On Saturday, the Delegation was up early and traveled to Hangzhou, China, a city with around 8,000 years of history. Hangzhou is one of the original 7 Ancient cities in China and has been a city for about 2,200 years. Presently, Hangzhou is the capital of Zhejiang province and is its political, economic and cultural center. The current population is approximately 7.5 million people.
Hangzhou is known for its textiles, particularly silk and green tea. For those of you who may not be familiar with green tea, it is the only tea that is not made by fermentation and it is high in antioxidants, particularly vitamins A and C. West Lake Dragon Well tea, grown in the Longjing mountain area surrounding the city, is Hangzhou’s specialty. High-grade Dragon Well is often very expensive and it is frequently displayed in luxury shops like jewelry. Its leaves, brilliant emerald-green and about three-quarters of an inch long, are renowned throughout China for their beauty.
Hangzhou possesses an enchanting natural beauty and a plethora of cultural heritages. It’s no wonder it is known as “Heaven on Earth.” In fact, the city is so beautiful that there is a popular Chinese saying, “Heaven Above, Suzhou and Hangzhou below,” which really does capture the charm of this city. One thing I noticed right away in Hangzhou is that there is less pollution than in other parts of China. Unlike the pollution in Shanghai, Suzhou and Wuhan where the sky seemed to turn gray in the afternoon, here the afternoon sky is a pretty shade of light blue with just a slight film of haze.
The beauty of the city is reflected in the fact that many people who live in Shanghai travel to spend weekends in Hangzhou since the two cities are only 230 kilometers apart, about a 3-4 hour drive. There is also a bullet train that runs between the two cities which cuts the trip to just 45 minutes. The price is very reasonable as well. A first class seat is about $23.00 US dollars, and a second-class seat is about $14.70 US dollars. I can tell you having spent a weekend in Hangzhou that the traffic is horrible and that the city is extremely congested. Getting anywhere in the city by bus is painstakingly slow.
While in Hangzhou, the Delegation is staying at “The Dragon” hotel. The hotel describes itself as a “Smart Hotel” in that it creates an “unprecedented” high-tech experience for its guests. Some of the “high-tech” features include: (1) remote check-in and check-out using an electronic hand-held device; (2) when you use your room key to activate the elevator there is a sign which flashes the direction to go to find your room; (3) the doors of each room have no peep holes; instead the back of each door features a small screen about the size of an iPod or iPhone that allows you to see who is standing outside your door; and (4) an interactive set of TV programs, one of which allows you to access the latest information regarding flight departures and arrivals at the local airport and another which places the image of who is outside your door on the TV screen.
On Saturday evening, the Delegation went to see the performance of Impression on the Lake. The performance is staged entirely on West Lake and is an open-air show using light, music, dance and theatrics. The performance was created by Zhang Yimou, the Chinese movie director who created the opening ceremony of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
The performance tells the story of “The Legend of the White Snake,” also known as Madame White Snake. According to the story, Bai Suzhen, or Lady White, a 1,000 year old female white snake demon, dreams of becoming a goddess. In order to do this, she takes on mortal form and steps into the human world. On the broken bridge of the West Lake, she meets a handsome scholar Xu Xian, who, in a previous life, saved her. The two fall in love and get married. A monk intervenes in order to maintain a law that forbids humans and spirits from falling in love by casting Lady White into a deep well at a Leifeng Pagoda. Over centuries, this story has evolved from a tale of horror to a story of romance.
I have been very fortunate to see about 10 different performances of Cirque du Soleil and Le Reve at the Wynn at Las Vegas. While Impression on the Lake does not have a circus component like Cirque du Soleil and Le Reve, the artistic component is at least equal and probably even exceeds them. There was just something about the charm of the lake and being outside while watching the brilliant combination of lights, music and dancers performing on top of the water that was just beautiful. Taking in a performance should be on anyone’s to do list when visiting Hangzhou.
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