Day7: September 15, 2008
This morning I got up early to eat breakfast and explore the hotel a bit before meeting my guide. The hotel has a nice swimming pool. I'd like to try it, but I didn't bring my trunks.
I went down to eat my breakfast, which was a buffet and Sheila sat down across from me to eat her breakfast. We ate and chatted. That was nice. After breakfast we walked around the hotel before heading out on the day's adventures. We first went to Feilai Peak. It was located next to Linyin Temple. It is a small mountain and is covered with bizarre rock formations. The mountain and rock formations are pock marked with caves. The caves are filled with ancient Buddhist carvings.
The guide told me that one rock ledge was where a crazy Buddhist monk once lived. He did not bathe once in his entire life and it was said that by touching him, a sick person would be instantly healed. Some of the carvings dated back over a thousand years and were very beautiful. The caves twist and wind through the rock formations and the Buddhist carvings were hidden in the nooks and crannies. It was a very beautiful area. After exploring the area we went to the Linyin Temple.
The temple complex was very large. It was filled with ancient relics. There were ancient stone pagodas, beautiful carvings and works of art. The first building housed the four heavenly kings. In the hall are four giant statues of the four heavenly kings who help mortals. They were huge and looked very ferocious. They were wearing armor and each was holding something that he used to protect or instruct humanity. In the middle of the hall was a large statue of the laughing buddha on a magnificent stand. The next hall had a carving of The Buddha.
It is the largest sitting Buddha statue in China. It was carved in the 1950's. Located on the sides of the halls are The Buddha's guardians. Behind the large statue of The Buddha is a huge carving of Guanyin Bodhisattva, the goddess of mercy, and her two followers. The next hall had huge carvings of three Buddhas. There is also a building housing 500 bronze statues of Arhats. It is very interesting in that the building is built in the shape of a swastika. The swastika was a symbol of good long before it was adopted by Hitler in the 1930's. The sutra depository has been turned into a museum displaying the temple's treasures.
The temple's buildings are beautiful and are located on the side of the mountain so they are built on different levels. The area is filled with huge ancient trees and lots of plants really adding to the serene atmosphere. There are large ancient stone pagodas in the temple complex also. After we left the temple, we still had some time to kill because my cruise of West Lake didn't start until 2:00pm. My guide suggested I go to the Flower Harbor Park located next to West Lake. I'm glad she did because it was beautiful.
The park is quite large and has many garden areas and lakes and ponds. There are many pavilions and several old houses located in the areas. It was lovely. We wandered around the area for quite a while before heading to the boat for our cruise around the famous West Lake. At that point it started to rain and sadly the weather was not sunny, but it didn't matter too much because the views were fantastic. There are three islands on the lake and we cruised around all of them. They were very beautiful and each had its own pavilions. One of the most famous sites on the lake is what is known as the Three Pools. They are three small stone pagodas located out in the lake. They are only several feet high and can be seen featured on the reverse of the Chinese one RMB note. We passed several bridges including the famous broken bridge.
I could see several pagodas in the distance. One of them is dedicated to the local city god looks extremely interesting. Sadly I didn't have time to see them. I guess I'll have to check them out next time. After cruising around West Lake we went to the Six Harmonies Pagoda. Originally built in the Northern Song Dynasty, the pagoda has been restored several times throughout its history. It is located in a large park area and has a commanding view of Hangzhou's mother river.
I had fun climbing it and taking photos of the surrounding area. After climbing the pagoda we wandered around the park area. My guide said she would show me a funny bathroom and of course I was intrigued, so we headed there. The bathroom is definitely a unique one. The men's bathroom has a large tree growing right in the middle of it and no roof or door. Behind the bathroom area is a part of the park that has 100 miniature pagodas representing pagodas throughout China. The "miniatures" are 15 to 20 feet high and are beautifully detailed. They are placed on the mountain side and are connected by winding paths located along bamboo groves. It was really beautiful and very cool.
