On Hangzhou's Golden Pond

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October 3rd 2019
Published: October 3rd 2019
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Days 65 to 69 of 80

Hangzhou - what an utterly, lovely, delightful place that no one outside of China will have heard of..... possibly.

In fact it was on the world stage in 2016 when it hosted that year's G20 Summit of world leaders.

More locally, Hangzhou has been designated 'the happiest city in China' for the past 12 years. It shows. There seems to be some feel of joyous infection around in this place, though that might be because of the lead in to the 70th Anniversary celebrations.

Hangzhou, population 9-10m, is built to the east, mostly, of West Lake, one of China's most scenic and most trip-visited spots. The other three sides are backed by small hills/mountains giving picture perfect vistas all around its circumference. It is a gentle, flat, 15 km amble around its shoreline, made easy by wide pathways, tree lined so you can shade from the sun, and regular spots for eats and drinks. And, if the walk is too much for you, electric 8 seater golf buggies whizz past almost every minute, clockwise - 20Y for a quadrant, 80Y full circle - though we didnt succumb.

The lake's origins are in natural formation as a lagoon adjoining the Qiantang River, but was dredged in the 8th C. Its two causeways, up the West edge and below the NE corner, were built in the 11th and 9th C respectively. Over the centuries it has been substantially managed into its present form. Although, as said, 15 km around, it is only 8 feet deep average (9 feet at its deepest). And, as a lake, it is covered with boats, though almost all are public pleasure boats. Barely a handful of anything that looked 'private'. But then it doesn't connect by boat-sized waterway to anything navigatable.

As we stood lakeside on the first evening (from 4) Pip said "Just like Windermere. Now, where do we get a cream tea?". This first evening was the Sunday at the beginning of Golden Week, which, as we have said, is reputable for being 'manic'. But the holiday isn't until Tuesday and we don't think it substantially 'bleeds' into the unjoined weekend.

Monday we started with Hefang Street, old and lined with traditional shop fronts. There are several traditional Chinese medicine shops, and they are fascinating places. They always have a 'western and patent medicines' section but space is mostly given over to drawer after drawer, tray after tray of unidentifiable, mostly vegetable matter we reckon. They also around here seem to make a big thing of those elephant ear type of mushrooms that you see growing from tree trunks.

Even the dispensing is a curious mixture. We watched as a couple of white coated assistants dispensed a mixture of ingredients amongst two rows of metal trays. Some items were being counted out per tray. Some had been weighed on a flat top electronic scales. But some were being weighed by a hand held balance-arm scale.

Towards the end of the street we chanced upon a Hangzhou Drum Tower and an un-named, closed Pagoda. And an art installation, '9 walls of Hangzhou'. Oh, and this street is known for its exceptionally stinky tofu. It was truly foul at that end.

Armed with some loose-packaged sweets, something like a light, not over-sweet nougat, of various flavours including Durian! we headed lake side. Our eventual target for early evening was the Enduring Memories of Hangzhou show in the top NW corner of the lake, a little over half way around.

Part way we had ourselves a Dongpo Pork Pancake for a snack. A ball of pizza style dough has a wadge of pork and herbs sealed inside, rolled out and then cooked on the wall of a tandoori style oven. Delicious - and you should have seen the look on the serving lady's face when the next day we returned to have one each.

On the southern edge of the lake is Leifeng Pagoda, 1st built 977 AD, that building is mostly long gone. There were still some ruins up to the early 20th C and bricks were regularly taken - ground down, it was believed that they would help you conceive boys, repel illness, prevent miscarriages and make silkworms thrive, but that seems to be to many unconnected bases. In 1924 the remaining structure collapsed.

A decision to rebuild was made in 1999 and so the current structure was erected, right above but protecting the remaining original stump. Although it looks authentic enough this is a modern day rendering of a 'traditional' Pagoda. 1400 tonnes of steel, 200 tonnes of copper, 2 elevators - and an access escalator to boot, great in the heat - air con, TV, sound, and excellent displays on each floor.

Continuing around we sidetracked into 'Viewing Fish at Flower Pond*.

