Monday, January 28, 2008

Hangzhou on my mind

It’s rained every weekend since I’ve been here in Shanghai – and it’s not the drizzle variety that you can survive without an umbrella. It’s either been pouring rain or snow. This weekend it was mostly snow, and since I am from a part of southern California where that never happens, it was a nice change from the rain. Hey, at least snow falls softly and makes everything look good.

This past Saturday a few guys from our Shanghai office were kind enough to drive us to Hangzhou (pronounced hang-joe) for the day. Hangzhou is about 115 miles out of the city, and was a formerly China’s capital back in the Song Dynasty (11oo's). According to Lonely Planet, Marco Polo visited this city 700 years ago and pronounced it to be “the finest, most splendid city in the world.”

Hangzhou’s claim to fame is its lake called West Lake. It is surrounded on three sides by hills with little islands that dot the lake. This would’ve been a great destination in the summer time, a great place to rent a bike and ride it around the lake. On the day we visited it was snowing in Hangzhou, and according to our tour guides from the office, this is the first time they’ve ever witnessed snow in this part of China.

It took us about three hours to get here from Shanghai because of the traffic – there was a lot of snow and ice on the road, making it hard to maneuver the roads. We arrived just in time for lunch at a lovely restaurant overlooking West Lake. As is the custom here in Shanghai, one person orders for the entire table lots of different dishes and everyone in the table gets to try all of them. We had tons to eat – bamboo soup, duck, beggar chicken, dried anchovies, shrimp with tea leaves, fried bean curd, steamed fish, and for dessert a sweet hot soup from made from fermented rice balls and sticky purple rice. All the dishes tasted great! To make up for all the food we ate, we took a leisurely stroll around part of West Lake and took some amazing pictures.

After finishing our walk, we headed to a traditional Chinese pharmacy, which was adjoined to the Medicine Museum in Hangzhou. The pharmacy was not unlike the ones we have in the US in terms of service provided but the medicines they gave out were made from plant extracts and crushed bone. Some ingredients were very commonplace like rose buds (I don’t know what it was used for though) and some were very exotic, like snow leopard bone or rhino horn. I didn’t see any of these exotic things on the counter but I imagine that these would be very expensive and hard to come by.

We entered the museum through the back of the pharmacy. The museum provided a brief history of Chinese medicine from its beginnings to today, but honestly I wasn’t paying much attention. I was too busy looking at all of the exotic animals they hunted (and maybe still do) for these medicines. They include tigers, rhinos, bears, leopards, and eagles. It was widely believed the ingesting bone or parts of these animals meant that you captured the essence of the animal, but being an animal lover I really don’t believe this to be the case. Still, it was interesting getting a glimpse of that world.

After the museum we made the long drive back to Shanghai, which also took three hours. By the time I got home I was exhausted and got into bed after a nice warm shower.

More pictures here.

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