I have visited many pagodas throughout China, but usually you can only see one or two at a single location. Here I could not only see a large number of them, but also compare architectural styles. After visiting the pagoda and surrounding park we went to a local tea street. I had a lot of fun there. The entire street was lined with tea stores. We stopped in about half of them and tried dozens of kinds of teas. I had a blast. Some shops specialized in green tea, while others specialized in Puer or red tea, and some sold all of the accoutrements needed for a full Chinese tea ceremony.
We visited shops until they started to close. By that time we were both getting hungry, so we stopped at a local restaurant and had won tons. They were wonderful. I then went back to my hotel where I showered before writing this. Tomorrow should be amazing! I'm really looking forward to it. Day8: September 16, 2008
Hangzhou / Suzhou
This morning I woke up earlier than my alarm. I think it was because I was so excited. I have been really looking forward to this part of my trip. Today was dedicated to tea! Dragon Well Tea is the most famous of all of China's teas and Hangzhou is famous for its Dragon Well Tea. We first went to see where it was produced and try some. We were taken to the Dragon Well Plantation. When we got there, we wandered around the area looking at the tea bushes covering the hillsides.
We then went into the complex where we sat under a tree while a woman described Dragon Well tea and how to brew it properly. She showed what different quality levels that the plantation produced. My itinerary for the day only has the plantation, and the China National Tea Museum. Since I would have a lot of extra time, and since I also know a lot about the history of Dragon Well Tea, I asked the guide to take me to some different places not on my itinerary. During the Qing Dynasty, Emperor Qianlong took six trips to the south of China, and visited Hangzhou.
According to legend, while he was there he picked some tea leaves himself. He received an urgent message that his mother was very sick, so he stuck the tea leaves in his sleeve and flew back to Beijing to be with her. He had forgotten all about the tea leaves in his sleeve and when he was talking with his mother she asked him what the smell was. He pulled out the leaves and brewed them. He was very impressed with the flavor and had 18 trees planted for tribute tea that would annually be sent to him. I wanted to visit the 18 Imperial Dragon Well Tea Trees which are located in Dragon Well Village nearby to the plantation. I had to pay 10rmb to see them, but I would have gladly paid much more.
There are many reasons for this. First, I love Qing Dynasty history as well as tea history, secondly because the area around the trees has been turned into a beautiful garden area. There are many buildings and paths located on the hillside and there is tea trees planted all around them. The area is very beautiful and a very nice surprise. The area has a tea house and restaurants. There are a number of pavilions located on the hillside where visitors can sit and have a girl in a traditional Chinese outfit perform the Chinese tea ceremony for them. They get all of this while looking over the surrounding landscape. The pavilions and buildings are built in the traditional local architectural style and are very beautiful.
There are also streams and springs in the area. When we finished visiting the area, I asked if we could see the Dragon Well. Dragon Well Tea is named after a well in the village where according to legend a dragon dwelled and ensured that it rained. The well is still there and I wanted to see it. This area was free to visit. The area surrounding the well has many buildings and pavilions in it also. There are meandering paths connecting them, and the area is sheltered by large trees and bamboo groves. It is also a very lovely place.
I was very happy to see the well. It is very deep and is still being fed by a natural spring. The well is surrounded by a small marble fence carved in the shape of clouds. Clouds are where dragons are supposed to traditionally dwell. It dates from the mid Qing Dynasty. We strolled around the area for quite a while. I wanted to get some water from the well. It can't be drank, but I thought it would be neat to have some, so I bought a bottled water in one of the tea houses, drank it and filled it with water from the Dragon Well. I'm not sure what I'll do with it, but it is cool to have. Well, at least I think it is.
