After six days of hard training, we were able to sleep in a full 5 hours later than usual, which meant getting up at 9 AM. We managed to get our documentary film maker and de facto tour guide Jay (星文 to take us to West Lake. For those of you who haven’t heard of it, West Lake is the most well known attraction in Hangzhou, and has been near the center of activity in the area for millennia. After a 45 minute taxi ride we arrived at a bustling, high end shopping district right next to the busiest Apple store I’ve ever seen. We had a lunch of very spicy noodles, and took a short walk through the shopping mall to get a grasp of Chinese interpretations of western fashion and international cuisine. I think what made the experience so strange was how close they were to looking like western shopping malls, but at the same time they all had a small twist or stylistic choice that didn’t quite fit from my perspective… take a look for yourself and see if you agree.
It was a short walk from the rows of designer clothing stores and upscale dessert shops to West Lake. In the past few decades the entire southern bank has been turned into a giant public park and historical landmark, and serves as the city’s main tourist attraction. Unlike most parks in American cities, this one was packed with people talking, playing games, and relaxing with cups of tea, imagine that!
Unfortunately, my iPhone didn’t do very well at capturing the distant images due to the fog and air quality mixed with overcast skies. However, to the naked eye the low light combined with the tree covered mountains on the far side of the lake to create an amazing visual effect. Through the fog and diffused light through the clouds, all I could see of them for most of the day was dark silhouettes overlapping one another, bearing a striking resemblance to mountain paintings in the traditional Shan Shui style of Chinese classical artwork. There were also some very talented bands playing traditional instruments around the lake, I’ll try to post the videos I took as soon as I get a good enough internet connection…
There is a small island near the side of the lake called Tiandi, accessible via ornate stone bridges from three sides. On the island we took a break to purify our bodies after an evening at a karaoke bar with piping hot tea (sorry Rosamond) and rest my broken foot for a while. You can’t see us behind the trees, but we were behind and to the left of the golden Ox statue pictured here. Tiandi also had everything from coffee shops to an ‘American Style’ brew pub.
I want to give you all fair warning for this next section and let you know that I am a complete history nerd. My favorite attraction by far that we were able to see on the lake was Temple of King Qian. This compound was built during the Northern Song Dynasty (960-1127) as a memorial to Qian Liu, first of the five Qian Kings who used Hangzhou as their capital.
In addition to being a gorgeous example of historical architecture, the Temple of the Qian Kings also had some more recent history about the descendants of the kings, where they lived, and what they have done over the past century. I was frankly more impressed that they managed to keep track of them than what they actually did. I am sure, like many historical sites in China, there were significant restoration efforts made in the late 20th century as international travel and tourism to China became more popular, but regardless, once inside the outer walls, it is easy to get the sense that a procession of Chinese nobility clad in silk robes and wreathed in incense could be right around the next corner. That feeling may be a result of me watching too many kungfu films when I was younger, but I think anyone would agree that this small sanctuary feels a world away from the crowded, busy city streets and lakefront that surround it.
Continuing around the lake, I noticed what a spectacle I had become to passersby. This part of the city had a fairly high concentration of westerners, and I was still getting more quizzical looks than back near the training facility. I’m not sure if it was the blonde hair, the crutch, or just the fact that people had their cameras with them, but I saw more people trying to stealthily take pictures of me, or asking to pose with me here than anywhere else. It wasn’t too bad pretending to be famous for a few hours.
Our wakeup call for Monday was scheduled at 4:00 AM, so after pushing through the crowds for a few hours, we decided to find a taxi and head back to the hotel for some dumplings and an early evening. before leaving the lake side, I looked out to see a large pagoda in the distance, on the other side of a narrow inlet. On another trip I might have tried to push everyone to get there today, but I would rather save it as a reason to come back.