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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China – Day 5 & 6

Posted by Ted on Jul 24, 2009 in Travel

The lesson of the last couple of days is don’t brush your teeth with tap water when travelling.

On Thursday, we woke, had breakfast, and walked through Puji Temple, the main temple on Putuoshan, behind our hotel. It was beautiful and crowded, and featured a huge gold Buddha, gleaming in the darkness. We then walked the grounds of the Botanical Gardens, killing time until 9a when we could use the business center at the Xelei hotel to review and digitally sign the offer letter on a house back home.

Afterwards, we took a bus up to the northern part of the island, to the cablecar that goes up Mount Putuo. It afforded a stunning view of other islands in the archipelago, as well as an even bigger temple complex than any we’d yet seen under construction. At the top, we enjoyed the cooler temperature and different smells. We walked down a few paths, one ending at a scenic overlook with a small gazebo, complete with two sleepers, escaping the morning sun. Then we took the long way down the south side of the mountain, via a beautiful stone stairway, through a forest of trees, occasionally opening up into vistas across the island and towards Guanyin in the distance. We passed a number of devout Buddhists on their ascent, stopping every few feet to bow in supplication, touching their foreheads to the cool stone steps every time. We stopped at the bottom for lunch, having the best dry sauteed string beans.

Afterwards, we took a bus to Puji Temple and began our long trip back to Hangzhou, via boat, bus, train, and taxi. We arrived back at the West Lake Youth Hostel around 11, feeling like we’d come back home. It’s a lovely hostel, traditional in architecture, set in the woods south of the lake, and staffed by friendly kids and an exuberant puppy.

Yesterday morning is when the painful lesson was learned, as I woke up to the classic travelers’ sickness. Thankfully, with the help of some Cipro, the worst was over in a few hours.

Taking the rest of the day relatively easy, we went to the Seal Engravers Society, and Liz picked out a chop to be made for her. While we waited, we had some tea at the nearby Sunrise Pavilion, overlooking the lake and the green hills beyond, sprinkled with classic Chinese architecture. With chop in hand, we then headed to the Museum of Traditional Chinese Medicine, where Liz got to see pictures of some of the major contributors to the art over thousands of years.

Conveniently, we were also near Qinghefang, a pedestrian street filled with medicine and curio shops, and a small alley of food vendors where we picked up some pineapple fried rice, and had a lovely conversation with a Chinese woman from Belgium, traveling with her mother and aunt. Afterwards, we continued our walk, but soon became weary of seeing the same stuff for sale, and caught a cab back to our hostel.

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China – Day 3

Posted by Ted on Jul 21, 2009 in Travel

The paths one takes on a pilgrimage are often difficult. Plans fail, expected roads are found to be blocked, and tricksters mislead you. This has always been, and must be so. A pilgrimage is supposed to be out of the ordinary. They are supposed to be hard. It is, in part, overcoming the obstacles to finally reach the spiritual destination which provides a sense of accomplishment. If it were easy, one might feel that they cheated, that they did not truly deserve the reward.

Today was such a journey. We left our hostel after breakfast, having checked the train times to Ningbo online. Of course, we discovered that our information had led us to the wrong train station only after there was no way we could get a cab to the Hangzhou East station in time. Two hours were lost waiting for the next train.

The ride through the countryside was lovely, past verdant rolling hills, farms, and small towns. Being the only white people in our car, we were a source of fascination for the old man and young teen sitting across from us. Hungry, we took advantage of a passing food cart and enjoyed the best ramen noodles that either of us have ever had.

We arrived in Ningbo worried about making the last ferry to the island, being stuck within reach of our destination. Somewhat lost and stressed, we were saved. As luck, divine intervention, or simple business opportunity would have it, we were approached by a kind gentleman who simply said “Putuoshan?”. Clearly enough non-asian pilgrims come through Ningbo for just such a need. For 300 yuan, he escorted us into a cab and to the ferry terminal, purchasing our tickets for us. He made a good 100 yuan off of us, and it was well worth it.

Finally on our guaranteed way, we settled into our bus ride to the fast ferry dock and onto a packed ferry to Putuoshan. We watched the sun set over the Zhoushan archipelago of lush green islands, the waterways filled with Chinese tankers. We passed by container cranes, similar to the familiar ones in Oakland, but red and perhaps even more of them. While ours at home mostly unload, these surely do more loading, spreading ‘Made in China’ goods throughout the world.

We finally arrived at Putuoshan under a clouded sky, and were assailed by hawkers of lodging. After giving in to one of them, we were taken to a nearby hotel where we were lead down decrepit, smoke filled halls to a musty room with 3 single beds and then to a better room at a higher price. My gut said to leave, so we took our money and went back to the dock to try our luck again. We found a similarly priced option, in a nicer location, with a more straightforward management. We enjoyed a dinner on the outside patio of crab that we’d picked out ourselves, fried rice, and the most amazing, yet simple, Chinese cabbage and mushrooms.

Already, we feel that we have achieved our goal. Even if the morning weather obscures the eclipse, we are on a beautiful island in the East China sea, and that is reward enough.

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