Saturday, April 19, 2014

China 2014 Day 3: Hangzhou and Impression West Lake

China 2014 Day 3: Hangzhou and West Lake

This was one of the most epic, action-packed travel adventure days of all time. I say this is "Day 3", but not really... Day 2 didn't exist due to time zone changes and Day 1 was spent completely on the plane. So, after a quick sleep last night, this was essentially our FIRST DAY in China, and WOW did we ever carpe-diem the heck out of it.

Due to jet-lag, we were up and ready to go at 5am. We started with some of the nice fruit and treats in our hotel room.

Tasty fruit bowl
White Rabbit milk candies
Rockin' the robe
Epic bathroom
And then off to Willow Stream Spa right after it opened. Holllllllly crrraaaaap it rocked. There is one of those funny/fancy rain showers, but it's also go sideways water sprayers as well! Vichy I think it's called. Super fancy and fun. We did some laps in the pool, and the pool was literally the exact best temperature a pool should be. It was insanely awesome, and also a nice way to give jet-lag a kick in the pants. After a nice swim, I had another quick shower in that crazy shower thing with some of the really nice smelling soap they have there, and the hit this crazy thing called a "Steam Room" -- it's like a wet sauna. It was very good and it said on the wall that it was very good to help combat jet-lag... how convenient! Felt very clean after that, that was pretty fun too. A bit hot like a Sauna, but you're sortof getting clean at the same time cause there is hot steam everywhere. Pretty awesome.

After that part, headed outside to go sit and wait for Michal and... there was GINGER TEA there!!!!!!!!!! Ohhhh MAN!!!!!!!!!!!! It was SO SO SO SO SO SO SO SOOOOO good. It was just really excellent, a fantastic hardcore ginger flavour, a little sugar, and very hot. It was stellar and a great wake up and smooth-out for your stomach after a long flight. Incredible! "Well, we're DEFINITELY coming back here every day!" we said.

Back up in the room, made a nice Illy Espresso with the instant machine in the room and it tasted great. Then off to get some cash and walk "The Bund" - the main downtown area along the water. I suppose, somewhat like Shanghai's Embarcardero.

Pearl Tower
Outside of the Fairmont Shanghai
The Bund
We wandered into a couple of random stores including FamilyMart, a 7-11 type store that I remember from Japan. We got a few tiny pastries and a chocolate muffin from the cafe at the hotel, checked out for the day and left our main bags there. Our plan today was for us to head to Hangzhou for the day, stay overnight there, and then come back to Shanghai tomorrow evening to check back into the same hotel, the Fairmont Shanghai Peace Hotel. The Hotel was amazing but we only got a short look so far given that last night was mostly about arriving and sleeping. We'll get to see it some more tomorrow night.

Lays Italian Red Meat Flavour
So, after checking out we headed to East Nanjing Metro Station and took the subway to Hongqiao High-Speed Train station. The Metro was super easy and it went very smoothly. We chatted to an older man who has been traveling all around the USA. It was cool in general just to see the fashion, smart phone usage, etc. I love just people-watching in a new country, and seeing how people interact, how different social groups and age ranges interact with each other, it's all just very fascinating as there are always similarities to "home", but always major differences too. Super fun.

We got to the Hongqiao station and took a long walk to get to the departure floor. Once there, we wandered for a little bit after going through a security check again. We wanted to get onto the train at a reasonable time. But it was really quite easy, you could tell from the ticket what the train number was, the big signs told you the gate to go to, and the ticket even (somewhat clearly, though only in Chinese characters) told you what train car and seat you were in.

The train station was pretty cool and we found some fun stuff upstairs, including a place called Bread Talk where we got an awesome cheese stick. McDonald's was sadly not that interesting. I tend to love to see McD's in other countries as it's always cool and fun to see how they have localized to the destination's culture. So not much at this one, we'll have to wait and see a larger McDonald's later. There was a "Disney" store which had a Minnie with a Kimono on :)

About to catch the Bullet Train!
We got onto the fast train with some snack, and it soon was going at 250 km/h! Outside were mostly crops, including some kind of yellow cornflower thing. I asked someone later and they told me it was some kind of oil (maybe linseed oil?). There were also lots of little trees outside of the window as the train zoomed along, and some little trees that look like the cool Cherry Blossom tree in the lobby of our hotel back in Shanghai. Mostly farmland, there were a lot of small lanes there, and surprisingly, not a lot of cars.

