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.