Hangzhou is a very nice city in East Central China (Shanghai area). For more than a millennia it has been on the top of the “go to” list for well-heeled Chinese to go visit. It has traditionally been a place of learning, culture and beauty. It is often mentioned in the same sentence as another city, Suzhou and usually in the context of “Heaven on Earth”. That set some pretty high expectations.

 

Tom Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative.  Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area. Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels around Thailand and you can get your copy here!  I've got a copy of this book and I can tell you it's well worth it, especially for first time travelers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.Tom Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative.  Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area. Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels around Thailand and you can get your copy here!  I've got a copy of this book and I can tell you it's well worth it, especially for first time travelers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.

When Tom agreed to become part of our small select product review team I was both excited and grateful.  I hope you enjoy this and future reviews by Tom.  For those whose plans include extended travel in Thailand and China I’d recommend contacting Tom and inquiring into obtaining copies of his books.  Tom Tweedel is an Austin, TX based photographer and can be reached at: tomsds@austin.rr.com

 

Hangzhou is a very nice city in East Central China (Shanghai area). For more than a millennia it has been on the top of the “go to” list for well-heeled Chinese to go visit. It has traditionally been a place of learning, culture and beauty. It is often mentioned in the same sentence as another city, Suzhou and usually in the context of “Heaven on Earth”. That set some pretty high expectations.  

While not a divine experience it is a very nice city. If someone said “Tom, your moving to China next week, where do you want to live” Hangzhou would be on my short list to consider. It has a good blend of both manicured and natural beauty, isn’t as frenetic as the big economic engine cities and is surrounded by very pleasing countryside. 

The city itself is home to many attractions. The central attraction is the “West Lake.” Walking the banks, dikes and causeways and seeing the sights is a wonderful way to spend a day. 

Hangzhou is also home to a number of museums, a famous temple or two and some cool pagodas sticking up from the forested hills. I photographed my visit there with an early generation “prosumer” Nikon CoolPix 990 which was state of the art at that time.

 

Part 1 – Around Hangzhou

 

We arrived in Hangzhou by bus towards evening. The elevated position afforded us a good view of the countryside and city. One of the things I noticed was how well irrigated this area was.  Every few miles we would pass over what looked like a river. Though from the speed and shape I could tell they were actually irrigation canals.

 

We arrived in Hangzhou by bus towards evening. The elevated position afforded us a good view of the countryside and city. One of the things I noticed was how well irrigated this area was.  Every few miles we would pass over what looked like a river. Though from the speed and shape I could tell they were actually irrigation canals.

 

When we were in the “suburbs” of Hangzhou I saw some very interesting housing. There would be roads that would snake for miles out through flat fertile plains.  Along these roads were packed rather tall bout narrow residential structures.  They were 3-5 stories tall and maybe 15 yards wide.  While they looked rather cookie cutter in design many of them had custom trim, rooflines or color to set them apart.  Behind them was a smaller one story shed and then an intensely cultivated lot maybe 100 yards deep.  They seldom occupied both sides of the road, only one.  It was like a wall sprouting up from the plain.

 

When we were in the “suburbs” of Hangzhou I saw some very interesting housing. There would be roads that would snake for miles out through flat fertile plains.  Along these roads were packed rather tall bout narrow residential structures.  They were 3-5 stories tall and maybe 15 yards wide.  While they looked rather cookie cutter in design many of them had custom trim, rooflines or color to set them apart.  Behind them was a smaller one story shed and then an intensely cultivated lot maybe 100 yards deep.  They seldom occupied both sides of the road, only one.  It was like a wall sprouting up from the plain.  

I would have liked to have hired a taxi to come check them out and see what they were all about and who lived here. Was it the rich yuppies?  The poor people who couldn’t afford a house in the city but still wanted some space?  Family Compounds?  Multi-family Apartments?

 

As we drew closer into town the density increased, I also noticed that there were a lot of funnel shaped water towers dotting the landscape in this area.

 

As we drew closer into town the density increased, I also noticed that there were a lot of funnel shaped water towers dotting the landscape in this area.

