We left the hotel this morning hoping that it would not be another hot day today, but our hopes were shattered when we stepped outside into the 39C° degree weather. Jack promised us that we wouldn’t be outside for too long today, but honestly, even though we complain about the heat so much and we are so uncomfortable in the humidity, I think that all of the sites are well worth the sweat and fatigue. Today was no exception.
The first place we went to was the West Lake, which is one of the greatest landmarks in Hangzhou. Jack told us a mythical legend about the origins of the lake on the bus ride to our stop there. Apparently, millennia ago, there was a dragon and a phoenix who found a beautiful slab of white jade in the fairyland.
They shaped the stone into a magical jade ball that made the land rich and green, and transformed women into the most beautiful women in the world. The Jade Emperor, who was the king of heaven, had a wife, the Heavenly Empress, who thought herself to be the most beautiful woman of all, and wanted to keep the stone for herself. So, she sent servants to steal the jade ball and to hide it somewhere in heaven, safely locked behind nine levels of protection. When the dragon and phoenix realized it was missing, they searched the universe to find their treasure, but never found it. Hundreds of years passed and on one of the Empress’s birthday celebrations she thought it safe to display the jade ball. Of course, the dragon and phoenix whom had originally created the ball attended the Empress’s party and immediately recognized it. They fought the Empress’ servants to try to get it back, but in the fight the ball fell out of heaven and landed on Earth. On impact it turned into a lake. The dragon and phoenix flew down from heaven and came to rest around it, protecting it forever. Both creatures became the hills and mountains surrounding the lake; this is how the West Lake and the scenery around it formed. I really enjoyed this story, because growing up I was really into Greek and Roman mythology and I found a lot of similarities between this story and some Greek myths—the jade ball was like Eris’s (god of discord) golden apples, the creation of the geographical landmarks from supernatural animals, and the fact that the gods and goddesses had humanistic flaws such as greed.
By the time Jack finished telling the story we had arrived at the West Lake. We walked to the boat that took us out into the lake. The boat was very much like the one we took yesterday in the water town, but it was much larger and newer. At first, I tried sitting outside, but the hot sun forced me into the roofed part of the boat. Our tour group wasn’t the only ones in there—there was a group from Japan and a group from Spain. The Spanish group leader surprised me when she spoke, not English, but Spanish! It is so unexpected to see a person of one ethnicity speaking a language that he or she wouldn’t be expected to speak other than English. I didn’t really dwell on that thought for too long, because I wanted to get a shot of the surrounding landscape. It was really cool to see that one side of the lake was the city side where there were modern buildings and cars beeping, while the opposite shore of the lake was all green and had mountains with pagodas dotting the horizon. The water itself was very interesting. Although it was murky and you could not see through it, there was definitely fish in it. Also in the water at one particular place in the Lake are three little stone pagodas. These are significant because they also appear on the back of the 1 RMB bill.
After the relaxing boat ride, we cooled off by eating some ice cream to re-energize us for some more walking. This time we walked toward a fish feeding pond where crowds of people were feeding bright orange and yellow koi. Jack told us that we could purchase fish food to feed the fish or popcorn, which he personally liked because the pieces were bigger and the fish could see it more clearly, so it was fun to see the fish fighting over the food. Jack has a strange sense of humor. Although I did not participate in feeding the fish, I did watch others feed them, and I had to admit it was a bit entertaining, but only a little bit.
After the feeding, we moved on to a peacock garden where there were many pigeons and three white peacocks. It was strange that we didn’t see a normal, brightly colored peacock, since there was one roaming around the nearby gardens earlier. Anyway, we took some pictures, then hurried back to the bus and to the air conditioning.
Next stop – lunch. Normally the kids sit at one table and the adults sit at another, and normally Fan Zhou, one of the interns on the trip, sits with the kids. Now, some of us call her mom because she pretty much forces us to eat, or at least try, all of the different foods, which is good.
