Visited June 19-20, 2010.
- Six Harmonies Pagoda (June 19)
- Tea Museum at Meijiawu Village (June 19)
- West Lake (June 20)
- Lingyin (Heart of the Soul’s Retreat) Temple (June 20)
- Romance of Song Dynasty Show (June 20)
Our visit to Hangzhou was delayed, because our ride was not at the airport when we arrived in Shanghai from Huangshan; as a result, we hurriedly called a taxi to go to our hotel in Shanghai at 1 AM and emailed our tour organizer of the incident. The following morning a guide and driver picked us up and took us to the Hongqiao train station, where we took the train to Hangzhou. The train ride from Shanghai to Hangzhou is approximately 45 minutes to one hour. The cost is ¥64 (~ $10 USD) for a one-way trip.
We arrived past lunchtime and informed our local guide, Caroline, that we did not have lunch yet. A quick stop at a local noodle place (as recommended by our driver) satisfied our roaring stomachs with generous portions of beef and duck meat noodle soups. Our tour began with Caroline testing my father’s knowledge of the Chinese classics and poems. The reason is that Hangzhou was a capital of the Song dynasty (960-1279)—a period during which the Chinese culture flourished from scientific discoveries to literature and the arts. The interest in Buddhism and Taoism peaked during this period.
The Six Harmonies Pagoda is a prominent example of Buddhist influence. Not only was this a place of worship but a popular place for relaxation and meditation. The park nearby the pagoda contains replicas of the world’s most famous pagodas.
Next, we visited the Tea Museum at Meijiawu Village, where we were educated on the process for making tea. Tea leaves are picked and put into a heated bowl, where the leaves are spun around by hand and processed a few times. See a video tour of the museum courtesy of YouTube user, skeels29, here.
A representative from the tea village gave us samples of the famous Dragon Well Green Tea/Longjing Tea (龙井茶), informed us of the benefits of tea, and showed us how to properly serve, prepare, taste, and choose tea. Choosing tea is important because when picked during different seasons, the tea tastes and smells different; the stronger the smell and the greener the leaves, the better the tea. Early spring is the best time to pick tea. During the summer, tea leaves are picked and put into tea bags—tea bags are considered the worst tea, because there is little smell and flavor. Tea from Hangzhou is a great gift but is quite expensive. We purchased the emperor’s blend and spring-time blend of Dragon Well Green Tea ¥500 (~$82 USD).
The following day we went to the famous landscape of Hangzhou: West Lake (西湖). The scenery is very much a poetic scene of lotuses, even in the rain. Caroline told us the tragic love story of the Lady White Snake.
In living for a thousand years, Lady White Snake attains human form through meditation and self-discipline. One day, she visits West Lake, where she falls in love with a young man and becomes his wife. When a Buddhist abbot realizes what she is, she must fight for her marriage and freedom. The curved bridges overlooking the lake were often meeting places for lovers. It was upon such bridge it is said that Lady White Snake met her love.
There are ten well-known scenic areas of West Lake, together called the “Ten Scenes of Xī Hú” (10 Scenic Spots in Xī Hú 西湖十景):
- Dawn on the Su Causeway in Spring (蘇堤春曉)
- Curved Yard and Lotus Pool in Summer (曲院風荷)
- Moon over the Peaceful Lake in Autumn (平湖秋月)
- Remnant Snow on the Bridge in Winter (斷橋殘雪)
- Leifeng Pagoda in the Sunset (雷峰夕照)
- Two Peaks Piercing the Clouds (雙峰插雲)
- Orioles Singing in the Willows (柳浪聞鶯)
- Fish Viewing at the Flower Pond (花港觀魚)
- Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon (三潭印月)
- Evening Bell Ringing at the Nanping Hill (南屏晚鐘)
— Via Wikipedia
We walked along the promenade towards most of these scenic areas. Then, we took a river boat cruise and passed by the islands in the center of the lake. Due to the rain, there was a lot of mist that obscured most of the view. I do know that one of the islands we passed is called Sunset Hill, the location of the Leifeng Pagoda, where the Lady White Snake was sealed. When we reached the other side of the lake, we proceeded to the nearby Lingyin (Heart of the Soul’s Retreat) Temple.
Lingyin Temple, located northwest of the lake, is currently an active Buddhist temple and one of the largest temples in the surrounding Wulin Mountains. There are five halls in total. At the entrance is the Hall of the Heavenly Kings, where the four statues of the kings: North, South, East, and West greet visitors. Next is the Great Hall of the Grand Sage, which houses the largest wooden Buddhist statue of Shakyamuni, covered in gold leaf. Other halls are the Hall of the Medicine Buddha, Huayan Hall, and Hall of the Five Hundred Arhats. The latter houses the aforementioned five hundred as larger than life bronze statues that lead to a canopy housing the four bodhisattvas.
