---------------Friday, May 26, 2006--------------------
There was actually a reason for getting up so early. We had to hit the road to get to Hangzhou. Hangzhou is a famous tourist spot in China and is often described as paradise on earth. Also an old city, Hangzhou was described by Marco Polo as the finest place in China. There is a lot of history involved and even more beautiful scenery. Hangzhou is also known for it’s beautiful women, but since I took the best looking girl in all China there with me, I wasn’t too impressed. Ping Ping wasn’t able to go but Jeff was able to trade his car for a friend’s minivan and drive us around. He’d been to Hangzhou a couple times and knew basically where we were going.
As soon as we got there we were instant set apart as tourist because we had Shanghai license plate (Chinese plates are like Idaho plates, you can tell where a car is from by the number on it) and people were running through traffic to offer to be our tour guides for just 20 kuai an hour. You know how must people have one profession they just can’t stand, be it lawyers or salesmen or telemarketers? Well Jeff hates tour guides, so he would argue with them until traffic a head of him had cleared, told them OK and then drove away before they could get in the car.
Our first stop in Hangzhou was the famous and beautiful Xi Hu (West Lake). West Lake has been a popular tourist destination for centuries. Many a famous poet, statesman and general have stayed or lived there. We parked our car and started to walk around the lake. It’s not a big lake, much smaller than Bear Lake. You can drive around the circumference in a golf cart in about an hour. There are a lot of pretty parks and pavilions. They play relaxing music over some well-hidden speakers that adds to the atmosphere. There were several people taking advantage of the relaxing area by practicing Tai Chi. The first place we stopped was a restroom that I swear was the nicest one in all of China. I would have taken a picture but Sally had the camera with her at the time. We took a lot of other picture though, mostly of the pretty scenery. Hangzhou was another one of those places that I’ve really wanted to go for quite some time so it was really fun to see what all the fuss was about.
We walked about a quarter of the way around the lake before we came to its star attraction, Leifeng Ta (Thunder Peak Tower). Leifeng Tower is a tall Buddhist pagoda that was originally built about a thousand years ago to house a relic of a Buddha. The tower stood until the early 20th century when it collapsed. It was rebuilt a few years ago on the old (now steel reinforced) foundation as a place for tourist to go. The tower has been romanticized in legend, especially the Story of White Snake. The Story of White Snake has been around for a long time, being retold as a famous opera and television series. It’s about a pair of snakes who take the form of people. One of them falls in love with a man and marries him. A Buddhist monk decides that snakes turning into people must be demons and devotes his life to fighting them. To make a long story short White Snake is eventually imprisoned in the tower. The tower sits on top of a high mountain, which is now accessible by stone steps and an escalator. We were a bit behind Gugu and Gufu so we ran up the steps to catch them. I was about to turn around once I got to the top and yell “Adrian!” but I figured no one would get the joke. Inside the tower are a serious of detailed carvings showing the story of White Snake and some important Buddhist legends as well as paintings showing the original building of the tower. From the top you can look down and see all of West Lake, lying before you. At the bottom there is a small museum showing so artifacts that were found when the tower was excavated including the original container of the relics (in this case, a lock of hair).
After we went through the tower, we took a cart around the rest of the way. We didn’t get to stop and take picture very much, but it would have taken all day to walk around the whole thing. We found a small little street to eat dinner. I know this sounds weird but it was like a Chinatown in China. There were a lot of Chinese restaurants and small stalls selling snacks and tourist trinkets. By this point it had started raining pretty heavily so we ate our lunch in a noodle house. We pretty much all got the same thing, a big bowl of noodles in lamb broth with a big chunk of lamb meat. After wards we huddled under umbrellas and ate a skewer of what they said was venison. The meat was a fair bit lighter than I remember deer meat being but it’s been a while since I’ve had it and it could have been a different species of deer so I’ll with hold my judgment.
After lunch we went to the other place we planed to visit, Linchen Ci, which is a Buddhist temple on the outskirts of Hangzhou. Its really cool, on minute your walking in a modern Chinese alley, the next your in this hidden jungle paradise with stone statues covered in moss and vines all the way us this tree covered mountain. The temple has been around for centuries. Across from it is a hill that looks like its right from out of a movie. Hidden amongst all the dense vegetation are many stone Buddhas craved right out of the rock. The mountain was really steep but stone steps lead up to many of the statues. That doesn’t mean climbing them was easy, the steps were really steep and slippery from the days rain. Only Gugu and Sally’s dad went into the actually temple, it cost money but they wanted to go in and worship. Neither are devote Buddhists but that’s not required. Meanwhile the rest of us waited outside. Sally and I climbed up and down the mountain taking pictures, which I think will convey what this place was like a lot better than I can here. It was really a beautiful place. I was thinking what it would be like to be a monk here. After climbing all those stairs all day, I understand why they’re in such great shape. As my mind wandered I found myself, with and the grace and agility monks aren’t known for, falling square on my butt. I was fine. My pants got real dirty and my hand hurt a little, but nothing was bruised but my pride. A small stone got stuck in my skin from the fall. At first I was hoping it would give me super Buddhists powers. But then I realized that any powers that I got by falling down, probably wouldn’t be that cool and it got itchy so I ripped it out.