After a lunch of Chinese food, we went to the Six Harmonies Pagoda which is 13 stories tall. Sure, it was a hot day, but I was actually pumped to climb it. It’s like when I climb the great wall—it’s tiring and hard work, but once at the top, the accomplished feeling is completely satisfying, and the view is amazing of course. This pagoda was no different, if not, a little easier to climb than the Great Wall. All I did was put my iPod headphones in and listened to good music as I went up. All there was to do in the pagoda was take some pictures of the view and go back down the many stairs. By the time I went back down, the air was cooling as a thunderstorm was rolling in. The group slowly walked back to the bus, enjoying the large, cold drops of rain that drizzled down on us.
Luckily, it did not rain harder, but the temperature did go down a little bit, so that the weather was almost agreeable when we arrived at the tea museum, which was our next stop. We took a tour of the museum which told us the history of growing tea in China, the different kinds of tea, how tea is prepared, the different kinds of tea ware, and how and where the tea is grown. The tour guide did not know how to speak English, so Fan acted as translator. This made me realize how strange it was that the tour guide didn’t speak English, and I realized that it was actually strange that so many people in China, from restaurant workers to street vendors, could speak English. This also made me aware that the only language that many Americans could speak was English, and that it was a little silly (and selfish) for Americans not to learn a second language. Everyone should learn another language or two, especially in this world where going another country can just be a plane ride away, and where international relations is important in business, economics, and politics. Just saying.
At the end of the tour, we sat down to watch a tea preparing ceremony. A very pretty girl in a qipao showed us how to properly prepare tea. Music was playing as she moved slowly and fluidly to wash the cups with water, put the tea leaves into the cup, pour a little water into the cup, swish that around again, and finally pour the rest of the water into the cup. While we watched, we also drank tea. The tea we drank was West Lake Longjing green tea, which was one of the best from that area because it was grown right in the tea farm near the museum. (It was also expensive – 220 RMB for 50 grams!) In any case, it was so good! It was bitter because it is green tea, but it was one of the best cup of teas that I have ever had. The water was special, too – it tasted pure and sweet – because it came from a local mountain spring. After everyone was done with the tea, we went outside to see a nearby tea farm right in the backyard of the museum. While there, we were told pick five tea leaves from a white tea plant. These leaves had to be picked by the pads of the finger and not by the nails; the leaves also had to be tender and have two leaves and a branch. It took us maybe 5 minutes to pick out 5 good tea leaves. Jon Lu told us that an average worker picked 80,000 leaves in a day and then proceeded to let us know that we would all be fired because we were so slow. Awesome.
At that time, it started to rain again. We rushed back to the tea museum to go to the gift shop and browse/buy. Then we went back onto the bus that drove us to the hotel. We rested at the hotel for an hour, then went to dinner.
After another dinner of Fan forcing food down our throats (down some more than others’), we walked toward the West Lake again. This time we were on the city side, as opposed to the countryside where we were this morning. The reason we were here was because there was this fountain show that was presented every 30 minutes starting from 7pm. Our group caught the 7:30 showing. Basically, the fountain show was 10 minutes long, and it was lake water coming out of fountains that were on the lake surface. The area was lit in brightly colored lights and there were many different streams of water that were being shot out of the fountains – this whole display was synched with music blaring out of loudspeakers. It was basically like a Disney fireworks show, except with water, and it was not as grand. But it was still nice and purdy. We enjoyed it very much, although we did seem to get some lake water spray on us. By 8pm, we were ready to go back and crash after all of the day’s excitement, but it wasn’t over yet!
The students, interns, and Jon Lu all met in Jon’s hotel room as soon as the bus dropped us all off back at the hotel. It was time for the first journal reading. Everyone on the trip was required to read from his or her journal of the trip so far. Everyone basically read from the 1 st day arriving at Shanghai, the Expo, or the Water Town. There was a lot of discussion about the USA Pavilion, and afterwards, Jon encouraged us to put ideas, like what we discussed in the USA Pavilion debate, into the journals. He wanted them to be more thought provoking, etc.
As much as I want to get into the deep meaning behind a tea leaf, I am calling it a night and wrapping up this post. This post is already more than 3.5 pages single spaced on a Word document (I think altogether, this blog is more than I have written during the entire school year) and tomorrow we’re supposed to be waking up extra early. Good night!
by Emily Yang, NYU '14