In a very last minute decision we decided to take a trip to a nearby city called Hangzhou for the Mid-Autumn festival in September. They had just recently hosted the G20 Summit and the pollution levels still remained tolerably low as a result. Co-workers had warned us it would be busy due to the combined effect of the holiday and G20 having just finished, but we were undeterred. When we booked a hotel a few days before the holiday though, we forgot to check the weather and found out that we were in for a real treat! Yet another typhoon was headed for the eastern coast of China, and Hangzhou was right in the path. Time to break out the rain gear!
We boarded a train at a nearby station in Suzhou and an hour and a half later were near the beautiful West Lake area. Armed with raincoats, umbrellas, and the entirely wrong pair of shoes we set off for a nice stroll along the Bai Causway that bisects the famous West Lake (西湖). It was not long, however, until we felt like this:
We did not let this weather dampen our enthusiasm however, just our shorts, so we trudged along in search of one of the most famous Hangzhou dishes “beggars chicken” otherwise known as jiaohuaji (叫花鸡). From what I understand this dish is prepared by covering the chicken with lotus leaves and then covering it in mud/clay before cooking. The restaurant we ate at seems to have covered the leaf wrapped chicken in saran wrap before applying the mud layer, for which I am appreciative. The chicken itself was delicious and quit moist with a nice flavor to it. If you ever have the chance, you must try it!
After our very late lunch it was time to head back to our hotel and find some dry socks and shoes, and maybe an indoor activity to try for the rest of the evening.
The rain proved to be both a blessing and a curse as the number of Chinese people out enjoying the lake on our first day was quite small compared to the following day when the rain was lighter. These causeways are also quite beautiful with rows of trees and plants lining them all right in the middle of the lake. I can understand why everyone says you must go to West Lake and see the causeways, they are quite unique and serene places for a walk…Unless you’re getting hammered by rain, then you lose some of the ambiance to the sensation of your shorts sticking to your legs. Bummer.
Luckily for us, David’s new favorite hobby also happens to be an indoor activity: getting a massage. Our hotel receptionist who spoke no English was able to direct us to a good massage place about a block and a half away, and I do not say this lightly, but it ended up being the best foot massage I have had in China.
David enjoyed it so much he went there three time and I went there twice in total. If we go back to Hangzhou I will stay in the same hotel so I can be near this massage place!
Our third trip was the most entertaining as the people massaging us liked trying to talk to us with our poor Chinese. We were watching the Paralympics fencing event during our last foot massage, which neither of us had ever seen before, and the Chinese woman competing would get so excited every time she scored that she would let out a frenzied kind of scream. David and I both laughed and declared “他很高兴” (ta hen gaoxing/she is very happy) to which one of our massage people replied “他很疯狂”. We did not know what that one meant so we pulled out our phones to figure it out. It wasn’t really a race but in the end there was only one winner…me! David had made a critical listening error and did not hear the g at the end of “fengkuang” which is surprisingly easy to do. Many times the g at the end of words is pronounced very softly or not at all (depending on the person you talk to), so it can be difficult to make this distinction. In this case however, it turned the sentence from an approximation of “she is very crazy”to “she is very manure basket.” Needless to say we all got a good laugh out of that…
The second day of our trip was much more tolerable as the rain held off for 2/3 of the day. This was good because we had booked ourselves a tour which involved a fair amount of walking around outside. I was very glad we hired someone to drive us around for the day after the first days experience trying to hail a taxi in the rain…it was impossible. All the taxis had all presumably been called to a specific location by Chinese people, which put us at a distinct disadvantage, but I digress. We also happened to find all the Chinese tourists our co-workers had warned us about!
Our first stop was a very famous location where these three stone pagodas are sitting in the lake. It also happens to be the scene on the back of the 1 yuan note. They are sitting on a large island in the middle of the lake that itself has some small pools contained within it. This place is known as 三潭印月or three pools mirroring the moon and it is supposed to be one of the best place to view the moon at night during the mid-autumn festival. We were there at the right time of year, but with the amount of cloud cover, no one would be seeing the moon from this ancient garden.
The last two stops on our tour were to a tea farming village near Hangzhou (Meijiawu) and the national museum of tea. Even though we were outside the best tea picking season (April/May), we had a chance to learn about the tea culture here and how they harvest and make Longjing tea.
After a quick lesson it was time to try our hand at picking. The key is to grab the top three leafs from every stalk on the bush. They are the youngest and make for the best tea apparently.
After picking the leaves they are heated and dried in a metal bowl (seen below). The temperature and amount is controlled and the tea is scraped around the pan by hand until the tea looks something like this:
Overall it was a neat experience to see how this process works and to learn that most of it is still very much done by hand. This explains how some of the prices can be really high.
We had a nice stroll around in the evening to one of the shopping streets and caught some cool glimpses of the lights around the lake. We never did see the moon though…
The third morning we got up early and went for a run along some of the causeways. It started raining on us again part way through, but we were sweaty enough at this point that it made little difference. Overall our trip to Hangzhou turned out quite well despite the rain and we are considering another trip back in the spring when we hope it is a little less rainy!