Hangzhou : The Red Umbrella and the Lake

Hangzhou Travel Blog

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Stevie & his little red umbrella :)

I’m sorry.  I can’t quite see you over there.  Shrouded as you are - at a distance - in soft but determined white mist.  It’s an eerily beautiful and atmospheric day today.  Besides the veiled waters of one of China’s most famous and revered lakes.  The ‘West Lake’ (Xi Hu) of Hangzhou.  I’m sorry, can you see me over here?  No, no, over here.  Yeah, yeah just a little further to the right.  Try and focus on the orange beacon hair if you can.  Got me?  Tourists in the mist.

I’ve arrived at these shores via a night train from Beijing to Shanghai (a pricey little skip at 320RMB / $47 for ‘hard sleeper’ berth), a quick ride on the Shanghai Metro to dump the vast majority of my possessions at the ’Etour Youth Hostel’ and then a train straight on down South to Hangzhou (25RMB/  $3.

70).  Shanghai’s to be my final destination from where I’ve had a flight booked to Cyprus for sometime now.  My final big China city can wait.  Stevie needs some serene scenes after life in Beijing.

But Hangzhou’s no runt of the litter of super-sized Sino-cities.  With a population of nearly 8 million it's not to be sniffed at but whilst I am not there long enough to be any fair judge of its character and composition, the significant urban sprawl is softened by the presence of sedate natural surroundings around its periphery and of course, the jewel set in its now concrete and neon heart.  West Lake.

Some would say the weather for my day and a half there was “bad”.  Disappointing at least.  And on the morning of my full day in town it rains with enough persistency, if not force, to dampen my spirits momentarily.

  Also long enough for me to purchase a cute traditional red Chinese umbrella for the huge sum of 15RMB ($2) from a lakeside kiosk to comedically, and slightly ineffectually shield m’head from the drips, drops and drizzle as well as being my photographic companion for the day.  In packing my day bag for a round trip to Hangzhou and ‘The Yellow Mountains’ I forgot to pack my jacket.  “Oops!”. :)  But at the end of all that, I say the weather was perfectly pitched to bring out the ethereal watery charms of the lake.  Speaking to Jingjing on the phone (a very kind lady, to be my first ever ever Couchsurfing host this evening) she assures me “If you talk to the local people of Hangzhou they would say that this is the best time, the best weather to be at the lake with.
Red Umbrella on Green Grasses
  They prefer it here when it rains like this”.
 
By days end, although with no basis for comparison,  I will be in agreement.

A very gentle day.  Painted in muted greens, white and grey.  My achievements today are nothing more intended and nothing more achieved than strolling around the shores of the West Lake.  Slow, calm and happy.  My feet, my toes are getting pretty battered up now from so much urban trudging - as they do periodically - and long walks are becoming quite uncomfortable but I’m taking it reeeal easy today.  Hobble hobble limp limp. 

The mists assist my becalmed state of mind.  Too fast I have tired of the urban rush of China’s East coast.  Too tired of it all after nearly 9 months on The Road maybe?  The urban has been swallowed by the fog today though.

West Lake pavement slab 2
  So in that strange way my mind is able to breath once more.  To expand.  ‘Cos the paradoxical consequence of being hemmed in so claustrophobically by mist and fog and cloud sometimes is that in the annihilation of one's field of vision, the imagination can stretch outwards to any number of infinities of its own fancy.  Which is what I like when I am at home in England.  Sat upon a beach.  Upon the shore.  Staring out at a horizon where blue water meets blue sky.  And the horizon whilst visible, suggests nothing fixed or definite and could stretch forever.  Likewise, today you are never able to see from one shore of West Lake to the other so you can conjure whatever phantoms and visions and daydreams you wish.

Boats of varying sizes glide silently in and out of the glowing white pall.

