Next stop on the Meng(hermann) Tour of China…Hangzhou, a large city most famous for its large lake, Xihu (West Lake). We met up with the Frank and the rest of the tour group here, who had already been traveling together for a few days. We got off to a great start—our first meal together was at a restaurant where every dish featured an ingredient used in Chinese medicine, which made for a delicious, healthy, and interesting meal.
We started off the following day with a cruise on West Lake. This is one of China’s most heavily touristed sites, but we had more fun taking pictures of each other in Groucho Marx glasses that I bought for 5RMB each (about US$0.50). Not only were they hilarious, but a hidden blowhole made two streamers pop out either side of your mouth like a mustache.
We all took photos with the glasses, except for Jeremy…seems that the specs are for flat little Asian faces only; the fake nose wouldn’t fit over Jeremy’s Western nose.
If you want to see the ONE photo I uploaded of East West Lake, look here.
Next we toured an old Chinese house, built by a rich, famous Hangzhou merchant. It was quite opulent, with blue glass windows (unusual in China) and an enormous garden with a koi pond. This estate was very different from the houses we saw in Hongcun and Xidi. Similar to today, it seems that the closer you are to the ocean in China, the richer you can be (though with all the money the Chinese government is currently pouring into the inland cities of Chengdu and Chongqing, this is changing).
As I mentioned previously, on these organized tours, your days are jam-packed with activities. By noon, we had already accomplished what Jeremy and I would consider a full day of sight-seeing activities. But we had much more in store. Next up was a visit to a local, government-owned teahouse. Hangzhou is famous for its Dragonwell green tea, and we were all ushered into a tasting room to learn about the different health-inducing properties of this tea. The woman conducting the tasting was an AMAZING salesperson…she explained the difference between spring, summer, and autumn-harvested tea (spring is best; summer and autumn-harvest leaves are the crappy ones used in teabags), and even let us see and smell the difference for ourselves (spring tea is actually lighter in color than summer and autumn tea).
She explained the difference between A, AA, and AAA grade leaves (they are all spring-harvest leaves, but AA leaves are the small leaves picked from the top of the bush, and AAA leaves are picked from bushes that grow in the wild). AA leaves are about twice as much per kilo as A leaves, and AAA leaves are 4 times as much…but according to the saleslady, you need twice as many A leaves as AA leaves to make a single glass of tea, so the increase in price is moot (a convenient sales tactic).
We learned a lot about tea at this tasting, but it was far more interesting was watching this saleslady do her thing. I have never seen a salesperson with powers as fierce as hers…she knew EXACTLY what to say to convince everyone of the powers of this Dragonwell tea. The pinnacle of her pitch was a demo where she coated some grains of rice with iodine and then tried to wash the iodine off with water (of course, the sludgy brown stuff would not budge). Then, she poured a glass of Dragonwell tea into the cup with the sludgy grains, and the rice turned completely white again (the implication being that this is what the tea will do inside your body—remove the toxins and scrub your insides as clean as a grain of shiny white rice). We learned that with Dragonwell, we should use cold water to make the tea; hot water kills all the polyphenols. She flowed imperceptibly between the demo and the selling portions of the afternoon, and by the time she was ready to sell, everyone was eagerly whipping out their wallets.
The force was strong in her, but she was no match for Chou Mama, the eldest lady on our tour. Chou Mama had about 60 years of bargaining skills on the saleslady, and she used her considerable skills to slowly but surely bargain the sale price down lower and lower. It was like the Clash of the Titans, and we had front row seats!
After we all left with kilos of tea, we took a boat tour of a swampland area, which was quite beautiful and relaxing:
And then toured the beautiful Leifeng Pagoda near West Lake:
But wait, there’s more…we also had an amazing dinner that featured a BACON pyramid, and we celebrated four different May birthdays: my Mom and Dad’s and two other people on the tour with us (Mark and Dolores).
And finally, we ended the looong day by seeing the Impressions West Lake show, directed by Zhang Yimou (the famous Chinese film director who also created the Beijing Opening Ceremonies). The show was the performed ON West Lake (actually on the water), and it retold the tale of a ancient Chinese love story.
The show was visually stunning, but if you are not familiar with the Chinese myth, it can be hard to follow the story, as it is told in a very abstract way. Also, I guess because Jeremy and I had been blown away by the Olympics Opening Ceremony, we thought that the West Lake show would be a lot tighter. Still, it was an excellent experience and you can’t beat seeing a show that is performed ON a body of water.
SCHWOO! It was a long but fulfilling day, and we went to bed happy to have gotten a lot out of Hangzhou.