After spending five days with family in Changchun, we went to Hangzhou, making a quick stop in Shanghai. We were supposed to meet our close friend Mary in Shanghai and do the rest of the sightseeing together, but the bird flu in southern China, including the cities we planned to visit, made her stay put in Chicago.
Restaurants in Shanghai were packed—no sign of concern for bird flu, though a couple of American expatriates we met for dinner told us restaurants were not serving chicken at the moment. Brian and his wife Pat treated us to a wonderful meal at Ye Shanghai in Xintiandi. Lisa missed her flight connection in Beijing—not changing her watch to local time and rushing to the boarding gate 15 minutes too late. She missed dinner and more importantly, talking to Brian and Pat about their experience in China.
We stayed at the Marriott Hotel in city center and took the fast train to Hangzhou the following morning. I was pleasantly surprised that it only took us only an hour to reach Hangzhou.
Xiao Qiu, our tour guide, was waiting for us at the train station with a driver and mini van. The perfect temperature of 70 degrees and humility made a drastic contrast to the dry and dusty air in Changchun, and the lustrous green in the city made it immediately appealing. Our driver proudly told us that Hangzhou is one of the most beautiful cities in China, with ample variety of trees along the streets. We checked into the J.W. Marriott Hotel, and Xiao Qiu took us to a signature restaurant. Despite the local specialty of chicken and duck, we carefully avoided all poultry, but did try the famous Dong Po Pork—fat but delicious!
We spent the afternoon walking along West Lake and took a boat ride to observe the sceneries along the shore. I’ve learned about the beauty of West Lake from poetry since I was a child and was expecting to see an impressive sight. But nothing prepared me to the vastness of the lake, and the grand scale of the well maintained gardens surrounding it. Different colors of flowers and tree leaves added more pleasure to the eye, and the lustrous spring greens were intoxicating. We walked the legendary bridges and stopped by various statues, including that of Qiu Jin, the first feminist in China.
In the following two days, Xiao Qiu took us to Lingyin Temple, Tiger-dug Spring (the best pairing with Longjin Tea, Hangzhou’s specialty), Yue Fei Monument, and the Wetland where we discovered a small museum for the studies of the classic vernacular novel Dream of the Red Chamber. I didn’t know the original story took place in this area and the comparison of real life characters with those in the novel was eye-opening. We also took a boat ride on the Grand Canal, the longest in the world (From Beijing to Hangzhou, over 1,100 miles) and watched the busy traffic of cargo barges moving back and forth along the Canal, as they did for more than a thousand years.
We couldn’t leave Hangzhou without taking another long walk by the West Lake.
Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning feature length documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.