.  This hotel served less western food but the pastries and fruit were enough for me. We got on the bus by 8 a.m. and met our local guide Danny.

Taking a leisurely boat ride on West lake. Too bad the air pollution is so bad.

Taking a leisurely boat ride on West lake. Too bad the air pollution is so bad.

Danny was a stark change from Michael but he was enthusiastic in his delivery. Our first stop this morning was West Lake. West Lake is freshwater lake located in the historic part of Hangzhou. You can find numerous temples, pagodas, gardens and artificial islands within the lake. It was made a UNESCO world heritage site in 2011, and was described as having “ influenced garden design” in the rest of China as well as Japan and Korea.  Over the centuries it has been idealized as “fusion between humans and nature”.  This time we went on a boat tour of the lake.
Amazing serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city

Amazing serenity amidst the hustle and bustle of the big city

The beauty of the lake is marred with the ever present air pollution and the visibility was poor.  West Lake is a very popular place both for the locals and tourists and as a result our bus had to park a great distance away.  Brian really had a time and his hip started to give him grief, but he soldiered on and we eventually made our way back to the bus and entered the impossible traffic as we head out of town to the Dragon Well Tea farm.

We have been blessed with above average temperatures and today we hit 25.  Most of us were not prepared for the warm weather ( although not one person complained).  It was a pleasant trip into the hills to see tea being grown and harvested

hand picking the tea

hand picking the tea

.  This area is famous for it’s Longjing tea.  Literal translation of the name is “ Dragon Well Tea” and is a variety of pan fried green tea.  It is mostly produced by hand and is renowned for it’s high quality and earned the “ China Famous Tea” title.  There are many claims of health benefits of Longjing tea including lowering cholesterol, cancer fighting and even weight loss.  Rather than drinking 15 cups of the tea daily to achieve health benefits, you can buy concentrated tablets. 
pan frying the tea leaves

pan frying the tea leaves

I bought tea and the tablets…so far they haven’t done anything to help the weight loss!  We toured the tea farm, watched how they hand picked the leaves, how they heat the tea leaves ( to stop the fermentation process) and had a short seminar regarding the grading of tea and how to prepare it.  We all were treated to a lovely cup of tea and then were told the resulting leaves were edible, and indeed they were.  While the tea is expensive, once brewed, the leaves can be reused up to five times…I’ve tried it and it is true.  The tea cleans your palette and leaves it sparkling but dry, so you feel the need to drink more tea.  Certainly a bonus for someone who doesn’t get enough fluids a day and may contribute to the bladder and prostate benefits they claim!

We left the tea farm and head for lunch but arrived an hour late due to…the TRAFFIC!  Talk about organized chaos!  After lunch off to the Lingyin Temple. The Lingyin Temple is a premier showcase in the West Lake area and is notable as one of the 10 most famous Buddhist Temples in China and is considered a leading center for research relative to Chinese Buddhist culture

Buddhist Monks at Prayer - a forbidden photo

Buddhist Monks at Prayer – a forbidden photo

.  The temple can be traced back to 317 AD and was given it’s name of “Temple of the Soul’s Retreat” by Huili, an Indian monk.  Over the years it has been subjected to many changes of fortune,  The main building seen today is the result of the restoration carried out in 1974. 

We got off the bus and started our trek towards the Temple.  Brian was still hurting from the morning walk so opted to stay at the start of the path and wait for us to return.  As we start our ascent to the Temple, we come to a place called “Stone Carving at the Peak Flying from Afar.” The peak itself is called “ Peak Flown From Afar”. It was so named by the Indian monk Huili. 

Laughing Buddha - no real resemblance to Brian

Laughing Buddha – no real resemblance to Brian

The peak of limestone ( all surrounding peaks are sandstone) was so different he felt it must have flown from his native home of India…hence.. the given name of Peak Flown from Afar.  The caves of this area shelter about 330 stone statues dating from the 10th to 14th centuries.  A favorite for many is the “Laughing Buddha.”  Legend has it the Buddha has a large belly because he keeps all the world’s troubles in it.  Now if anyone has seen my hubby, they will know he has a nice round tummy.  While waiting for the group to return, he noticed a local resident watching him and smiling. Eventually the man approached Brian and gave his tummy a rub ( apparently rubbing the laughing Buddha’s tummy will bring good fortune.) Brian laughed but a local guard had issues and appeared to give the man what for!  Likely he was told “don’t mess with the tourists!”

We were pleased to be there during a ceremony and saw many monks at prayer, combined with incense,  bell ringing, chanting and singing. I found out ( after the fact) photos of the monks is prohibited.  Ooops!