The train car
On the way out of Shanghai
We arrived in Hangzhou a short 1.5 hrs later and we were a bit tired from jet-lag but decided just to go for it and head straight to the famed Taiji Tea House, known for their "Kung Fu Tea". I didn't print the address in advance but I had Google Maps somewhat downloaded and had GPS on my phone which could roughly navigate the streets. So, we just headed in the general direction we suspected the Tea House might be in, and went for it.

Crossing the road so far in China is insane. As someone mentioned to us, the stoplights are for cars only -- bikes and pedestrians and especially scooters do not tend to pay much attention to the stoplights. So, we joined into the exciting fray and just went for it.

Crossing the street...
Makes for some interesting stories
We got close to the tea house with my almost-downloaded map + GPS, but not quite close enough. We got lost so we stopped in at a YHA and asked for help. The staff was nice, spoke some English, and pointed us in the correct direction. We knew we were close!

Cool lamp store
We walked passed McD's and right onto a crazy night food street. We saw some young people walking around with a deep-fried crab on a stick, and also some cotton candy -- I'll take the cotton candy!"

After some wandering, we found it and went inside. They took us upstairs and had absolutely no English. Our tea server was somewhere around my age but had no English words so he just sort of sat there staring us down as we drank the tea. We did manage to get a few smiles but not much! They sat us down and unrolled a cool vertical menu made of of Bamboo, and said 120 Yuan each for Longjing, OK? (Approx $20 each for the most well-known Green Tea of the area.). We figured it was a little pricey but we should just go for it as this Tea place had been recommended by a few people. We agreed and assumed we were paying $20 each for the most epic green tea of all time. But, soon after, lots of food and other tea snacks came out. Red Bean chewy cake, weird fruity porridge, peanuts, ginger, some strange mung beans, and more.

Our tea guy making us some Longjing tea!
Ginger, kumquats and other tasty things to go with the tea ceremony
Nice one of Spring!
Mochi, dates, a twisted almond thing
We had the first pour of the tea and it was very tasty. The tea dude poured first into his gaiwan and then waited for the tea to steep, then poured a small amount into a cup for himself to test it out before pouring for the two of us. The tea was very tasty, and had a nice light smell. He then poured more water into the gaiwan and waited for it to steep again, and then poured some more for us. He repeated this about 6 or 7 times before getting some more leaves. I found I liked the 2nd steeping the best. We repeated until we'd done the whole thing twice. At that point, I was trying to mime the phrase "Tomorrow, we're going to visit the Longjing Tea Fields", but as I mimed "tomorrow", I got a pretty epically confused "?!!!" look from him, and he stood up and started the Kung Fu Tea portion. We weren't sure if we were going to see that or not and had no idea how to ask for it, so we were glad when that part started, that was awesome.

Kung-Fu Tea
Pouring over his shoulder
We finished up at the tea house and had a few more snacks. As we were wrapping up, a young toddler came in and had a big hole cut out of the bottom of his pants -- this was pretty common, we'd seen it a few times already! Instead of diapers, it seemed the very young kids just had holes in their pants and, presumably, are encouraged to learn to squat from a young age! I wondered how young kids could be safely taken onto subways etc without unexpected "accidents" -- but I guess this system must work reasonably well as a potty training tool since most young kids we saw seemed to have this hole-in-pants situation.

Tea Kettle
We went back to the main road after tea and tried to get a Cab. At first it was tough but we found a guy basically parked in traffic and showed him a printout in Mandarin of where we needed to go. He said "Ok!" and off we went, zooming around West Lake and towards the famed Banyan Tree Hangzhou hotel!! We arrived and WOW, what a place!! We decided to try this super fancy and amazing place out since we were only staying for one night and this whole trip is a celebration of Michal's awesome work last year. We got there and it was immediately obvious that this place was gonna ROCK.

We got a Chrysanthemum tea and Green Tea cookie upon arrival and giddily looked around at the impressive natural surroundings. Rather than being on West Lake which is the main to-do in Hangzhou, this hotel is built upon the XiXi Wetlands. It was glorious. We were celebrating our 1 year dating anniversary there but I guess they thought it was our 1 year wedding anniversary, (haha, close enough) so they upgraded our room to one with a Tub in the bedroom on the floor!!! The bed also had the word "Happy Wedding Anniversary" written on it in leaves and rose petals. SO crazy!!! It was amazing. In the room there were a couple of oranges there waiting for us, most likely the juiciest and tangiest orange I've ever had. Incredible.

