“In heaven there is paradise, on earth Suzhou and Hangzhou.”
We departed Suzhou and drove to Hangzhou, the southern tip of China’s Grand Canal. En route, we stopped at the Silk Research Institute to observe silk production from cocoon, to thread, to batting, to quilts – a bargain at $130 CAD king-size. Suzhou is known for its silk, Hangzhou for its green tea, being China’s honeymoon capital and most famous tourist destination because of its famed West Lake.
Originally a lagoon, in the 8th century, the governor had it dredged and later a dike was built to cut it off from the river, resulting in an idyllic lake, 3 km long and wide, with a quintessential Chinese landscape: hills cast in gauzy light topped with pagodas and pavilions, islands, and exquisitely arched bridges. While centuries of war and the recent Cultural Revolution destroyed much of China’s man-made historical artifacts, this vista, unchanged for hundreds of years, has inspired artists, poets and scholars since the 9th century, and earned it and the lake a UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
We boarded a replica lounging barge and glided effortlessly across the lake’s smooth surface, again regaled by David, who pointed out significant landmarks, including imperial palaces and “Three Pools Mirroring the Moon” – the three small stone pagodas as seen on the one Yuan note, each of which has five holes from which shine candlelight on the night of mid-autumn’s Moon Cake Festival.
Earlier in a day that shone sunny and bright, we joined the throngs escaping the city for a Saturday outing, and drove up into the verdant hills to the terraced Dragon Well tea plantation. Called the “Crown of Chinese teas,” Dragon Well is at its best in spring, being sweetest and highest in healthy anti-oxidants. Again a lesson in production, from picking to hand roasting, sipping and savouring, and then watching how it magically neutralized oxidants. Our host, a tea scientist and native, “preached to the choir,” all of us of the age where we readily bought both her magic and the tea – lots of it!
An quick stop to see the Six Harmonies Pagoda, a 60 metre high, octagonal shaped Buddhist temple, said to possess magical powers to protect against the tidal wave that every full moon thunders up the Quiantang River.
That night, a show within a show, as we watched thousands of Chinese watching “The Romance of the Song Dynasty,” a magnificent costume and light extravaganza. An experience in entertainment decorum: IPads and cameras blocked our view as the audience, apparently oblivious of each other and us, stood and held high their devices. Applause was sporadic, if at all. Groups up and left before the final curtain. We shook our heads in disbelief, entertained by it all.