  Tourists with frustrated cameras crossing the river Styx.  The trees weep down into the steely grey-green reflective waters.  Couples walk arm in arm with umbrellas held aloft.  I’m cutting a peculiar figure all the while it seems.  A curious looking foreigner with bright hair and an even brighter silly looking umbrella.  I am asked to stop (sometimes not even asked, the Chinese are curious but shy) and pose for photos with giddy girls more times today than at any other of my 6 weeks in China.  Grinning like the idiot they wish me to be with arms slung round the tiny shoulders of girlfriends at their Nokia-wielding boyfriends' behests.  For my own photographic journey my little red umbrella is proving perfect in its vibrancy to add some contrast to the soft monochrome of my surroundings and the verdant green woodscapes and grasses and flowers that are abundant on the frequently beautifully landscaped borders of the lake.

Sad statues sit alone in the mist.  Tearful maybe?  Networks of walkways and arched bridges trace paved labyrinths over the lakes surface.  Pavilions reflected in still waters.  Invested with greater spiritual aura than usual thereby.  Lillys clutch diamonds to their chests.  Small Herons stare undaunted.  I stop for some green tea accompanied by Mr Nicholas Nickleby.  The Bai Causeway.  The Lotus Garden.  People cycle about on the many hire-bikes to be found in Hangzhou.  A man walks across water.  I don't know how.  Fish splash.  A lady embroiders to pass the time in the company of her father.  A man with no hands sits upon the apex of a bridge of the Su Causeway (its end lost in mist) playing Auld Lang Sine on a harmonica again and again.

'The Lonely Statue'
  I rattle some shrapnel into his bag.  And limp on.  My feet hurt now.

And that’s pretty much it.  I catch a taxi to Jingjing’s designated hotel.  A Nanjing born, Shanghai based architect called to her Hangzhou company headquarters for two weeks.  She was unable to house me in Shanghai owing to this change of scene but is kindly chuckin’ me the spare bed in her plush enough hotel room.  We have fun over dinner.  A real angel in both form and friendliness but foolishly I neglected to take a photo with her.  Sorry!  Stuffed to the gills we take an eerie, misty, moody night black, fright black stroll besides the lake before turning in.  My feet really hurt now.  Which is a problem as I’m off to Huangshan to climb the ’Yellow Mountains’ tomorrow.

Stevie in The Wood
  Hey ho! There is no mountain in the world but that is not conquered one step at a time... step step, limp limp, "ouch ouch!" ... or so the saying goes.

dieforu says:
great my friend!!!
Posted on: Jul 14, 2009
globalodyssey says:
one more gem in a string of gems...aha, a metaphorical necklace
and your photos are really exceptional
i really think that this will have to become your profession,,travel writing...too big a gift to be a hobby
i looked out over the west lake in 1979 and it was serene
i sure hope you come to boston sometime to swap travel stories
be safe
Posted on: Jul 13, 2009
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Stevie & his little red umbrella :)
Stevie & his little red umbrella :)
Red Umbrella on Green Grasses
Red Umbrella on Green Grasses
West Lake pavement slab 2
West Lake pavement slab 2
The Lonely Statue
'The Lonely Statue'
Stevie in The Wood
Stevie in The Wood
Umbrellas in Grey
Umbrellas in Grey
Friends atop the lake.
Friends atop the lake.
Many pleasing landscaped areas abu…
Many pleasing landscaped areas ab…
West Lake pavement slab 1
West Lake pavement slab 1
Heron and Lillies.
Heron and Lillies.
A pavilion floating on the lake.
A pavilion floating on the lake.
Pavilion Reflected.
Pavilion Reflected.
Photo by the lake.
Photo by the lake.
West Lake Lillies.
West Lake Lillies.
Lillies clutching diamonds.
Lillies clutching diamonds.
The Su Causeway that runs the enti…
The Su Causeway that runs the ent…
Umbrella & Trees
Umbrella & Trees
Radial Lines
'Radial Lines'
Swans.
Swans.
A man walks across water.  I dont…
A man walks across water. I don'…
Stevie, JJ and The Little Red Umbr…
Stevie, JJ and The Little Red Umb…
Hangzhou
photo by: sophiefbs