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18 December 2013 @ 10:31 pm
So I went to China - Wuxi, Hangzhou  

Wuxi - Tai Lake

Wuxi, Land of Parks. At least from the perspective of our brief time there.

Awesome Guide Eric gave us a Chinese lesson en route to Tai Lake. A person (ren - 人) raises their arms to become big (da - 大) and then gains a stroke to become grand (tai - 太). I recognized the first two characters from my minimal familiarity with hanzi, which I slightly added to over the trip. The last was new to me.

Tai Lake lived up to its name. Expansive. Relaxing. Fragrant with chrysanthemums lining the stone paths, and in a lush arrangement around a scarecrow.

A flutist played calm melodies from a small building in a pond. I wish I'd had a zoom lens for a better view of her attire.

I also wish I had more to write than Nice Day for a Long Walk, but I hope the pictures convey that as intended.

Wuxi - Turtle Head Park

Otherwise known as Buddha Disney World. A spectacle pervaded with surprising reverence - worshippers kneeling before fruit offerings on altars, wooden prayer placards hung on red ribbons from racks and trees. We sprung for the optional tram because the place is huge, with quite a hike between each point of interest.

The central fountain periodically puts on a show about the birth of Buddha, set to Mandarin narration and classical music. Some friends and I staked our claim at an unpopulated section of the central area. We realized too late why everyone was on the other side - we were about to get an eyeful of baby Buddha's butt.

He does a full rotation, so the breech delivery didn't matter much.

Curious birds flock in the courtyard nearby. A fellow bus tourist went to feed them and ended up with a new friend in her hair. And scratches on her shoulder, as it was warm enough for tank tops.

The Grand Buddha - all 88 meters of him - delivers as advertised. We climbed the stairs all the way up to touch his toenail, which is about the size of my desk. The statue's base contains some gift shops and museum displays of various Buddhas and other context that we rushed through due to time constraints and minimal English signage. Even so, it is interesting to note when an exhibit is geared toward domestic tourists more so than foreigners.

Our last stop was Fangong Palace, one of my favorite sights of the entire trip. It's a triumph of modern Chinese aesthetics - a well-conceived blend of simpler elements and traditional ornamentation. Elaborate sculptures and trim are set among clean lines oftentimes enhanced with texture, such as glass barricades etched with classic swirly clouds. There's this sense of future-proof timelessness that I get out of my favorite ambient music, and that I love to see in architecture.

And there are rainbows, bringing some modern verve suited to the overall dignity. The ceiling in the great hall changes color, as does that of the huge circular meeting hall.

Wuxi - Pearl Pimping

The next morning brought us back to group tour reality - oh, there goes gravity. And by that I mean the pearl farm. Which was just a showroom where we got to drink tea with ground-up pearls (or not, because I picked the best possible time for a safety whiz) and do the Clueless Shuffle with everyone else who couldn't care less about the merchandise. I mixed it up with an occasional round of Guess Why This Necklace Costs Ten Times As Much As This Apparently Identical Other, which at least kept me moving enough to foil the sales staff's radar. And at least there was some quality conversation to be had with the others disinterested. Having a good group does make such a difference.

Hangzhou - Jingci Temple

The lakeside area of Hangzhou is like Pittsburgh's greener districts on high octane fertilizer. The rental bikes, conveniently lined up at roadside, would have been fun on a longer stay. As it was, our itinerary did provide a pleasant survey of culture amid nature.

Even as one of minimal religious faith, I get warm fuzzies at others' joyous expressions thereof. I love classic church choir Christmas music - the more Latin, the better. So I had dust in my eye, so to speak, at the sheer dignity of Jingci Temple. People read in the study hall, knelt and sang before golden Buddhas gleaming amid riots of flowers. Monks in black robes led worshippers in song and bowing with incense, smiling as they saw us look on. An old woman told fndragon to tie his shoe, breaking the language barrier with a sharp and unmistakable gesture. He did as instructed.

Hangzhou - West Lake

The drive to West Lake produced a new entry in the Comeback Hall of Fame. I swear this transcription is nearly verbatim.

Adventure Time Eric: Can I pee off the boat?
Awesome Guide Eric: When you smoke in a no smoking area, they take your cigarette away. When you do that where you're not supposed to -

Delivered with deadpan fluidity, and that's why he's awesome.