In the 1600s West Lake was such a highly thought of place in China that poems and sayings were written about it. This led to the establishment of 10 Views of West Lake. In addition to 'Fish Viewing...' there are also...

Evening View at Namping Lake
Leifeng Pagoda in Evening Glow*
Twin Peaks Piercing The Clouds
Three Pools Mirroring the Moon*
Orioles Singing in the Willows*
Lingering Snow on the Broken Bridge
Autumn Moon Over the Calm Lake
Breeze Ruffled Lotus at Winding Garden*
Su Causeway in the Morning of Spring

Some are somewhat seasonal but we will have 'done' those marked * by the time we leave Hangzhou.

'Fish Viewing. ..' was a small set of separated lakes off to one side of West Lake but they weren't in the greatest condition. Beyond was the Su Causeway with our show somewhere at the end of there, about 3 km away. This end of the Lake was favoured by fishermen, each of which appeared to have three rods active. But, given the cool boxes, and watching one angler emptying his catch net into the box, we doubt many fish are returned to the Lake, but are rather destined for the pot (with/in vinegar, which is the local delicacy).

The evening show, Enduring Memories of Hangzhou was put together by the same team as our show at Yangshuo ie the same as for Beijing 2008 Olympics. It was pretty spectacular. Using a large lagoon as a stage, most of the performance is on platforms submerged an inch or so under the water surface. Swan Lake performed on water anyone? Rather than a continuous story it was a series of vignettes and acts - pianist, violinist, singer duet, dance routines. So, China's Got Talent on Water.

We walked back, clockwise, around the remaining lakeside segment. Given the lake is 15 km around, plus from/to hotel, morning street walk, plus other side detours, we're taking that as a 20 km day. 😊

Tuesday, was October 1st, 70th Anniversary day.

Our first call was to have been the National Silk Museum. However, walking there, slightly inland of the Southern lake edge, we chanced upon the West Lake Visitor Centre, a grand, spacious, modern centre somewhat misplaced in relation to and overlooked by most visitors to Hangzhou. This is supposedly Hangzhou's busiest day but the Visitor Centre was practically empty. Such a shame. This was very well done, with West Lake in the context of history, folklore, economics, the arts..... well worth the visit.

We eventually made it to the Silk Museum around 11.15, and headed immediately to its cafe for some refreshment. Just as we had taken delivery of our coffee and cake we were aware that on an upper balcony a large tv was showing the parade in Tiananmen Square. We asked, and were able to sit in what was probably a staff area, watching for a hour or so.

You think the Beijing Olympics Opening Ceremony was efficiently and grandly staged and managed? Piffle..... this parade, military and civilian, took it to a whole new level. Late that evening we watched a fair whack of the evening's festivities plus a re-run of the 50 mins or so of the military parade which we had missed earlier. Gawd knows of the thousands of man hours that must have gone into rehearsing and perfecting this, probably on an airfield somewhere.

The National Silk Museum, the largest silk museum in the world, was very well done. Too well in fact. If we had read all the English we wouldn't have got out on Tuesday.

Yet again you have to admire the inventiveness and ingenuity of the Chinese. The museum showed evidence of sericulture - the silk making process from silkworm eggs through to finished cloth - from 5000 years ago ie Neolithic period in Western history terms! Lots of examples of silk through the centuries along with tools, looms etc - programable looms from 100 BC anyone? A tomb dated to then was found to contain 4 1/4 size scale models of this technology.

Of course the silk trade had a major influence on the development of human, western civilisation and trade through the Silk Road, the eastern end of which is regarded as being here in Hangzhou.

The Sericulture and Silk Craftsmanship of China was added onto UNESCO's list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, in 2009.

The museum finished with more contemporary fashions, some quite elegant, some quite wacky 😊.

Passing by, and having another couple of the Dongpo Pork Pancakes, the serving lady recognised us and seemed quite joyed at our return.

Boat over to Three Pools Mirroring the Moon - an island within a lake within an island within a lake! Just off its shore are 3 stone pagodas which are featured on the back of a 1 Yuan banknote. We tried lining them up for a photo shoot but think there is a bit of artistic licence in the drawing between them and the background.