 

Much attention was paid to making the place green. Many of the overpasses, bridges and elevated highways were lined with planters that were overflowing with green. Compared the suck the life out of you drab and boring communist slab cities I had traveled through this really was a taste of heaven.

 

Much attention was paid to making the place green. Many of the overpasses, bridges and elevated highways were lined with planters that were overflowing with green. Compared the suck the life out of you drab and boring communist slab cities I had traveled through this really was a taste of heaven.

 

A typical street scene of Hangzhou, or many places in China for that matter.  There were many trees in the city and transportation was multi-modal. Buses, taxis, bikes, cars.  The number of bicycles is perhaps something that dates this shot.  Bikes are rapidly giving way to electric scooters.

 

A typical street scene of Hangzhou, or many places in China for that matter.  There were many trees in the city and transportation was multi-modal. Buses, taxis, bikes, cars.  The number of bicycles is perhaps something that dates this shot.  Bikes are rapidly giving way to electric scooters.

 

After we got settled in to our Hotel Room we wandered around to find a place to eat.  We found a friendly enough looking cafeteria and went on in.  Ordering was a bit different.  They had a bunch of plates of food out on display.  You went through with a ticket, marked the dishes you wanted, paid, got your ticket stamped that you had paid and then waited for your food at your table.

 

After we got settled in to our Hotel Room we wandered around to find a place to eat.  We found a friendly enough looking cafeteria and went on in.  Ordering was a bit different.  They had a bunch of plates of food out on display.  You went through with a ticket, marked the dishes you wanted, paid, got your ticket stamped that you had paid and then waited for your food at your table.  

The food itself was nothing exceptional except for the fact that they had Crawfish.  Having spent time around the Louisiana border where crawfish cooking is a fine art I was anxious to try the Chinese version.  Wasn’t nearly as good as what I had back home but was interesting to see the popularity of an imported (but locally grown) dish here.  Crawfish are not native to China but Chinese have found their cultivation in parallel with rice production to work very well.  So well that even back home imported Crawfish from China are competing with locally grown mudbugs. 

 

This was a night shot of one of the “shopping” streets in town. Like most Chinese cities it was quite busy after dark.  But if you look closely you’ll notice something else common in most Chinese cities after dark, no street lighting.  Most Chinese cities are actually quite dark at night.  Public street lighting is rare outside of parks and compounds (costs money to install), when it is there it often isn’t used (cost money to run) and when it is used it often doesn’t work (costs money to repair when it breaks).  Consequently most lighting you get is overflow from private sources and cars.

 

This was a night shot of one of the “shopping” streets in town. Like most Chinese cities it was quite busy after dark.  But if you look closely you’ll notice something else common in most Chinese cities after dark, no street lighting.  Most Chinese cities are actually quite dark at night.  Public street lighting is rare outside of parks and compounds (costs money to install), when it is there it often isn’t used (cost money to run) and when it is used it often doesn’t work (costs money to repair when it breaks).  Consequently most lighting you get is overflow from private sources and cars.

This is indicative of many things about China.  Public spaces and the exterior of many houses and buildings, things that nobody is personally associated with or responsible for are often kept at a minimal state.  If something breaks it takes a while to get fixed because the money to get it fixed is coming out of someone’s graft.  But inside these same buildings it can be another world.  It’s a trend that goes deep into Chinese history and culture.  As China modernizes and becomes more conscious about its external image this is changing.

 

This beauty salon caught my eye and my camera.  At the time it was rather unusual to see such a place.  Beauty salons are not rare but this one was much more cosmopolitan and obvious than most.  They had gone through the trouble of modifying their portion of the structure and paid some serious attention to curb appeal.  The pretty boy in the nice yellow apron added a touch of color to a flashy place amid other unremarkable structures.

 

This beauty salon caught my eye and my camera.  At the time it was rather unusual to see such a place.  Beauty salons are not rare but this one was much more cosmopolitan and obvious than most.  They had gone through the trouble of modifying their portion of the structure and paid some serious attention to curb appeal.  The pretty boy in the nice yellow apron added a touch of color to a flashy place amid other unremarkable structures.

