We last left off with temples, teas, gardens, and bright lights in Shanghai.
But we had another stop while we were in China. We were determined to make sure that our first trip to China would be well worth it. And so, we popped over to Hangzhou.
It started with a train ride.
We bought tickets, not realizing that it was the first class cabin. It was just the front car, six seats total. The chairs were plush and fully reclinable. Naturally, I was very excited.
Mama and Papa Teng were more reserved. Or, as some people say, normal.
The train from Shanghai to Hangzhou took roughly an hour. (One day, I shall tell you about the train ride my aunt and I took from Osaka to Kyoto — which was decidedly not an hour. Much shorter.)
Our first meal in Hangzhou was at Jiangnanyi, and it was all sorts of amazing. I must apologize because I don’t know what the dishes were called. Just trust me that they’re good, and if you ever find yourself there, just show them the picture and hope that the servers know what you’re trying to order.
The top left is a chicken dish. It is immersed in vegetable stock and peppers, including one very special pepper that literally numbs your lips. It isn’t spicy, more like it has a unique taste and it leaves your lips numb. All of that is a scary description of delicious chicken. I shall crave it for the rest of my days.
The dark plate on the right side is roasted duck. It was fantastic duck: tender, juicy, flavorful. I was always a fan of duck, and this duck did not disappoint.
The rest of the time in Hangzhou was seeing the historic sites this cultural hub had to offer.
Hangzhou is the home of West Lake, the setting a famous Chinese myth. The myth is about a beautiful woman whose face is even more alluring when she makes slight grimaces in the pain caused by her aching heart. The tale also involves tested love (between her and a scholar), political intrigue (between two kings, in which she is used as a pawn), war (between the said kings), and triumphant love (she and the lover escape together).
Hangzhou is also home to many great ancient Chinese scholars and politicians. One of the most famous is a man named Su Dongpo. His poetry is revered and widely-read. (He also has a very difficult and very delectable pork dish named after him, fun fact.)
One morning we rode a boat around the lake and stopped at various islands. The lake is a popular tourist spot, but we found a nice boatman who regaled us with both historic facts and personal anecdotes from his years working on the lake.
The government initiated a large-scale renovation and preservation project of West Lake and its sights, keeping its beauty as it was in its original heyday, allowing people like to appreciate it as an oasis amidst the world’s modernity.
Here is where Hangzhou differs markedly from Shanghai. Shanghai is all modern, with its flashing lights and pressing crowds. The older buildings are “preserved” and made new with bright red and gold paint and shiny lacquer on the wood. Hangzhou preserves its culture by cleaning the buildings and artifacts, thus making them look well-kept without being new.
As the boat returned to its beginning point, I took my turn “rowing” the boat.
While my parents looked out to the tranquility.
It was a magical time.