View from the main island.
Reflections on the lake.
Walking around the lake.
October 24, 2006

Talk about treating my five senses right now. Let me take a moment to explain what I am currently experiencing at this moment…

Sight: Garden-setting with clear little lights strung around the trees.
Smell: The wine that I’m drinking.
Sound: A fountain of water and a live band playing Lionel Richie’s ‘Hello’ (needless to say, I
looooved this!).
Taste: The delicious grilled vegetables and bruschetta.
Touch: The pen and paper that I am using to journal.

So it is pretty evident that life isn’t bad right now. Not bad at all. I don't think there are many other places in China where a person can
experience this other than in the West Lake area of Hangzhou...

This is only the second of two 'smaller' cities that I was able to visit during my time in China. The other was Yangshuo. These two cities,
however, are drastically different from one another.

While Yangshuo was geared towards backpackers (everything from the banana pancakes to the signs with Hebrew writing), Hangzhou has
sophistication (everything from the lake to the Lamberghini/Ferrari and Porsche dealerships).

West Lake is the central area in Hangzhou. West Street was the central street in Yangshuo. Let's see how they compare...

West Street: The shopping consists of everyone trying to stop you on the street to come into their store to buy some knock-off.
West Lake: Shopping consists of boutique-like places and the real goods (in the form of Chanel, LV, Gucci, etc. stores)

West Street: The restaurants all seem to offer identical western food with tables that makes them all look...well...identical. The atmosphere
solely relies on the people (or maybe I should say 'backpackers') walking by.
West Lake: There are restaurants of different cuisines sprinkled all over with a few chains (Haagen Dazs, Starbuck's) mixed in. The outdoor
seating areas look onto either the lake or a garden-like setting.

West Street: Touts attempt to stop you every step of the way.
West Lake: People are able to have a leisurely walk around the lake.

West Street: All shopping consists of haggling.
West Lake: Shopping consists of fixed prices.

There are definitely a lot of people that would think West Street sounds more desirable. I just happen to not be one of those people...

October 25, 2006

Island hopping was on the agenda today.

I bought my ticket for the boat and it was time to head on my way. With the exception of the ‘haze’, I can’t stress how beautiful and relaxing it
is out here. Everything from the boats to the bridges to the plant life. It was hard to think of a better way to spend $5.

One of the most famous sights out there was ‘The Three Pools Mirroring the Moon’. These little pagodas are actually featured on the one-yuan
notes. These looked more like game pieces from a board game than like ‘pools’. Maybe I just wasn’t looking hard enough?

To be honest, there are all sorts of names out here for the ‘Ten Scenic Sights’ – everything from ‘Orioles Singing in the Willow’ to ‘Lotus in the
Wind of Crooking Yard’ – and I just wasn’t seeing any of it. But the Chinese people sure seemed excited when they came across these places. I
guess, unlike me, they knew what they were looking at.

My last boat stop would take me to a causeway where I could walk to the other side of the lake. As I was walking I kept thinking how thankful
I was that I was not here on a weekend. There were so many Chinese tour groups – I couldn’t even keep track any more of all of the colored
flags I was seeing in the air. All of these groups looked more like they were playing a game of ‘Follow the Leader’ rather than actually taking in
information about the sights.

When I got to the main street, I hopped on a bus that was going to Lingyin Temple. Yes, another temple. I felt compelled to go to this one
because it was recommended by a friend I met along the way. When I got off the bus, I saw there was a tram to go to the top of the mountain.
Since I’m a sucker for a good view, I figured it would be nice to do this and see the lake from above. Well, I am sure it would have been a great
view had there not been so much smog in the air. I could just barely make out something that resembled a lake and even more difficult to
detect were the skyscrapers on the other side of the city. This served as a reminder that there is nowhere to go to escape the air pollution in
this country. That 40-yuan spent was definitely a ‘miss’ in my book. Even more so because now I didn’t have enough money left to go inside
the temple and take a bus back to the lake. The bus had to take priority so that would leave the temple unexplored. On the bright side, maybe
it would have been ‘just another temple’ to me?

I took the bus back to the lake and had a nice 1 ½ hour walk while the sun was setting. I also discovered so much more of what Hangzhou has
to offer. Not only does it provide peaceful garden settings; it also has a great shopping/restaurant area near the lakeside promenade. I am
loving it more and more out here!

I am now about to retire in my $6/night bed…

October 26, 2006

I was off to an early start this morning. This was largely due to the snorer in my room last night. I guess a $6 bed comes at a price. I admit
that I am completely clueless to hostel etiquette. That being said, there’s a good chance I did a major faux pas last night…

When I got back to the room last night, one guy was on the top bunk listening to his ipod. The other guy was on the bottom bunk…on his
back…snoring away. I knew this was going to be a problem as snoring is one of those sounds I just can’t adjust to. I tried. I really did. I put
earplugs in and put the pillow on top of my head and pressed it against my ears. But I could still hear it. In my mind, the other guy was
listening to his ipod because he needed to tune it out, too.

I knew I had to take action if I was going to get any sleep. ‘Operation: Peace and Quiet’ was about to take place.

I climbed down from my bed onto the floor. I tapped his shoulder and asked if he could turn on his side. I wasn’t sure he was going to
understand the request as we spoke for a few minutes earlier in the evening but it was a little bit complicated as he really only knew Chinese.
But he understood what I was asking and was extremely nice about it. I just couldn’t believe I tossed and turned in my bed for five minutes
contemplating whether or not to say something all for nothing.

