A Guest Blog by Holly Melton Written Wednesday, October 31, 2013
I confess to spending too much time shopping and too little time blogging. I’ll do better (well, I hope I will). As I write this post, I am on a train from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, traveling through a mountain canyon north of Beijing next to a stream lined with birch trees. The leaves are changing into golden hues … reminding me of the mountain road my sister, Fawn, and I drove outside of Denver two Falls back. Fall is definitely coming to China.
Following our Yangtze River cruise, Mark and I spent a day enjoying Tongli – one of the 15 water towns in the Yangtze Delta area outside of Shanghai, and then went on to Hangzhou for two more days.
Tongli – The Venice of China
Tongli is one of the smaller “water towns” in the Yangtze delta in terms of canals – 4 total canals crossing each other like a hashtag (#). These towns have become big tourist centers with a significantly reduced number of people actually living in the old town areas. If you just look beyond the trinket stores, you see the beauty. This photo was taken from the small boat we were in.
Here the boats are lined up waiting to take tourists on tours of the canals. All of the boats we saw were rowed by women using a single paddle attached to the back of the boat.
To my delight, we were given fresh Lychees along with our lunch. After miming to the waitress to figure out how to eat these strange rough brown balls served to us, I found a delight inside. Here’s a photo of an unpeeled Lychee (really fruit not a nut), half peeled, ready to eat, and the beautiful, shiny, mahogany colored seed. While canned Lychee are tasty – the fresh ones win hands down. Unfortunately these are from southern China, so I only got them a few times.
Lovely Hangzhou –
Hangzhou is a vacation destination for the Chinese. A huge modern city (population over 7 million) at the shores of a large, scenic lake (West Lake), many gardens and parks, and a famous tea growing area not far away (proudly proclaimed as one of the three best tea areas in all of China – thanks to a high alkaline level in the soil). When President Nixon came on his historical visit to China in 1972, he was brought to Hangzhou for a visit prior to the official meetings. Over the next 48 hours we would visit 6 parks or nature areas – relaxing and beautiful. Mark and I caught one of the West Lake Pleasure Boats out onto the lake and got off on the first island (of many) to poke around. I just love the names of places here – the island we visited is named “Three Pools Mirroring the Moon” island. While we missed the moonlight, you can see the charm:
We visited the Golden Dragon Cave Folk Garden. Have we mentioned how the Chinese use and enjoy their parks? We walked past this group dancing for exercise and pleasure.
Caught a short bit of Chinese opera Southern Style in an open air theater at the park. The main distinction from Beijing (Northern) style, is that all parts in Southern style are played by females. Northern Style is just the opposite – all parts played by men. The local opera school puts on short (30 minute) scenes in part to allow their students to have practice before an audience. As you can see in the bottom of the photo, many senior citizens were there and were clearly regulars. They clapped loudly whenever a particular singer met their approval. Oh, and that’s the male character in the light yellow dress holding the fan – men carry the fans to show their high education and personal refinement. The female character is holding a “broom” and the headdress is a different shape.
We walked up a short path through the woods at Tiger Spring. Tiger Spring is a highly prized local spring water with a high mineral content. The story goes that the area was in a drought and the people were at the point of moving away. One night a Buddhist monk went to sleep on this mountain. He dreamed of 2 tigers surrounding him (Tigers symbolize power). When he woke the tigers were there for real and a new spring started flowing, which saved the people. It was interesting to see many local men walking up the hill with large plastic jugs to fill with the special water. Mark and posed for this picture by a bronze statue of a Ming dynasty wagon come to fill its vessels.
Enjoyed the tea village of Longjing and helping the villagers with their tea harvest. They suggested we not quit our day jobs. (By the way, Dragonwell tea (Longjing) made with Tiger Spring water is most auspicious!)
Mark – as the proprietor of the local tea estate, drying the freshly picked tea leaves.
After visiting a silk factory and learning a bit more about silk production (not a great stop – really a sales pitch), we visited our last park – No. 2 Park for Hubin Road. Believe me, it was much prettier than the name implies. It happened to be the days the local schools were having their holiday – what we would call a field trip. There is one school holiday per semester as required by the central government. Mark could hardly enjoy the park for my asking him to take pictures of the various school groups – love their uniforms!
Mark is doing such beautiful photography – I love the reflections in this pond with the willow branches.
In parks, on street corners, and in country shops we see small groups of people playing cards, black/white, or Mahjongg. Several times we have waited for our drivers because they have gotten involved in a pick-up game of poker or the like. After lunch at a small “farmers” restaurant across from the tea farm (specialty: chicken grown on site roasted in clay jars – delicious), we were shown this special room for Mahjongg. With much pride and joy, the restaurant owner demonstrated his special table that automatically mixes and lines up the tiles for a new game of mahjongg. It was quite the apparatus and it was so nice to share his pleasure at demonstrating it to us.
To end our time, we got to experience a bullet train on our way back to Shanghai. It is the cat’s meow! Everything’s 1st class including the Train Attendant for each car. Doesn’t she look sharp?
When we first arrived in Hangzhou, I confessed to our driver/guide, that we had a bit of temple and palace fatigue (just like cathedral/castle/museum fatigue in Europe). While there was plenty of history and places of worship, he did a great job of helping us see the area. We enjoyed being out in nature, doing something a bit more active, and going at a slower pace for these few days. A nice break from “sightseeing”.