Hangzhou West Lake and Temple

Day 2 of our mini trip to Hangzhou started for me with a spot of Taiji by the lake. It was wonderful to be outside in the fresh air. Doing Taiji in natural surroundings can be very beneficial as you can absorb energy particularly from trees or water. I was certainly buzzing by the time I got back to the hotel (I was going to need that extra energy later on). It was actually quite busy by the lake with joggers walkers etc but I ignored them all. I did find it funny though when I spotted one Chinese lady videoing me! Especially as tai chi in the park is a very common sight here. Maybe they just don’t get many foreigners doing it!

Photo courtesy of Lisa our tour guide who was out for an early morning walk.

We were staying at the Shang-ri la hotel which interestingly had accommodated some of the G20 heads of state back in 2016 including Angela Merkle, Francois Holland, Theresa May and Recep Erdogan. We had a drink in the bar which Vladimir Putin had patronized. Who knows we could even have sat in the same seats!

After a delicious breakfast of noodles and dumplings (not at the hotel) we crossed the West Lake. This lake is one of the largest in a city in China and has over 300 bridges. This was a particularly beautiful one.

The weather was overcast and at times a little chilly but that didn’t deter us.

In the middle of the lake was a large island. And in the middle of the island was another lake. It is called the lake in a lake!

Around this lake were several pagodas including this one which was unusual because it has three corners on the roof instead of four. It was designed to represent a ship pointing out to the water. On the top is a white crane which symbolizes longevity.

Note also the zigzag bridge across the water leading up to the pagoda. This is because ghosts can only move in a straight line do they can’t follow you as you go across the water.

The lake itself is segmented into four so you can walk around or across it. The flowers we saw on the island were just starting to bloom.

This was a magnificent display of lupins around some shaped floral art

In the water we saw these rocks. They are very popular in traditional Chinese gardens.

Called Scholars Rocks, they are limestone which has been eroded by wind and water to form delicate and aesthetically pleasing shapes. Representing wealth and status, they symbolize the impermanence of life and how we are all shaped by nature and our environment. The holes in the rocks are to remind you that you can always see things from lots of different perspectives.

It was very pleasant to stroll in the greenery after being in an urban sprawl for so long.

In one part of the lake are three structures. They each have three holes so on a certain night during the mid autumn moon festival you can see three moons reflected in the water, thats 9 shimmering moons on the lake plus one in the sky and they say that we each have a moon in our hearts. So 11 moons in total. This is quite a famous landmark and features on the 1 yuan note (not that cash is used much here anymore!)

There were lots of interesting buildings on the island with delicate and ornate carvings.

He was enjoying it… honest

Back on the shore we travelled to another park which was famous for the Buddha’s carved in the rocks. There were hundreds of them and each had been commissioned and carved by a family as their shrine. Fortunately many survived the cultural revolution although some were defaced.

This laughing Buddha is very popular with locals.

Then it was on to the Taoist Lin Ying temple. Ying means ‘hidden’ and Lin means ‘spirit’. This was quite a large temple complex which had many Buddha halls and featured large incense burners.

I love the details on the rooflines
And the curtain of vivid prayer flags

We finished off with a simple vegetarian lunch in the grounds of the temple. This is supposed to be an auspicious thing to do. it was certainly very tasty and a great setting in which to eat.

Our return journey wasn’t as easy as we had hoped. We missed our train, which shouldn’t have been a problem as our tour guide, Lisa went to swap our tickets for the next one. What should have been a straightforward transaction took her well over an hour, the station manager, a party official and quite a lot of shouting! For some reason they couldn’t get Kevin’s passport to work with their system, which was a bit ridiculous as we had bought the original ticket and had used the passport to travel in the day before. Officialdom in China is not particularly flexible and was a point when Lisa feared that we might have to take a car back to Shanghai!!!

Anyway, all well that ends well and after standing (no seats) by the door in the cold we eventually got inside and were able to get a warm drink. We had missed about 3 trains by then!! We were pretty tired by the time we reached home but glad that we were back safely. We couldn’t have managed without Lisa.

“ For all the tea in China”

After spending the last 7 months and 3 vacations stuck in Shanghai we were resigned to our spring break being the same. But at the 11th hour, literally the Friday afternoon before we finished, we got an email to say that we can travel to other low risk areas in China. Yippee!!!

While lots of my colleagues headed straight to the beach at Sanya (known as the Hawaii of China) we opted for a more cultural experience with a trip on the bullet train to Hangzhou.

Hongqiao Railway station in Shanghai is massive. This was the scene at 8am

Hangzhou is about 4 hours away from Shanghai by normal train but by high speed train it takes just over 1 hour (which is quite incredible when you think about it). We were delighted to be able to get out of the city and into a more rural area. The air quality has been good this week in Shanghai but we have recently had yellow fog and some very nasty pollution days.

Hangzhou is a Tier 2 city in China and has a population of 10 million, so when I say go out to the countryside, it’s all relative. Our destination was actually the west lake area which is a scenic spot and from there to the tea plantations. This was a drive of approx an hour from the train station.

Tea is big business in China and in fact the UK originally got all its tea from here. The tea in Hangzhou though, is a specialty green tea and it is so highly prized that most of it does not make it outside of Hangzhou.

We began our trip dressing as tea pickers with traditional hats (needed against the sun) and baskets which were surprisingly comfortable to wear.

The type of tea grown here is called Long Jing which means ‘Dragon well’ and it is an exclusive tea. One of the reasons for that is that it is picked only once a year and the picking season lasts only about 6 weeks. So if it rains the workers have to carry on picking because there is not a moment to lose. They are given these waterproofs though. Fortunately, although overcast, it didn’t rain during our visit.

We were given access to the tea terraces belonging to one family and we walked up narrow paths between the tea bushes to get some simply stunning views

It was wonderful to be outside in the fresh fragrant air surrounded by tea.

The ladies who do the picking get paid approx £20 per day and they pick from 6-6. Once up on the terraces they don’t leave, food is brought out to them. But most of these people do this job for fun rather than as their living. They do it to help out. It’s a real labour of love.

The leaves that they pick are the young tender shoots and not the darker tougher leaves. Like the pale green leaf below.

There are tea plantations all over but the most prized and better quality tea is grown high up. This is because the higher up you go the colder it is and the tea grows more slowly which gives it a better flavor.

It would take all day to pick a full basket (if that)

The leaves are then taken down to the village to be dried and roasted. Mostly this is done in a machine but the more expensive varieties are roasted by hand which is a highly skilled process. You need to take out a small mortgage to buy some of that.

Drying racks

Interestingly, we saw several tombs dotted around the terraces. Normally Chinese do not go near graves but these tombs are strategically placed among the tea so that the spirits of their ancestors can guard the terraces (& the family business)

And then down to lunch where we had wonderful exotic dishes such as this one which is pork ribs in tea!!! I would never have thought of combining those two ingredients!

I am not a huge fan of green tea as I find the taste can sometimes be a bit bitter but this was very different. You can see here that all the shoots have sunk to the bottom which is a sign of good quality. But more than that, the stalks are floating upwards and the leaves downwards. I have never known tea to do that before!!! It actually tasted very smooth and refreshing. I was pleasantly surprised.

If you ever get the chance I would highly recommend this trip.