He stopped snoring just long enough for me to fall asleep. I was awoken several times during the night but I was tired enough to adjust. By the
time it started this morning, I felt like I would use it as my cue to wake up. Even though it was 6:30am…

This city happens to be known for more than just its lake. It is also known for its tea. As my friend put it: “It’s like the Napa Valley of tea
growers.” For this reason, I started off at the Tea Museum so that I could get a bit more knowledge on Chinese tea. It was not easy to get
there as the one bus line is quite popular with locals. There is no exaggerating when I say that we were all sandwiched together. There was no
need to even hold onto anything. In fact, I just barely made it on so I was standing on one of the stairs near the door. I can’t even say my head
was ‘close’ to the windshield as my head had to literally rest on the windshield since it was that tight. I figured at least if there’s an accident, I
won’t have any issues with the ‘impact’ of my head slamming into the window. For this reason, I deemed this almost safe. Talk about being
packed like sardines! Vertical sardines, that is…

I finally got to my destination. I was actually thinking that this might be a repeat of my tea museum visit in Munnar (India). These two
museums actually ended up being nothing alike whatsoever. They both had their strengths. In Munnar, I got to see the entire process of tea
making. The fresh leaves were put into the machine and I was able to watch the different steps to the see the final product at the very end.
While this museum didn’t have the equipment, it did have aesthetics. It was beautiful and modern and was very ‘friendly’ for us English
speakers. These qualities made it enjoyable to walk around and read about the history and culture of tea in China.

I was considering doing some tasting at the teahouse on the grounds but decided to move on to the Longjing Village instead. This entire area
was beautiful and I figured this would give me a chance to walk around and see more of it. Truth be told, I was also skeptical that the teahouse
onsite was charging higher prices to take advantage of the tourists who just visited the museum. After all, 80 yuan ($10) is a pricey sum to pay
for a glass of tea. I knew I wanted to go into Longjing Village anyway so I figured I would get my tea-tasting experience while there. While
most people opt for the bus to get there, I decided to do the 30-minute walk (it’s amazing how many people will say ‘no walk’ thinking that a
walk of that length is unthinkable) and am so pleased that I did. I got to see people working in the tea fields, lush landscapes, beautiful bridges
reflecting against the water, etc. I finally reached Dragonwell Spring, the main attraction in Longjing Village. I take that back.
I didn’t see it as
the main attraction. What seemed to take precedence while out there were all of the Chinese people engaging in having tea. There were both
friends and families out there. People came with their bags of food and spread it out over the table while waiting for their tea to come. Others
spread out their dominoes so that they could play while drinking their tea. One thing was for sure: everybody was having a great time. A few
minutes later, people got up and started dancing – ballroom style. And not just men with women. Many of the times the dancing is done with
two females. One thing that has been evident while traveling through China is the bond of the female friendship. They walk down the street
hand-in-hand. They dance with each other. I think it’s a great part of their culture. We would never do that at home because it would initiate
all kinds of stares. The only exception would be if we were completely drunk. But I’m digressing (as usual). My point is that it is obvious how
much they enjoy life out here.

Now back to the tea. It turns out that Longjing tea is the best quality tea and it costs about $10 a glass no matter where you go. Of course,
there are more inexpensive teas to choose from as well. But because I was running out of yuan, I had to forgo the $10 glass of tea in lieu of the
$3 glass of tea. Maybe they tasted extremely different. I have no idea. All I do know is that I will never again have a tea experience like that

Since I am on tight ‘yuan control’ (as I only have a bit left and that has to get me to the airport), I have officially opted out of going into Lingyin
Temple. I had re-thought last night that I was going to go in after getting an email from a great family friend who told me I must go see it. I
decided against it once I realized that another trip to the ATM would be necessary in order to make it happen and it just didn’t make sense
since I was leaving a few hours later. Instead I walked back along the lake…when it started raining. This would also be the exact moment that
I was passing the Hyatt. I decided to stop in for a bit of shelter. Then I took it another step and had lunch there since I could use a credit card.
This hotel was nice. It might have said ‘Hyatt Regency’ but it felt just like a Park Hyatt. I was enjoying my lunchtime digs – especially since I
was able to have lakeside views as I dined.

As I was leaving, it was too perfect that there was a bakery/confectionary on the way out. I had been struggling about what to do for a
host/hostess gift for when I arrive in Hong Kong. I am staying with two people I have never met before. I bought one small platter at a
boutique in Xihu Tiandi but it’s tough as I have no idea what their taste is. I was now excited as I could buy them a box of chic chocolates –
something I had not seen at all in China until this point.

I’m just hanging out right now waiting to leave for the airport. My stuff has literally doubled since I started my trip. I am fortunate that china
is so lax with the amount of carry-ons a person can bring on. There’s no doubt about it – I am pushing the limits. I am just crossing my fingers
that this won’t be a problem before I see my sister in Thailand (and then she can take most of the stuff home with her). In the meantime, I am
not especially looking forward to dragging all of this stuff onto a public bus, figuring out which stop to get off at and then finding where the
Airport Shuttle buses are. Probably best to not think about it just yet…


I am now at the airport. I got here with no problems despite having a few taxi drivers turn me down when I wanted to be driven to the
Airport Shuttle. They wanted to take me all the way to the airport. Ummm….that sure wasn’t happening as it is quite far away. So I was going
to have to take the bus. I hopped on and was following my map the entire time so I knew how many stops I would have to wait. In the
meantime, I got some bus entertainment in the form of two women who started arguing upon getting into the bus. It seemed like it had ceased
but when one woman went to walk to the back, the other woman kicked her as she was passing. Then yelling ensued. Even though they were
now at opposite ends of the bus, that didn’t stop them from screaming at each other the entire time. I am sure it went on even after I got off
the bus. I couldn’t help but smile as I was finding the whole thing pretty funny. MUNI visions from home were popping into my head…
Back to China.