Pagoda of Six Harmonies - also used as a lighthouse

Pagoda of Six Harmonies – also used as a lighthouse

Once again we saw the worshippers burning incense and creating smoke communications.  Following our tour of the Temple we walked up to the Pagoda of Six Harmonies. Some of the data I have looked indicates one can climb up the 7 story pagoda but either it was closed or no one mentioned it.  Apparently it provides great views of the Qiantang River where in years gone by, lanterns in the Pagoda’s windows acted as a lighthouse for ships on the river.

During the day our local guide Danny had been telling us of the ancient story of the butterfly lovers.

Impressions of the West Lake performance - appears to be walking on water

Impressions of the West Lake performance – appears to be walking on water

Danny revealed he has been trying for most of the day to arrange enough tickets, for everyone on our tour, to attend the evening show held on the West Lake. The story is loosely based on the “butterfly lovers” tale, which is somewhat similar to Romeo and Juliette in that they are both based on unrequited love.  The production called “ Impressions of the West Lake” was developed by Zhang Yimou who created the opening and closing ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics.  
A feast for the eyes and ears

A feast for the eyes and ears

Twenty of our group of 26 agreed to pay the additional cost to attend this show.  For those of us who did attend, it was an outstanding performance and we hated to see it end.  The show opens with music and then the trees on the surrounding islands are cascaded with a variety of color and spot lights.  Off in a distance comes this creature dressed in white and seemingly is walking on water.  It becomes obvious during the show, there is a very large stage which is about 4 to 6 inches under the surface of the water.  On occasion, from this underwater stage, a large triangle rises up and the edges release a cloud from the dry ice, making a surreal scene.  The show was breathtaking.  You can enjoy the show by logging onto YouTube and typing in “ Impressions of the West Lake.” 
The Butterflies of " Butterfly Lovers"

The Butterflies of ” Butterfly Lovers”

Single photos and words cannot adequately describe this beautiful production.  Though we arrived late back to our hotel room, those of us attending were so glad Danny had been able to get us tickets.  We have to be up and have our suitcases out by 715 for another full day of touring tomorrow.  We go to bed, happy but tired.

I just can’t resist one more photo of our evening West Lake performance.

Beautiful setting and staging

Beautiful setting and staging

Sandra.  Sister to Pat S.  The two couples have travelled a great deal together.  Despite two knee replacements, she kept going up and down stairs, doing the long walks and keeping up with the group. She was also pretty quick to veer off and do some shopping.

Sandra. Sister to Pat S. The two couples have travelled a great deal together. Despite two knee replacements, she kept going up and down stairs, doing the long walks and keeping up with the group. She was also pretty quick to veer off and do some shopping.


Harry - married to Sandra and brother in law to Don & Pat.  Harry has a wicked sense of humor and kept us laughing.

Harry – married to Sandra and brother in law to Don & Pat. Harry has a wicked sense of humor and kept us laughing.

Shanghai–Hangzhou April 11, 2013

We were up early to pack our bags and say good bye to Shanghai.  We had a couple of Shanghai sights

Hollowed Natural boulder - found in the inner garden

Hollowed Natural boulder – found in the inner garden

to see before leaving the city and our first stop was the Yu Yuan Garden in the old part of the city, referred to as the China town of Shanghai.
Chinese gardens - more about structure, rocks, water and less about plants. Calming none the less

Chinese gardens – more about structure, rocks, water and less about plants. Calming none the less

This is an excellent model of classical Chines gardening architecture which I find place more value on hard scaping ( rocks, buildings, water features) than on plants. Built in 1559 as a private garden for Pan Yunduan, it covers more than two hectares and features – Big Rockery, Naturally Hollowed Jade boulder, Hall of Emerald Touch of Spring, Opera stage and an Inner Garden.

Since the 18th century, the garden has been a marketplace and a social center where local residents gather, shop and practice qi gong in the evening.

Outer courtyard of the Yu Yuan Garden - the Tea House

Outer courtyard of the Yu Yuan Garden – the Tea House

The garden is a piece of Shanghai’s past and is one of the few old sights left in the city. To get to the garden itself you must wind your way through the Yu Gardens bazaar.  This was to be our guide’s first introduction to the shoppers in our group who wanted to stop to shop instead of viewing the sights. By the time we left China, several in our group had to buy an extra suitcase to bring home all their goodies.

The winding walkways and corridors bring you over stone bridges and carp filled ponds and through bamboo stands and rock gardens. 

Only the Emperor could decorate his living quarters with a dragon so the architect of this garden got creative with this dragon like head by adding an eagle's talon, a unicorn and a butterfly antennae

Only the Emperor could decorate his living quarters with a dragon so the architect of this garden got creative with this dragon like head by adding an eagle’s talon, a unicorn and a butterfly antennae

The garden was a refreshing treat from the hustle bustle of the marketplace and outer courtyard complete with street hawkers all trying to sell the same roller skate attachments and squishy balls.

