We are creatures of familiarity. We go through life doing things that we are accustomed to. The first week in Hangzhou required some patience and openness. As a westerner, life in Hangzhou is a crash course in being cultured.
Hangzhou is home to 8 million people. The density of the population is somewhat equivalent to that of New York City. The lake in Hangzhou is one of the most beautiful sights in this city. The weather for the first week has not deviated from what many of us San Diegans are accustomed to. We experience some rain, some sun, and some heat. The first few days of the program we were blessed with some rain.
On the second day, I took a morning walk around the lake with a fellow classmate. We were told the lake takes about five and a half hours to walk around, but about two hours to ride a bike. Needless to say, we ventured for only an hour and half, stopping every so often to take photos of the picturesque scenes framed before us. There are no shortages of photo opportunities along the lake. From the location on the lake by our hotel, there are three pagodas that are in sight and within walking distance. Dave and I walked to the one closest to the lake and ascended to the top where we got a view of the entire lake and its surroundings. The view was exceptional and reminded me much of being in New York on the Statute of Liberty, as I could see the entire lake and the buildings in the city, including our hotel.
The lake itself in Hangzhou is called Westlake. Being in its presence you get a sense of peaceful serenity. There is a constant flow of people walking around the lake, whether they are local or tourist. There are also several coffee and teashops right on the lake to take a break from walking or in our case, to read and study. One of the tea shops has a patio area that sit on the lake, similar to a large dock. Although there is a faint static noise of traffic and people in the background, the view, breeze and pleasant company make it relaxing and tranquil.
The weekend trip to Suzhou, coined as the #1 silk manufacturing city in China, was true to its name. One of our tour guides, Lily, explained to us that within the providence, the three “zhou’s” (“State” in Chinese) each had a distinct characteristic. Hangzhou is the place for loving, Guangzhou is a place for eating, and Suzhou is the place for living.
Upon our arrival to Suzhou, we went straight to a group lunch that consisted of traditional Chinese cuisine; this meal needed an acquired taste. The duck was served deep-fried and fully in tact, neck, head and all. After lunch we toured the largest garden in the city. It was about the size of five to six football fields and housed many traditional structures with beautiful flowers and interesting rock sculptures. I have noticed that China loves trees and flowers. No matter your location, you are bound to run into green plant life somewhere.
After exploring the large garden, which we later found out housed many of the Emperor’s concubines, we headed to the hotel to clean up and rest before we left to visit the smallest garden in the city. The smallest garden wasn’t as small as one would imagine. It is about the size of one football field. To get to this garden, we had to traverse through a dark alley under makeshift tents and vendors, arriving at two large doors in Chinese writing. The garden had many traditional houses and smaller ponds with lily pads and flowers. At each of the houses, we were treated to traditional Chinese performances.
The next day we took a boat trip on the canal that runs through Suzhou and Hangzhou. The canal started out very large and we moseyed into a smaller canal that barely fit our boat. At one point, we were actually pinned against the walls to squeeze a smaller boat by. At the end of the canal, we got off the boat and walked up to an ancient pagoda that was leaning. I called it the Chinese version of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. It looked like the same height and lean but with old dirt colored bricks and deterioration. If you have ever watched the movie Mortal Combat, it looks exactly like the temples and pagodas in the background.
Our next and last stop was to the silk manufacturer and shopping center, where we were educated on the lifecycle of a silk worm and the process of extracting the silk into threads and weaving. We were able to witness the de-threading the cocoon into one single strand and test the strength of the silk by stretching the material over an arch. Later, all of the students spent an hour shopping through the many silk products. After shopping, we returned to the busses and headed back “home” to Hangzhou.