I got up this morning, checked out of the hostel, took the subway, and was soon at the Shanghai Railway Station. I boarded the train to Hangzhou and was there in about a hundred minutes (as we neared Hangzhou, I noticed a number of square four-to-five story apartment buildings, all done in a similar style with slight variations, and all seemingly inspired by colonial and American Empire architecture – or at least that’s what it looked like to my eye; they also all had a spire reaching out from a central tower that had three metal balls, each smaller than the last with the largest on the bottom).
At the Hangzhou railway station, I bought my onward ticket to Guilin and then took the subway to West Lake. From there I set out on foot to find the hostel I had my reservations with. As I walked down Nanshan Lu (the street it was supposedly on), it began to rain, though luckily it wasn’t pouring down in large quantities. I ended up walking much further than I needed to, found a “Hosteling International” sign, stepped in, but found out it was the wrong hostel despite having a similar name. I then walked back up the street and fortunately found the correct one shortly after. I checked in, dropped off my wet bags, and was soon out to explore the West Lake (after having a pizza for lunch – I was in the mood for Western food today). The lake was beautiful, with green hills in the distance, plenty of trees and gardens along the path, and many lotus flowers and boats out on its waters. Also, I think this is the cleanest air I’ve breathed in China yet.
I walked south following a path lined with weeping willow trees to visit the LeiFang Pagoda in Evening Glow (all the names around West Lake are poetically constructed). I paid my entrance fee and took the escalator up to the pagoda. Inside were the foundation remains of the original pagoda and some extremely well carved wooden reliefs depicting scenes of the pagoda’s fabled history. The different levels of the towering pagoda each offered wonderful views of the lake, the city of Hangzhou, and the surrounding hills and temples. I then descended the pagoda, walked through its groomed gardens, and then headed east to the Zhejiang Art Museum. Inside the museum were many modern paintings done in the traditional Chinese style, though technique itself was clearly modernized as well. There were some finely painted portraits, landscapes, and animals throughout, as well as an exhibit on Chakwan Lu (a painter and collector from the first half of the 20th century) and a showcase of art created by young children which varied in talent, but progressively improved with age.
After the museum, I headed north along the lake shore. I continued along the perimeter in a counter-clockwise direction as evening fell upon this land. All along its shore, the lake had signs describing the associated folklore – like how a water buffalo lives on the lake bottom and when the lake dries, he can be seen and how he dutifully restores the lake’s water by spewing it out of his gut. I then took the long causeway on the west side of the lake to its southwest corner. There is where the ‘Impression West Lake’ performance can be watched. I bought my ticket and ate some Kentucky Fried Chicken while I waited (there wasn’t much else around and I didn’t have time for anything other than fast food). The show finally began at 19:45 and it was split in to five acts which depicted a thousand year romance between lovers who met at the lake. The show was performed on a piece of the lake with a stage just below the water’s surface so as to make it look like the performers were all walking on water. This effect, coupled with the colorful lights, splashing of the water, the cover of night, beautiful sets, vibrant costumes, and a lovely soundtrack made the sixty-minute show completely worthwhile (if Disney doesn’t have something like this, they should – maybe a performance of ‘Fantasia’?). Unfortunately, many of my fellow spectators were of the unsophisticated stock you find in the cinema these days; despite signs and protests from the staff, many still preferred to watch the show on their cellphones as they recorded a blurry and distant video of the show, which probably no one will ever watch; also many people continually talked during the performance because they felt compelled to share every thought they had with their companions. Oh well, you can’t change human nature.
After the show, I continued to walk the rest of the lake’s perimeter back to the hostel. At night time, you can see the colorful lights of Hangzhou in the distance, the pagoda and temples are all lit up, many trees along the lake shore have lights shining on them, and the crowds have all dispersed leaving a number of couples and a few wandering souls. Altogether, the lake after dark is even more beautiful than during the day; a great atmosphere for us romantic types. Whenever I look back on my time in China, I imagine the West Lake will always be at the forefront of my memory.