The land of Green Tea
Trip Start Sep 29, 2010
124Trip End Nov 30, 2011
Our first stop of the day was the ancient canal town of Wuzhen. Once a prosperous place for its trade and production of silk, it used to have a population of around 2,000. However, with the development and growth of new urban centres, many people have left, leaving only the older generation behind. Unfortunately there are only a few of these canal towns left in China today, so understandably Wuzhen has become a popular tourist attraction. The town was very pretty, with lots of old wooden buildings, stone bridges and trees along the canals.
We seemed to have timed our arrival to coincide with a large number of the Chinese population, all of whom were being escorted by guides with loud microphones - not quite the peaceful environment I had imagined. Unfortunately it did mean that the narrow streets were very crowded, as too were the buildings housing the various displays, so it wasn't long before Andrew and I had managed to lose each other. I knew he was behind me, but after waiting in the street for a while, and trying to avoid having my photo taken by the Chinese tourists, I tagged along with some of the others in our group for fear of losing everyone amidst the mass of people. We went in to some of the old houses to see the displays of traditional beds, a distillery and the cloth dyeing process. There were other things to see, but with so many people and no air flowing through the town, it was rather hot and uncomfortable. We were just wandering back to the entrance when we bumped into Andrew and the rest of the group.
After lunch in a restaurant near the canal town, we continued our journey to Hangzhou where we stopped at Lingyin Temple. The temple was originally built in 326 AD but has been destroyed and rebuilt no less than sixteen times. The temple was surprisingly busy, but we later found out this was because it was Buddha's birthday and entrance was free. It was quite interesting watching the Chinese people walk past our group - many stopped and stared, some took photographs, and the brave ones even came and stood next to us to pose for a photograph! The grounds of the temple had some beautiful Buddha carvings in the rock on the hillsides, 470 in total, dating from the 10th to 14th centuries. The main buildings of the temple housed very large Buddhas, including one over 20 metres high, which was interesting to see.
The area around Hangzhou is famous for producing green tea, so we stopped at a traditional tea house (previously visited by the Queen) where we were shown the green tea bushes, and then took part in a tea ceremony. The tea itself was quite nice, but tasted even better when we added orange rind and dried berries for weight loss! But the most interesting part was when they showed us what green tea does to detoxify the body. Iodine was added to two glasses of solution, which represented digested foods, as a toxin. To one of these, water was added, and to the other, green tea. The first glass was just diluted to a murky green colour, whereas the green tea, an anti-oxidant, 'cleansed' the solution, removing the toxins.
It was late in the afternoon by the time we left the tea house to head to the hotel. Hangzhou is a very green and pretty city, showing little evidence of the pollution we have seen elsewhere. It also seems to be quite prosperous, judging by the big houses and the number of expensive car dealerships we passed. At the centre is the West Lake, Hangzhou's main attraction, providing a peaceful haven for people away from the bustling city. Unfortunately it was only at this point that we learnt we would have no time to explore the lake as we were leaving early the next morning - I think had we known this we would all have agreed to skip the tea house, and perhaps even the temple, and go to the lake instead.
Dinner that evening was interesting. Rather than the usual restaurant affair that we were becoming accustomed too, Puma opted to take us for Chinese fast food. Unfortunately it wasn't long before closing time so there wasn't much left, and what was there was relatively cold. No one seemed to want to rock the apple cart and ask to go elsewhere, so most of us chose a couple of dishes to try, though I'm not sure anyone actually ate all they bought. It certainly wasn't the best choice for a place for dinner.
Dinner was finished quickly, so we all decided to walk down to West Lake. On the way there I saw my first sighting of the infamous split trousers, which are literally split from front to back so that little children can simply squat in the street to go to the toilet. This isn't something I've come across anywhere else on my travels. It may be a sign that China still has a long way to go to adapt to western culture if they still feel it is acceptable for children to use the streets as a toilet.
There were a lot of people milling around West Lake, with some sat on chairs overlooking the water. We thought they were waiting for a firework display, but it turned out to be a musical fountain show - quite nice for the first couple of songs but a little monotonous after that.
Andrew was quite hungry by this stage as he opted not to eat the Chinese fast food, so understandably he wanted to find somewhere for dinner. He rejected the options of McDonalds or Burger King, and instead we headed back towards the hotel looking for a more local restaurant. We found one that looked OK, but with no knowledge of the Chinese language Andrew simply had to point out a picture in the menu which looked like sweet and sour pork, and hope for the best. Unfortunately it turned out to be potatoes, but at least they were edible as he could have ended up with something hideous!
Our next stop is the dreamy limestone karst landscape of Yangshuo.