Well its Saturday again, overcast and light showers, could mean another cancelled West Lake outing. I finished my morning therapies from Friday at 11:30; we had all of our plans arranged again and the driver booked. We decided that we were going regardless, after all we’d missed two Saturday ventures in a row and it was only showers. Besides we had a very busy day planned with some things we had to get done. One of our interpreters Johnny had the day off and was coming with us so he was our first stop at noon.
Our 2nd stop was in Hangzhou core where we were heading to buy a wheelchair. After I leave the hospital I won’t have access to one for the rest of my journey and try as we might we couldn’t get a rental or loner anywhere. Johnny found a supplier and he could get a discount because of the hospital so off we went without knowing exactly where we were going which made this drive even harrier. When we finally found the store Mr. Chen our driver pulled up right in front and parked. This was a busy street that would never have parking allowed at home but not here and not Mr. Chen. He parks anywhere regardless of the mayhem it may cause as long as he gets me as close to the entrance as possible. We always try to book Mr. Chen, he hardly knows any English but he’s great! So I got a chair for just under $100 Canadian and I’m very happy with it. Most wheelchairs are so crappy in airports and hotels that I can never push myself but I can with this one. Did I mention how much I miss my scooter!!! It provides me so much independence and opportunity to do things that I just can’t do without it.
Our next stop was a famous tea house that we saw on TV located very close to West Lake. It was supposed to be on Longjing Rd. which weaves around a mountain side where the famous Dragon Tea is grown. We pulled off the road to one of the many buildings we’d seen that didn’t look like the famous tea house but there was a stone set of stairs to climb and maybe we’d see it at the top. Then again, maybe not! We walked across a very quaint patio surrounded by lush vegetation that was actually quite beautiful had it not been raining, into what looked like the backroom of a diner! TK and I just looked at one another thinking this can’t be it. I guess Johnny and Mr. Chen didn’t really know the famed tea house we were thinking of but explained that the area we were in and Longjing Rd. were the legendary attraction. Okay whatever; we’re here for the experience so just go with it.
We were the only people in this little tea house and the lady (apparently the owner or tea farmers wife) came to greet and seat us. She then went on to explain that a tea would cost 20 RMB; my instinctual reaction was forget it! 80 RMB for four cups of tea, did she think we were stupid? She then explained that if we bought some tea leaves we wouldn’t have to pay for the tea we drank but the tea cost 600 RMB per half kg. That was too expensive as well and our Chinese hostess seemed a little offended. She went on explaining the history of this place and how they grow the tea themselves up on the mountain side and on and on, good thing we had an interpreter! It all seemed fine with our two Chinese companions, tea really is a huge thing in China and this is the best so we sat down and went along with it. Our tea was served with a bowl of sunflower seeds and peanuts, both shelled and unsalted of course. The tea was served in a small clear glass that was so hot you couldn’t even pick it up with what looked to be little weeds floating in it! So we went through the whole ritual of how to make the tea, the smell and flavour, I was actually very unimpressed but TK drinks green tea all the time so she bought some to take home. She did barter it down to 250 RMB at least.
Next we had planned on touring around West Lake some more and maybe a boat ride since the rain had let up a little while we were having our tea but it was still showering and Mr. Chen explained that it would be much cooler down at the lake. We had plans to go for dinner at an infamous Chinese restaurant called Beggars Chicken which was at the lake so we headed down anyway. Unfortunately traffic was a mess and it took over one and a half hours to get back to the lake even though we were very close to it. By the time we made it back it was getting dark and time to eat anyway. We were lucky to get into the restaurant without a wait because it was very busy. There is over 150 years of history to the restaurant and it has served many dignitaries and famous people. The famous chicken was discovered by a beggar who had come across a chicken and wanted to save it so he wrapped it in special leaves that grow in West Lake and buried it in mud. When it came time to eat it he just threw it in the fire and what came out was an incredibly tender and flavourful chicken that is still enjoyed today. They barbeque it slow for about five hours and it’s so popular they make hundreds every day. It was actually the best Chinese meal we’ve had to date and Johnny and Mr. Chen were very appreciative!
Next stop was back to the night market to try and return a watch I had bought that didn’t keep time. I never would’ve thought you could return something or even find the same vendor at that market but Mr. Chen walked directly back to the same guy who sold it to me. He didn’t have any more of that watch but replaced the battery and it’s been working fine ever since. It’s so good to have our interpreters and drivers who really know what’s going on. This was a very fast stop and I didn’t even have to get out of the car!
It was about 6:30 by now and there was a large fireworks festival happening tonight so we headed off for a spot to watch. There is no special holiday associated with the event it’s just something the city of Hangzhou does once a year. They set it up on the river so there are several bridges and areas to view from but you can imagine how busy the roads were getting to a viewing spot. We drove right up to the point where the police had barricaded access to the bridge and were directing traffic away. Mr. Chen pulled up to the police officer directing traffic and in a loud and what seemed heated conversation told the officer he didn’t want to be diverted pointing to me to infer I couldn’t walk. This heated exchange carried on for a few minutes with Johnny joining in. Eventually Mr. Chen ignored the officer and pulled forward to a different one and started the same rant again! This lasted for a few minutes as well until he finally put the car in park and ran around to the trunk and unloaded the wheelchair. TK and I just looked at one another and said I guess we’re getting out here. Mr. Chen then drove off to park the car somewhere and returned within a few minutes. Kind of what I’m used to at home with my handicap placard and getting Rock Star parking!
So we walked across the bridge as far as we could go before entering the area that required tickets and waited there. We had to wait for about 45 minutes before it would start and people were flooding in. Bus after bus went past all empty now but there must have been a few hundred thousand people out and I again was the target of everyone’s stare. Eventually the show began with some thunderous booms and started out beautiful. There was at least a 2 km section of the river that was set up for the fireworks display so it was an enormous area and seemed to encompass the entire sky from what we could view. IT WAS THE MOST PHENOMENAL FIREWORKS DISPLAY THAT I’VE EVER NOT SEEN!!
No that was not a grammatical error, we really couldn’t see them. The sky was overcast and there was still a slight drizzle but no wind. Maybe the air was very heavy and humid but there was nowhere for the smoke to go and with the frequency, large size of some of the displays and the enormous area that they were being fired into, there was a lot of smoke being generated. You could see the entire sky change colors: red, green, blue but could only imagine the amazing images that were forming in the sky above. They went on nonstop for over half an hour and you could feel your whole body shake with every boom. It still turned out to be great and capped off a fun day!
I was almost finished this blog but didn’t get around to posting it, I’ve been sort of preoccupied which I’ll explain in my next one.
Above is the Beggars Chicken and the West Lake leaves they cook it in and that famous tea!