Nearby the temple is the scenic Feilai Feng (Flying Peak from Afar)—the craggy face of the limestone mountain houses caves and grottos with 330 Buddha statues from the 10th to 14th centuries and other carvings. Legend has it that Hui Li, an Indian monk, saw this peak and found it similar to the shape of the peaks in India. He wondered why the peak from India flew and settled in Hangzhou—some say this is a “demonstration of the omnipotence of Buddhist law.”1 Hence, the peak is named due to this legend. Also, in one of the grottos, there is a rock ledge where Daoji, a Buddhist monk who attained folk hero status for his eccentric behavior but compassion to the common people, supposedly slept. Touching the ledge is said to bring longevity and good health.
That night we went to the Romance of the Song Dynasty show—an acrobatic and cultural show that highlighted the important characteristics of the Song: poetry (scholars), tea production, Buddhism, traditional music, military conquests (hero Yue Fei), myths, and history. Combining visuals, singing, acrobatics, and dancing, the show was entertaining and helped us visualize the history and lifestyle of the Song. This is a show that should not be missed.
Zhejiang (Zhe cai) cuisine, one of eight famous culinary styles in China, is known for its freshness and tender dishes with a mellow fragrance. The Hangzhou specialties are the most well-known. The signature specialties we tried are Dongpo rou (Dongpo pork) and Xi Hu cu yu (West Lake fish in vinegar). The food is very tender, crispy, and tasteful but not salty and soggy.
I was impressed by the Dongpo rou. It takes four hours of braising, sautéing, and steaming to prepare. The dark, syrupy sauce that accompanies the pork contains soy sauce, dark soy sauce, Shaoxing wine (Chinese cooking wine), ginger, scallions, and rock sugar. The original recipe for the pork is found here. For a commentary by one who has tried it, see this post.
Next time when we go back to Hangzhou, we would try the Jiaohua ji (Beggar’s Chicken). It is said that Beggar’s Chicken was invented by a Hangzhou thief, who covered the stolen bird in clay and baked it in the ground.2
1Wikipedia. (2011). Lingyin Temple. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lingyin_Temple&oldid=438026912
2It sounds messy but the meat is supposedly flavorful and tasty. Source: Cultural China. (2010, July 2). Zhejiang Cuisine. Retrieved from http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com/en/133Kaleidoscope2806.html
It would be worthwhile to return to Hangzhou during a different season, such as spring. The summer rain and humidity provides only one view and atmosphere of the mysterious West Lake; due to the mist in the summer, it was difficult to see the manmade islands at the lake. In the spring, I can imagine the colors from the blossoming trees bringing life to the stone bridges and pavilions in the lake and the lotuses in full bloom. I also regret not being able to see the Impression West Lake show. See the promotional film here.
For more photos of our visit to Hangzhou, see my Picasa album.
Caroline, our local tour guide for her wonderful commentary and thorough organization of our sightseeing plans; affiliated with Dragon Delight Tours
Almost Bourdain. (2010, August 1).
Chinese Style Twice-Cooked Pork Belly (東坡肉) [Weblog]. Retrieved from http://almostbourdain.blogspot.com/2010/08/chinese-style-twice-cooked-pork-belly.html
China Mike. (2011). Hangzhou map 2010-2011. Retrieved from http://www.china-mike.com/china-travel-tips/tourist-maps/hangzhou/
Cultural China. (2010, July 2). Zhejiang Cuisine. Retrieved from http://kaleidoscope.cultural-china.com/en/133Kaleidoscope2806.html
Hangzhou Government. (2009, February 9). West Lake. Retrieved from http://www.hzwestlake.gov.cn/English/introduce/introduce.html
Nommy Nom Nom. (2010, September 3). Dong Po Rou 东坡肉 – Twice-cooked Pork Belly [Weblog]. Retrieved from http://nommynomnom.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/dong-po-rou-%E4%B8%9C%E5%9D%A1%E8%82%89-twice-cooked-pork-belly/
Shepard, Aaron, & Zhang, Song Nan. (2001). Lady White Snake: A Tale From Chinese Opera. Retrieved from http://www.aaronshep.com/stories/062.html
Travel China Guide. (2011). Hangzhou West Lake, Xi Hu, Zhejiang China. Retrieved from http://www.travelchinaguide.com/attraction/zhejiang/hangzhou/west_lake.htm
Wikipedia. (2011). Lingyin Temple. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Lingyin_Temple&oldid=438026912
Wikipedia. (2011). West Lake. Retrieved from http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=West_Lake&oldid=441849214