This hotel is ah-mazing!!!!
Epic tub!!! On the floor!!!
Amazing lounge area
Also, hilariously, there was a 2nd bath tub in the open-concept bathroom area that looked a bit like a steamed-bun steamer. WOW. Since it took a while to get there and we spent a good hour at the Kung Fu Tea place, we only had 1.5 hrs left to wander around and explore before we needed to head off to see the West Lake Impressions show! So we wanted to, as you might suspect, make the most of it. :)

SO much tea!!!!!
A massage bed... in your room?!?!?
What a view! :)
Insane bathroom too
Funny robes
Close enough!
Niiiice :)
We wandered around a bunch, checked out the Spa/swimming pool area, wandered around outside a bit and took some photos of the hotel grounds. So cool. I could see Michal really wanted to see the pool and hang out in there for a bit, and so did I. But, it was going to be closed the next day until 10am and we'd miss it entirely as tomorrow we have a tour leaving earlier than that. Nick, the concierge, had booked our cab for 5:30pm. It was then 5pm. I knew that West Lake was only say 20min cab ride away from Googling in advance.

So we told Nick that we were hoping to to move the taxi pickup so we could have a little more time so that we might be able to swim... "Spa? Now?!" he said, somewhat nervously, keen for us not to miss our show at West Lake at 7:15. "Um... yes, OK! 6pm is OK! 6:15 is the latest a taxi can leave to get you to West Lake on time for the show." So it was 5:15 and we raced back to our room, grabbed our bathing suits, and headed to the pool/spa!! Do ALL the things!!!!!!!

What an epic place
Boat-in hotel rooms
There was a huge shooting water tap there for massaging your back in the pool that were hilarious, foot massage jets and little seats to sit on in the pool, and most awesomely an infinity pool hot tub!! So baller. We hung out there for a solid 20 min and then peaced-out hard, stopping of course to get some tea first before racing back to change for the West Lake Impressions show. Do ALL the things!!

We changed and then rolled out. The Taxi to West Lake was fast, as expected, and we had plenty of time there to get our tickets at the Will-Call window and wander around a bit. I think Nick had originally planned for us to have more time there so we could see the Causeways more and wander more thoroughly, but we were glad to have seen the pool instead. We still had enough time to see the area and wander nicely and grab some street food for dinner. We got Tofu on a stick that was very tasty, and some Corn-on-the-Cob that looked very promising but was only OK. There was also a random KFC there so we walked in and tried to get one of the weird localized options, a "Szechuan Hot Sandwich". They didn't have it so we got a more normal chicken burger which was actually quite tasty. We also got regular fries and a Blackcurrant juice which ROCKED. And off to the show!

Arrived at West Lake
Tofu on a stick
Crazy KFC menu
Our Seats were AMAZING, first row on the water itself. The show was amazing. The show is created by Mr. Zhang Yimou, who was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. It involved many dancers on the lake itself, and colourful lights and costumes, drumming, and some awesome music. Here's a description of the show from the Go to Hangzhou tourism website:
Staged entirely upon the lake itself (a stage has been built 3 centimeters below the surface), Impression West Lake is a spectacle of light, music, dance and theatrics. The story is based on a Hangzhou legend (somewhat lost on foreigners, but that does not detract from enjoyment). Using the lake and its surroundings as props, lights and hundreds of actors create a sensational performance. Similar performances are staged in Yangshuo and Lijiang. Hangzhou’s Impression West Lake is certainly not to be missed.

It is a unique outdoor performance on natural settings. Staged on the West Lake, the performance appears vivid and incredibly beautiful. Mixed with the myths and legends of the West Lake, the show leads you to a sweet thousand-year dream. The special concealable auditorium ensures each seat a wonderful place to enjoy the dazzling show. The state-of-the-art sound system is surely to offer a surprising musical enjoyment. Be sure to catch it, the show is a must-see when you come to Hangzhou. Come and enjoy the most amazing and beautiful spectacle you will see in your life.

The director of this show is Mr Zhang Yimou, who was in charge of the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. This performance is co-directed by Wang Chaoge and Fan Yue. The music is composed by Mr Kitaro and the song is from Ms Zhang Liangyin. Although the whole performance is a five-act play, i.e., encounter, fall in love, say goodbye, memory, and impression, in performance there is not necessarily any clear separation between them.
Act one: Encounter A white crane became a young smart guy in the lake while another white crane was coming and evolved into a pretty girl. They fell in love at the first sight and enjoyed everything. However, their love token was an "umbrella", whose pronunciation was the same as "departure" in Chinese.
Act two: Fall in love The fish in the West Lake were full of spirit! All the fish played and chasing each other in the lake of love. In the boat, pretty girls and boys in traditional Chinese costumes were singing and dancing freely.
Act three: Say goodbye The happy time was not enduring; roar of the drums indicated that the suffering was about to come. All of a sudden, the beautiful girl envolved from crane was dead and the boy was so sad…  Perhaps, where there was love, there was sadness.