After visiting the well we went to the China National Tea Museum. I haven't visited it before and was very excited to do so. It is the only national tea museum in China. It was magnificent, and free. I like free. The area is surrounded by tea trees and is beautifully manicured. There is a stream flowing in front of the museum which is stocked with large koi fish and has a lot of blooming water lilies. When we entered the museum, the first thing we saw was a two storey waterfall in the lobby. It takes up the entire wall and has the Chinese character for tea in the middle of it. The museum begins with tea history starting at the pre-historic age till the mid 20th century. It described tea culture and brewing techniques throughout the centuries.
There were a large number of artifacts on display. The museum was very well set up and had English and Chinese descriptions on everything. The next area of the museum talked about the different types of Chinese tea, where they are produced and how they are produced. There were a lot of tea leaves on display to help visitors understand the different kinds of tea. The next area displayed tea ware throughout the centuries. Their collection is quite impressive. The items on display were extremely beautiful. I'm a bit jealous. I have a few antique tea items, but nothing like what they have.
The collection is very comprehensive and well displayed. The next section showed tea houses throughout China. The first display was Tibetan. It was set up like a Tibetan house with all of the furnishings. It looked just like the interior of a house. It was very well done. There were also tea houses from Yunnan, Sichuan, and Anhui Provinces. They were all very nicely done. We then exited the building to walk around the museum's grounds. The area is filled with antique post bases. They originally sat under the posts of ancient houses and are beautifully carved. They are located along the paths that go through the area. There were also different tea pavilions and places to drink tea. It was very well done. There was a building named the Tea Culture International Center. I'm not sure what they did there, because it was off limits. It was a very large building though. We wandered the grounds for quite a while before heading back to the main entrance. I went back inside because I wanted to check out the museum's bookstore.
I love books and it is not easy to find good books on Chinese tea in English. I bought a couple of books there before we left. After the museum we went to the Hubin International Boutique Compound. It is a very high end shopping mall. It had such high end boutiques such as Versace, Georgio Armani, Christian Dior, and Dolce. Across the street were a Ferrari and a Rolls Royce Dealership. Each one only had two cars each. I went into the Rolls Royce Dealership. I had never been in one, or seen a real Rolls close up so I wanted to check it out. The salesman heard the door stood up and upon seeing me sat down again. I guess I don't look like I could ever afford one. I though the cars were ugly, but their quality is very evident, and yes, I will never be able to afford one. After the Boutique Compound we went to the Qinghefang Shopping Street. That was really cool. It is a couple rows of ancient houses that have been restored into a shopping area. Either side of the street is lined with shops selling arts and crafts, jewelry, clothing and silk, and traditional Chinese medicine. Running down the middle of the street are a number of small booths selling small handmade items. Many of them are made while you wait. There were a couple of candy booths. Two in particular were very interesting. At one the visitor spins a dial which stops at a picture of an animal or auspicious item, and the booth's owner would create it for the visitor out of molten candy. It was very cool to watch. The other one which was also a candy booth made figures out of a white candy. The man would inflate the candy like a balloon and shape it into an animal, or flower. There are many shops on the street that has been in existence for over a hundred years. Another street running parallel to the shopping one sold wonderful local snacks. After the Qinghefang shopping street we went to the former Residence of Huxue Yan. He was a very wealthy merchant during the Qing Dynasty. His house was amazing! It was a huge compound surrounded by a large wall and the rooms were built in the courtyard style. Each room is still filled with antiques and is quite wonderful. It is quite obvious that the man was extremely rich by the attention to detail found everywhere in the compound. There is a huge garden on the one side of it and some smaller ones located within the living quarters areas. I really enjoyed this place it was very beautiful. The man had excellent taste to go along with his tons of cash. I thought it was interesting to note that there was a telephone system in the house. The owner had it imported from Germany in the late Qing Dynasty. The compound has been beautifully restored and maintained and it feels as though the owner and his family have just stepped out. It didn't seem touristy or like a museum at all, just somebody's residence, which is pretty rare when visiting an ancient Chinese residence. We then headed to the train station for my ride to Suzhou.