China – Day 7

Posted by Ted on Jul 25, 2009 in Travel

Today’s adventures took us first to Long Jing, the Dragon Well tea village. Set into the lush hills south of West Lake, the tea produced in this small town is world famous for its smooth, sweet taste. We took the Y3 bus from in front of the hostel up a winding road, over a pass, and down into a valley. After we got off and as we were reviewing a posted map of the area, a short old woman with green eyes and a kind smile asked if we wanted some tea. We followed her through the village, framed by terraced hillsides of waist-high tea plants. Outside of her modest home were her own rows of tea, inhabited by a flock of chickens. She set up a table and two chairs, and brought out three sacks of tea leaves, inviting us to smell each one. She then produced three cups and a carafe of hot water, putting some leaves into each cup, filling them with water, telling us simply; “ee”, “er”, and “san” – 1, 2, 3. We then tasted and retasted all three, gazing at the hills from which they came. It turned out that for a change, we preferred the cheaper of the three, and bought some to take home. We then left and walked back through town, stopping at a restaurant for lunch, which happened to be playing such hits as Careless Whisper, Hotel California, and The Sound of Silence.

We took the Y3 back to the hostel and rested a while before renting a couple of bikes to ride around West Lake. As we turned onto the Su causeway, we stopped, locked our bikes together, and hired a small paddle boat to take us around the lake. It was a relaxing break from the throng of pedestrians, and we enjoyed the cool breeze. We passed other small and larger boats, the passengers of some waving at the ‘bai ren’, something we were still getting used to. To the east, Downtown Hangzhou with its skyscrapers looked like a ghost city in the afternoon haze.

Once back at shore, we left our bikes tethered to each other and sat beside the causeway path and were watched ourselves as much as we people watched others. One young man even approached us and asked if he could have a picture with us. After a little while, we joined the flow of walkers, and enjoyed the beauty of West Lake as it is meant to be. We watched thousands of dragon flies looking like helicopters flying in formation, and we lost ourselves in the maze of a peony garden.

Finally the sun was setting and it was time we were on our way. We returned the bikes to the hostel, and as we stood on Nanjing Lu waiting for a cab, we were approached by a gentleman on a three-wheeled scooter who offered to give us a ride to the train station. It was the most terrific ride through traffic. We arrived much faster than we ever would have in a cab. Red lights were run with abandon, and we negotiated cars and pedestrians within an inch of clearance. It was well worth paying double the cost of a taxi for the sheer reckless joy of being such an exposed part of the crazy Chinese traffic mentality where lights and lanes are merely suggestions.

Now we are on the fast train to Shanghai, starting our long trip home, as we leave on our return flight tomorrow at noon. It has been an amazing vacation, despite the fact that we completely missed our intended goal of seeing the eclipse of the century. Many lessons were learned, many people were met, and we saw the barest glimpse of this huge country, steeped in history, yet changing at a breakneck pace. We look forward to returning in a few years and exploring more of this complex and beautiful land.

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An adventurer at heart, Ted Beatie is at his happiest when he’s off the beaten path. His deepest passion is sharing the world through photography and writing, found at The Pocket Explorer. He is also managing editor for Rolf Potts' Vagabonding, where he curates a Case Study series. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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