We left the garden and travelled to the Silk Carpet Factory where we introduced to the silk worm, their growth and development to the production of the silk cocoon.  Today silk manufacturing is dependent on silk production farms and not the worms found naturally. The worm eats only the leaves of the mulberry tree.  In old days, the silk was so valuable, anyone taking silk worms or mulberry seeds out of China would be put to death! The silkworm isn’t a worm at all, it’s a type of caterpillar.  When the silkworm has had it’s fill, it spins a cocoon from a single strand of silk, two to three thousand feet long!  According to legend a Chinese empress discovered how to harvest silk when a cocoon fell into her tea.  She plucked it from the teacup by the loose end of the silk, then unraveled the whole cocoon. To harvest silk commercially,

soaking the cocoons before unwinding the single strand of silk thread

soaking the cocoons before unwinding the single strand of silk thread

cocoons are first steamed to kill the pupae inside.  Next the cocoon is dunked into hot water to dissolve the sticky coating and binds the silk. We viewed a demonstration of harvesting the cocoon and how they unwind the delicate silk strands and form silk threads. The demonstration included using old methods and tools and I couldn’t help but wonder if a new mechanized system of harvesting isn’t used and this demonstration was just for tourists. I took a peek at the internet and the equipment used today is similar to that seen on our tour and given the amount of human labour required, it may help to explain the cost of silk.

After touring this part of the plant we were taken to the retail area and given lots of time to shop.  Our group had the chance to pull a batt of silk fibre to place onto a square which would eventually become a silk quilt.  I think the said over 2000 batts were required to make a single queen size quilt. 

Group members stretching the silk to make a silk duvet/comforter

Group members stretching the silk to make a silk duvet/comforter

The quilts were not too expensive,however the silk duvet covers we upwards of $300 and beyond.  We also had to opportunity to see women using the silk to make silk carpets.  Again this is all done by hand and a large carpet can take one person a year or more to complete.  They last a long time and are often willed generation to generation and can be a good financial investment. 
Hand weaving a rug

Hand weaving a rug

One lady from New York ordered  a carpet custom made.  By the time it was completed three years later, it was worth well more than she paid for it.

Our next stop – lunch – at a Mongoli style restaurant and as it turned out, my worst meal.  Similar to the Mongoli restaurants here, you grab a plate or bowl and put your raw ingredients in and then take it for cooking.  In this case four cooks and a large round grill did the cooking, and each cook stirred and tossed each dish as it passed around from cook to cook.  The problem with this method is, depending on the people ahead of you, you ended up with some of their choices, mixed in with yours.  I’m pretty sure I got fish sauce and hot sauce in mine, so I ate very little.  One could help themselves to the rice and a dessert table of fruit and cookies, so that pretty much made up my lunch that day.

After lunch we board the bus for a drive to Hangzhou.  Even though we were driving through the “countryside” we never felt we were far away from towns and cities.  From time to time we did see single family homes

rural high density housing - often seen rising out of a flat horizon

rural high density housing – often seen rising out of a flat horizon

but more common were high rise complexes in the middle of no where.  It was not uncommon to see  40 to 50 story, high rise apartments, perhaps 20 to 30 clustered together  sudden spring up from the landscape. Our guide explained many industries had moved to the countryside, so we speculated perhaps that is why we suddenly see these out cropping of buildings.  One of our group did a quick count and figured one of these clusters of buildings could easily contain the population of our city of Lethbridge.

After fighting local Hangzhou traffic we made it to the city around 6 p.m. Hangzhou has a long canal running through it, formed by the meeting of the Yellow and Yangtze rivers. 

Grand Canal with China's national bird..the "Crane" in the background

Grand Canal with China’s national bird..the “Crane” in the background

It is referred to as the Grand Canal and is a major waterway for transport from north to south. Hangzhou is famous for it’s West Lake area and is one of China’s most photographed areas. As we had arrived earlier than planned Michael arranged for us to stop at the lake for some additional sightseeing.  It turned out we arrived at sunset and more of us kept snapping until the sun went down.
sunset at West Lake Hangzhou

sunset at West Lake Hangzhou

A short time later we had dinner and then on to our hotel – The Vanwarm Hotel Hangzhou. The room was comfortable however the lighting was poor.  In order to get things from the suitcase I had to use my flashlight. 

West Lake Pagoda at night - reflecting off the water

West Lake Pagoda at night – reflecting off the water

One of the books I read had indicated power supply could be iffy and suggested taking a flashlight.  I didn’t expect to have to use it when all the room lights were on…but it was needed.

Margaret Marie - Maryann's roommate - her great sense of humor and easy going manner made for a fabulous travel mate.

Margaret Marie – Maryann’s roommate – her great sense of humor and easy going manner made for a fabulous travel mate.