As we were holding the note in front of us for a photo, an elderly gentleman approached. He stared at the money, and the scene with incredulity. He took the note from Paul's hand, and looked at it as if it wasn't real. So he pulled one out of his own wallet, and the look on his face when he realised..... astounded. Think it made his day.

A number of family and selfie shots were also taken of us. Paul's beard, after its cut in Shanghai is more noticeable again, and is drawing, possibly, the looks.

An overriding memory of Three Pools..... though, will be the incessant shriek of cheap bird / clanger whistles. On sale and demonstrated at every sales outlet it seemed that every child had been bought one. What a racket!! We weren't sure where we wanted to shove them up most - child or parent!

Boat back to the further, closest to hotel, reach of the shore was pleasant. We have been lucky. The weather forecasts - typhoon, inches of rain, winds into the 60s kph - have turned out to be inaccurate.

Wednesday we went to the Grand Canal, quite a trip. No, not Venice!!

The Chinese Grand Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is the world's oldest and longest 'canal' stretching 1800 km from north of Beijing down here to Hangzhou. Originally set up for grain transport it provided a major North-South route across China, and joined Yangtze, Yellow and Qiantang rivers which gave the pre-existing West-East routes.

Its sectional origins are back to 500 BC through to 500 AD and it was joined as a continuous route in the 8-900s. The highest elevation is only 140 feet but they had Pound Locks, ie the standard 2 gate with a pool in between as seen on UK canals, that predate European examples by more than 400 years!

What have we said before about the Chinese being devilishly clever? !

Having walked to the nearest point of the canal we then took water bus, 3 yuan, the 7km or so to Gongchen Bridge. First built 1631 - Ming - 'Gong' means 'respectful greeting' and 'Chen' means 'imperial residential court'. At 92m long and 16m high it is impressive, and the hub for a touristy area based around the old buildings to the west of the bridge.

A bit museum central around here. On one side was the Grand Canal Museum, which we spent some time in. Very wordy, but good English. Over the bridge was also the Fan Museum - which also had an hour of our time, much less english though, but then there is only so much one needs to know about fans. Also next door were the Umbrella Museum, and the Knives, Scissors and Swords Museum, which we declined.

Making our way back to lakeside we grabbed a spot for the first of that evening's showing of the Dancing Water Fountains. A very well coordinated show, set to music / Opera - 'Just One Cornetto' in Chinese anyone? - the main regret was it was only 10 minutes. And afterwards? Bedlam. There are 3 rows of plastic seats in the prime, lake edge viewing space, roped together. People were practically leaping over each other to grab a vacated seat for the 2nd show.

And the exiting crowd control was as if shepherding a departing Pyramid Stage headliner crowd, channeled one-way through the brand new, MASSIVE, shopping complex which is just back from the lake edge.

And that was it for Hangzhou. But it was too short. This was definitely a place where 3 or 4 days more would have been welcome. What we could have also done was
- try to see the Hangzhou Qiantang River Tidal Bore, the world's largest. We think we missed it by 3 days. We have seen it described as '50m high', which is not a 'bore', that's a tsunami! But a description at 9m is probably more accurate. We looked at Web photos. This bore is dangerous and does kill unsuspecting spectators
- river frontage LED light show. Established for the G20, this building-front show is more than a rival, reputedly better than, the Shanghai lights
- several temples including one described as 'the richest in China', and one 'containing' several hundred Buddhas carved into the surrounding cliffs.

Today, Thursday, we are on a Bullet Train, travelling at 300 kph 1100 km west-SW to Shaoguan for a couple of days. It's a bit disconcerting though to watch the bloke just 2 rows in front dismembering a cooked crab limb by limb and dunking into a dipping sauce. Glad we are not sat next to him, nor next to the guy playing war games, without headphones, on his tablet.

Arriving at Shaoguan surely Paul has made some kind of mistake. We are in a proper hotel for a change. A new build Holiday Inn, with quad height atrium, 3 restaurants, tea room serving triple tier afternoon tea, clean carpets with a deep pile, english channels on TV and some staff who speak English. Can we stay for the final 10 days? 😊

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