After Gugu and Sally’s dad finished in the temple we got back in the van and Jeff started driving home. The freeways here are really quite nice. The traffic’s still pretty crazy but we had three lanes most of the way. Nice smooth road too. Although you do have to pay a toll and toll roads are never fun, I suppose they’re necessary when you’re first building a road system. We got home and Ping Ping joined us for dinner at a really nice restaurant. We had all kinds of Chinese food (or as they generally call it here: food) and it was at this meal that I realized just how long I’ve been in China, Sally told me that I had just eaten coagulated blood and it didn’t even faze me. I must have been here for a while.
----------Saturday, May 27, 2006---------------
Just a lazy Saturday in Shanghai. We didn’t do much today. Nobody was in a real hurry to go outside because it was super windy. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky though; figures that we get better weather when we’re not going anywhere. I took the opportunity to catch up on my writing (I wrote like eight pages, I’m getting sick of this so ya’ll better appreciate the work I put into this, I’m sure I will later as well) while everyone else, besides Jeff who had class all day, played cards. I might have joined them but I still don’t get the game too well, you need an even number of players and they’re were all speaking the Jiangsu dialect the whole time, so I’d be really left out of the conversation. Gufu doesn’t even speak much Mandarin. Shanghaiese and Jiangsuhau are close enough that he’s been able to get along here just fine.
Around five, we finally set off to go to downtown Shanghai. We walked are the Jin Mao building which is the tallest in Shanghai at 88 floors. Right next door was the construction for the World Finance Center which, when completed, usurp that title with a total of 101 floors.
We also went up the Oriental Pearl Tower (that one with the spheres I told everyone to look up, if you haven’t go do it now). The tower is located right on a bend in the Huangpu river and offers a great view of the Bund and the rest of Shanghai. We looked around and took a few pictures as the sun set off in the west. Afterwards we looked through a bit of the Shanghai museum. I was misinformed when I last wrote about Shanghai. It is a lot older than I thought, although it didn’t grow big in China until the Ming Dynasty. It was also of less importance on the world scale until Western people came in after the Opium War and started colonizing here. So yeah, sorry for the information, hope no one used it in a school report or anything.
Afterward we walked around on the other side of the river, took so night time photos and went out to dinner. We had what I’ve been wanting since I came to China: Hot pot. I don’t know if I’ve ever explained hot pot before. Hot pot is basically a pot with really hot food in it (hence the name). It’s traditional food from Sichuan, the spicy province. I’ve had it in Sydney and in Logan and have loved it every time. I love spicy food and this is about as spicy as it gets. I love it most when people haven’t eaten it with me before and think it’ll be too much for me. This has happened several times as Sichuan people tend to use hot pot as kind of a figurative trial by fire for their friends (although the next day it can sometimes turn into a literal trial of fire) and I always exceed their expectations. This time no one was trying to overwhelm me. In fact Gugu and Sally’s parents didn’t even eat anything from the spicy side. The way it works is they bring you a pot of water with two halves (you can get it not separated but everyone in your group has to be on one side of the spicy fence, which hardly ever happens) one side filled with water and onions, garlic and other seasonings. One side is usually also full of so much spicy that it’s a deep, dark red. There is a gas stove in the middle of the table that is used to boil the water. You are then provided with sliced meat and vegetables to boil in the water and some sauces to dip it in. The problem was this time the place was out of sauces. The rest of the family complained because they didn’t want to pay to eat food without flavor. I was OK with it though because I consider spicy to be a flavor and one of my favorites. It was a really good hot pot. You could tell because those of us eating were coughing and wiping our eyes and noses a lot. There are only three times that a real man is allow to cry in public: at the loss of a immediate family member, when his team loses in the playoffs and while eating really good hot pot. If my description has you salivating as much as I am now, I know a really good hot pot place in Salt Lake. Same rules are Korean Barbeque apply.