 

The view from our hotel gave us a good look at the rooflines of the city.  I was surprised about how much stuff was on the roof.  Looking closely there is actually a secondary “layer” on the roof made of bricks or blocks.  This acts as a barrier for the sun, absorbing most of its energy and keeping the heat from conducting into the building.  Roof top water tanks were also very popular.  Free solar heating of your water I guess.

 

The view from our hotel gave us a good look at the rooflines of the city.  I was surprised about how much stuff was on the roof.  Looking closely there is actually a secondary “layer” on the roof made of bricks or blocks.  This acts as a barrier for the sun, absorbing most of its energy and keeping the heat from conducting into the building.  Roof top water tanks were also very popular.  Free solar heating of your water I guess.

 

In addition to our visit to Westlake we caught a bus to some other attractions.  Getting out of the urban core of the city an into the less populated areas was a big treat.  I got to see the natural environment of Hangzhou which to my surprise included a lot of broad leafy trees.  The busses seemed pretty nice, a cut above the cattle cars I had ridden elsewhere.  They were still very crowded though.

 

In addition to our visit to Westlake we caught a bus to some other attractions.  Getting out of the urban core of the city an into the less populated areas was a big treat.  I got to see the natural environment of Hangzhou which to my surprise included a lot of broad leafy trees.  The busses seemed pretty nice, a cut above the cattle cars I had ridden elsewhere.  They were still very crowded though.

 

Our destination for the afternoon was the Ling Yin Temple and North Peak, a connected Park.  The entrance to the park was a mob of people so we elected to do the North Peak first.  North Peak is arguably the highest point around and would afford some good views.  We took a short, overpriced gondola ride to the peak.  Exiting we were confronted by an interesting map.  Can you guess where the gondola is?  One thing about this and other Chinese maps, not always to scale..

 

Our destination for the afternoon was the Ling Yin Temple and North Peak, a connected Park.  The entrance to the park was a mob of people so we elected to do the North Peak first.  North Peak is arguably the highest point around and would afford some good views.  We took a short, overpriced gondola ride to the peak.  Exiting we were confronted by an interesting map.  Can you guess where the gondola is?  One thing about this and other Chinese maps, not always to scale..

 

Once at the top of the peak we moved up to a lookout platform and got a good view of the surrounding countryside.  I was really impressed by the large swaths of undeveloped mountains with agricultural valleys.  The lay of the land reminded me a lot of Western Virginia.

 

Once at the top of the peak we moved up to a lookout platform and got a good view of the surrounding countryside.  I was really impressed by the large swaths of undeveloped mountains with agricultural valleys.  The lay of the land reminded me a lot of Western Virginia.

 

Looking back in another direction you could see the city core itself. Quite developed. The urban core has around 2.5 million people with 6 million residing in the greater area.

 

Looking back in another direction you could see the city core itself. Quite developed. The urban core has around 2.5 million people with 6 million residing in the greater area.

 

From the peak you could see the West lake and even some of the dikes that bisect it as well as more of the city.

 

From the peak you could see the West lake and even some of the dikes that bisect it as well as more of the city.

 

Looking at closer locations to the peak we got a nice detailed view of a local farming compound.  Seems like a pretty nice place.  Good sized compound, clean looking, nice green crops.  The color and seemingly good level of upkeep impressed me.

 

Looking at closer locations to the peak we got a nice detailed view of a local farming compound.  Seems like a pretty nice place.  Good sized compound, clean looking, nice green crops.  The color and seemingly good level of upkeep impressed me.

 

The patchwork rows for lush crops gave the place a lush, yet manicured look.  I really enjoyed  hanging out on North Peak and this area as a whole.  It was green, quiet, beautiful yet close to a large city.

 

The patchwork rows for lush crops gave the place a lush, yet manicured look.  I really enjoyed  hanging out on North Peak and this area as a whole.  It was green, quiet, beautiful yet close to a large city.

