by Linnea ’17
When we first drove into Hangzhou, our tour guide mentioned the phrase, 上有天堂，下有苏杭 which in English translates to, “Above there’s Heaven, below there’s Suzhou and Hangzhou. This compared Hangzhou to heaven, described Hanzghou as being a romantic city, and the sentiment was reflected in the restaurant where we ate lunch and the boat tour on West Lake. At the restaurant, other customers sat under wooden arches around dark wood tables. Bamboo plants and fountains decorated the rooms. Although as a group we were all a little too tired to really enjoy one another’s company, the food more than made up for the stale conversation. My table’s favorite dishes included the chicken stew, the green tea cakes, and the green beans.
After lunch we headed over to West Lake. We started off our experience with a boat tour. It was quite a foggy day. The view of the mountains on one side and the city on the other was still spectacular. A cool breeze helped beat the humidity. We were given a couple of hours to wander around the lake. Most of us chose to walk along the dam, which offered a beautiful view of the lake on either side. Our tour guide took us to a road that had a lot of Song Dynasty architecture. These days, however, the shopping is the main attraction of this street. Although the vendors sold mainly cheap touristy trinkets, this shopping gave especially the Chinese students the perfect opportunity to use their Chinese to practice bargaining.
That night, we were treated to an exceptional meal hosted by four current and former George School families who live in Hangzhou. Probably the largest round table I’ve ever seen, and I ate more food than I imagined possible. This dinner was a nice way to bring the various cultures in at George School to the same table (literally). After a comfortable stay in the hostel, we once again loaded the bus the next day to begin our journey to Yangzhou. We were all surprised to see that the hostel steps, which the night before had seemed insurmountable due to exhaustion, were actually only about six steps high.
Before beginning the dreaded five hour bus ride, we stopped first at a tea plantation. We climbed the steep, dirt trail and found ourselves right in the middle of thousands of rows of tea bushes planted right into the side of the hill/mountain. We were surprised to discover that many of the bushes had actually grown too large and the leaves were no longer fit to be turned into tea leaves. We wandered around the trail for a little while. About half the group, chased by mosquitoes, headed back down to the tea house on the hill/mountain. Once everyone had gathered back at the tea house, we were taught the traditional way to brew green tea, using glasses. We then had the opportunity to buy some of their high quality tea, drink the tea that had been brewed for us, and munch on some seeds and nuts. This once again was a nice chance to rest and take pictures of the scenery. After the tea plantation, we had lunch at a little restaurant in the village. Favorite dishes included the cauliflower and the cellophane noodles. We were also surprised/disgusted/excited to be served the chicken’s head along with the chicken dish. After lunch, we ended our pleasant stay in Hangzhou and began the journey to Yangzhou.