Act four: Memory When the heart-broken young man came back to the place where they first met, the pretty girl was not there despite the unchanged surroundings.  Subsequently, the handsome man met other girls but could not forget the girl he loved…

Act five: Impression
Act V: Just like the lake, beautiful and elegant, all the legendary stories were vivid again. Yes, man is mortal, however, the love between the boy and the girl never die, just faded away! What a beautiful impression, what a perfect night!

SO AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!! We both really loved the show. The people dancing on the water were so amazing, and there were great costumes. There were some people in some kind of traditional dress spinning with their staffs in the water, making for a very impressive sight. There was also some kind of lit-up tea house thing going back and forth along the water which I loved. The lights made up to look like fish and birds were also awesome.

I'm so glad we went. This was sooooooooo cool.

And here's a short video that doesn't do the show justice, but gives you an idea of how people were dancing on the water. It rocked.

After the show, we had intended to go the Green Tea Restaurant on Longjing Road, on the way to Longjing Village. It was a fair ways but it was impossible to get a Taxi. So, in our true adventurous fashion, we whipped out my iPhone with the predownloaded map, got the GPS going to make sure we were going the right direction, and walked for over an hour! It was great. That also helped us work up our appetite since we weren't sure how hungry we were with the jet-lag, and also we got to see a bunch of West Lake at night which was nice. A long walk but a great one.

After quite a while we finally got there at about 9:15pm, and they only closed at 10pm (as we determined in advance) so we weren't going to feel rushed. It was so cheap there that we over-ordered by a lot. I got both a Mango AND a Kiwi juice. Haha. I also was so excited to see something called "Green Tea Beer" and "Green Tea Bread" -- WHAT?!?! So I ordered those as well and, since the restaurant is called "Green Tea", they meant this more as "The House Beer" and "The House Bread". Oh well, it rocked anyway. :) The bread was especially good because it tasted like Baozi bread.

The Eggplant Clay Pot was amazing, and tasted so great. As we had heard, China really rocks it in the Vegetarian Food department. It was really outstanding. The chicken we got was nice but a little weird, and the beef... well... "we're not touching that!" we said to each other. Unfortunately, it was likely Beef intestine or something like that, and was not at all what we were expecting. The dishes were only about $3 or $4 each, but it did feel quite bad to leave one of them. That said, it seemed like a lot of people were sharing food "family-style", so often there was some food left over at other people's tables too. We felt bad not to try something but since we way over-ordered, it was OK. The Ice Cream-Bread concoction was one of the best things we ordered, and we also crazily got the Neopolitan dessert too which was huge and had layers of mango, kiwi and dragonfruit in it. Crazy.

Bread and Ice Cream!
Eggplant Clay Pot
"Green Tea" Bread :)
After dinner, we tried to get them to order us a cab but that was a pretty epic fail. We decided then instead to walk to the nearest hotel, just down the road. I had a "conversation" with the security guard at the gate... and... fail. We were trying to ask for his help to flag down a Cab since we weren't having any luck getting one (we'd heard this was because the language barrier is so tough, that often foreign people won't get picked up by Cabs even if they aren't currently taking anyone anywhere.). We "chatted" unsuccessfully for a bit and then ultimately he walked us to the concierge at the front desk. It's surprising how little I can communicate here, it's similar to South Korea in that way, and dissimilar to Japan. I guess the intonation and tone are so much more similar to English in Japan (and also, many people even in rural areas have some English in Japan, which was not the case as I discovered in South Korea and also does not seem to be the case here). Normal gestures or intonations or hand-signals here in China don't seem to make sense when attempting to talk with people, as they might in many other countries. Very, very different I suppose! Michal's very small amount of Mandarin is helping a LOT though, like the phrase "I want..." is helping us say "I want a Taxi" rather than just "Taxi". So that has been an incredible asset already in our not-getting-too-insanely-lost-in-a-foreign-country situation. We got the the lobby and suddenly all was sorted. The lobby staff had a small amount of English and they called a Cab for us which was there in 2 min, and whisked us back to the Banyan Tree.

Back home at the hotel
We got back, took a few photos outside, had a cup of tea... and... SLEEP!

What a long and amazing first day in China, and it was insane to think that we'd only been in the country for 24 hours and had done this much already. Do all the things. ;)

Tomorrow is a tour of the farms for the best and most sought-after Green Tea in the world. But for now, some sleep. :)


Yang said...

lovely post. FYI the yellow flower field is canola flower and its seeds are used to make canola oil

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