 

After taking our fill of the view from the North Peak we headed down into the park going down the mountain to the temple.  It was a very scenic walk down a crumbling path.  The weather was nice, the trees were pretty. It was a side of China I had rarely seen

 

After taking our fill of the view from the North Peak we headed down into the park going down the mountain to the temple.  It was a very scenic walk down a crumbling path.  The weather was nice, the trees were pretty. It was a side of China I had rarely seen.

 

We ran into a weasel like creature on the way down which was totally unexpected.  This was probably the first ground dwelling wild animal I had seen in Eastern China.  There are not a lot of wild animals in China.  In the countryside you might find a few stray dogs or cats, but their numbers are limited and they remain well concealed when people are around.  Even in the cities you don’t see very many birds or pigeons.

 

We ran into a weasel like creature on the way down which was totally unexpected.  This was probably the first ground dwelling wild animal I had seen in Eastern China.  There are not a lot of wild animals in China.  In the countryside you might find a few stray dogs or cats, but their numbers are limited and they remain well concealed when people are around.  Even in the cities you don’t see very many birds or pigeons.

 

It wasn’t all trees and bushes, we went through several groves of a very tall type of bamboo which my wife loved.   On the way down we passed a number of people.  It seems very common to go into the Temple and then climb the mountain.  Not many people start at the mountain and then go down to the Temple.  As got off the mountain and approached the temple grounds we saw a few residences where people lived in the woods and then got to the entrance gate.  The lady working this side seemed very bored.  We paid the admission fee and got in with no wait

 

It wasn’t all trees and bushes, we went through several groves of a very tall type of bamboo which my wife loved.   On the way down we passed a number of people.  It seems very common to go into the Temple and then climb the mountain.  Not many people start at the mountain and then go down to the Temple.  As got off the mountain and approached the temple grounds we saw a few residences where people lived in the woods and then got to the entrance gate.  The lady working this side seemed very bored.  We paid the admission fee and got in with no wait.

 

After getting into the Temple grounds we checked it out.  The Lin Ying Temple is also known as Temple of the Soul's Retreat. It is one of the larger (and wealthier) temples in China.  It originated as a monastery back around 300 AD and has been a major temple for around 1000 years.  It is a very active temple with services going on alongside the throngs of tourists.  Inside the main temple was a very large Buddha, but photography in the temple itself is forbidden (common in China).

 

After getting into the Temple grounds we checked it out.  The Lin Ying Temple is also known as Temple of the Soul's Retreat. It is one of the larger (and wealthier) temples in China.  It originated as a monastery back around 300 AD and has been a major temple for around 1000 years.  It is a very active temple with services going on alongside the throngs of tourists.  Inside the main temple was a very large Buddha, but photography in the temple itself is forbidden (common in China).

 

On the grounds of the temple was a long winding path through the woods that lead through the Buddha grottos.  These were a variety of carvings in the side of the cliffs depicting Buddha and other religious themes.

 

On the grounds of the temple was a long winding path through the woods that lead through the Buddha grottos.  These were a variety of carvings in the side of the cliffs depicting Buddha and other religious themes.

 

Wandering through them was an almost mystical experience, if you could ignore the tourists crawling around you and yakking away.

 

Wandering through them was an almost mystical experience, if you could ignore the tourists crawling around you and yakking away.

 

Despite it all if you could stand in one place for a while and focus between the ebb and flow of the crowd you could get real feel for the place and its spiritual wonder.

 

Despite it all if you could stand in one place for a while and focus between the ebb and flow of the crowd you could get real feel for the place and its spiritual wonder.

 

Exiting the temple we went back to the city.  While waiting for the bus I was able to snap a picture of what was high fashion then and there, elf shoes.  The longer and pointier the better.  I thought it was ridiculous at the time, imagine my surprise a year or two later when women in the office here in the states started showing up with these.

 

Exiting the temple we went back to the city.  While waiting for the bus I was able to snap a picture of what was high fashion then and there, elf shoes.  The longer and pointier the better.  I thought it was ridiculous at the time, imagine my surprise a year or two later when women in the office here in the states started showing up with these.

 

Next Time –

West Lake and Beyond.