Eric also freely answered questions about the Communist government and ramifications of policies past and present. He spoke of skewed demographics from the birth restrictions popularly known as the one child policy, of Mao's lies to China about how miserable the rest of the world was - only for said lies to collapse upon his death. This tour was modern history Cliff's Notes in and of itself, and added some valuable knowhow to my skeletal understanding thereof.

West Lake can be summed up as misty grey chill time. We enjoyed a boat ride and some time afterward to photograph the scenery.

This statuesque fellow is Yue Fei, a Southern Song Dynasty general that I should probably know more about. My knowledge of pre-20th century Chinese military history is limited to the Three Kingdoms era.

My one regret of the trip - missing out on Impression Westlake, an elaborately choreographed local legend performed on the water's surface. Awkward dinner logistics and general exhaustion led me to crash in my hotel room without thinking to make plans with anyone else who had opted out of the group meal and considered finding their own way back to the lake. Our friends had an entertaining excursion in downtown Hangzhou, and I heard noise of others making it to the show. At least I got some much needed rest.
Current Mood: complacentcomplacent
quufer on December 19th, 2013 07:21 am (UTC)
Very nice pictures! Sounds like you guys had a great time.

I'm surprised that they raise pearls there in Wuxi. I know next to nothing about pearl farming, but I always assumed it was more of a tropical activity, or at least mostly done in areas warmer than the Shanghai region. I know for certain that pearls are a huge industry around Taiwan.

I completely understand about the lack of knowledge of the history part. I'd like to learn more about Japan's history from the Meiji (starting in the 1860's) through the end of the war. A couple of the major cities in Kyushu actually played a major role in this era, and had several historical exhibits. For Nanjing, the Republic of China was declared there, so for the post-Qing and pre-PRC era that might be a good starting point. There's also the WW2 history of Nanjing, of course.

Completely agree in terms of the demographics. Taiwan and South Korea have similar issues, and have been importing women from places like Vietnam. China is doing the same, but is so large that there isn't enough supply possible to meet the demand (~20-30 million young men without brides). I liked the book "Unnatural Selection" on this topic.

Finally, I'd recommend a trip to Taiwan at some point if you're interested in China, if only for the National Palace Museum, which has a lot of the Qing palace treasures that the Nationalists escaped with when the CCP won the civil war. Most of the stuff there came from the Forbidden City, and is from a variety of imperial eras.

Glad you liked your trip! So... when're you going back?
The Heavy Metal Matador: Kuribo's Shoerydain on December 19th, 2013 11:56 am (UTC)
Thank you! We did - it was about as good as a budget group tour could be. It gave us a reasonable survey of popular highlights, some experience in travel logistics within a well managed framework, and a cheap way to get into the country with the option of adding on other cities afterward.

The Massacre Memorial Museum in Nanjing has plenty of context about the conflicts leading up to the invasion. Our tour guide gave us some simple background about Dr. Sun Yat-Sen en route to his memorial. The city has museums we had no chance to see. I would think that more detailed context is offered somewhere.

I would love to see the National Palace Museum and Taiwan in general, partly to get a sense of how its urbanization compares with the mainland's. As to returning - I'd like a bigger travel budget for more of an independent experience. There are tours specializing in lesser known attractions, such as hiking the unrestored sections of the Great Wall. I would also enjoy spending more time in Nanjing, which I felt I had begun to experience rather than just looking at.
quufer on December 19th, 2013 05:28 pm (UTC)
I didn't know there was a SYS memorial in Nanjing, though I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. There's also a prominent one in Taipei.

Taipei is definitely a very urban city, but is nowhere near as large as Shanghai or Hong Kong. I think the experience is still similar, though I've never been to the mainland. It's also cheap, though again probably not as much as the mainland - though it may be comparable to Shanghai. Again, not sure.

Most historical and cultural attractions are in or near Taipei, while there are several good national parks in the rest of the country (though one decent one adjacent to the capital). I know that I've seen package tours offered for the national parks. The national palace museum is also overrun by tour groups, though they're mostly for Chinese (mainland) or Japanese people. I'm sure you can find English ones if you like, though the audio guide was pretty good, IIRC.

I probably won't visit China anytime soon, because extra time in the Far East will probably be in Japan, like it was this time. I am planning on going to some of those national parks in Taiwan on my next trip, though.