Friday, June 6, 2008

Hangzhou to Wuxi: West Lake cruise, snake myths, silkworms, and leisure gardens

We had a very early start this morning. I had to be packed by 6:30 and then on the bus at 7:15. The reason for this early morning was to avoid the crowds at The West Lake in Hangzhou. It's the posh part of town and I guess it gets really crowded as the day wears on. So, blinky-eyed all 31 of us loaded onto a boat only slightly larger than the one pictured here. Unfortunately our less populated morning cruise brought with it fog as you can see from the pictures to follow.

Our tour guide told us a popular story from Chinese lore. It's their Romeo and Juliet. A long time ago there was a sick snake. The snake wandered onto a bridge and was discovered by a boy. The boy felt sympathy for the snake and made it better. The snake was thankful and wanted to make the boy happy in return. When the boy became a man the snake turned itself into a beautiful woman and walked out onto that same bridge and waited for the man.

The man and snakelady fell in love immediately. Some people knew that this woman was really a snakelady though and they were against this pairing. They watched in anger as the man and the snake lady were married and started their life together. One day one of the opponents to the pairing, a monk, confronted the man and told that his marriage was inappropriate because the lady is actually a snake. The man was shocked but inconvinced. The monk offered that if the man were to get his wife very, very drunk on the night of the lantern festival then she would lose her power and reveal her true self.

The night of the lantern festival the man served many spirits and late into the night the woman, as was predicted, became a huge snake. When the man awoke the next morning she was back to her human form. The man thought, maybe it was he who had too much to drink. He rationalized though that even is she is a snake, he loved her.

The monk was outraged! Thinking that the man had no sense to take care of this himself, he stole the snakelady and locked her in a pagoda. Unbeknownst to him, the snakelady was pregnant at the time. She gave the baby boy to her husband before being imprisoned. The fat pagoda (pictured on the right there after the picture of the broken bridge) is where she resided until her son grew up and passed the Imperial Test. He had heard tales of his mother's banishment and with the Emperor's permission he was finally able to free his mother.

The skinny pagoda was built to remember the monk who had imprisoned his mother. Both pagodas and the broken bridge were all parts of the West Lake.

The boat ride through this story was a relaxing was to start the morning. If only all mornings could start with a calm lake boat ride. It's hard to show in picture the calm enjoyable ride. The one to the left here was taken by my placing my camera on the edge of the point and snapping a photo of Marissa and Sabrina as they were leaning out touching the water as we gentle drifted through.

The one on the left I snapped of the shoreline. Note the man flying a crane kite.  

The beauty is just overwhelming.  It inspires poetry.  Not from me mind you, not quite yet.  It's just too much to put into words quite yet.  But eventually, I will try to put together the right words.

When we got off the boat we walked through another temple area before returning to the bus.  I believe it was the temple where the monk who banished the snakelady resided, but I'm not sure.  As has been the case the last few times the gardens surrounding the temple are what really appealed to me.  

The history and the lore is great. But as it was pointed out several time by my nieces, it just starts to feel a little too much like school after a while. For the rest of the day the girls took turns sort of separating themselves from the rest of the group to explore a little on their own.

Marissa turned fourteen today. And with that is seems she has grown a bit introspective. I snapped this shot of her as she wandered to the far end of a pond.

This next photo is one Sabrina took of me. Since Sara requested it, I have shown you my new jade bracelet. (Yes it is supposed to be worn on the left wrist only. And damn Nicole how did you know what I was showing off in that picture?!) It looks a little washed out in the natural sunlight here, but you can see it all the same.

This picture reminds me to point out that I have had three separate strangers in three separate locations have asked to take my picture. The first was on the Great Wall and I was kind of insulted by the whole thing. I was taking a break on the side of the wall along with several others and someone else ran up past a group of us and looked down to her friend who snapped a picture of us breathing heavy.

The next time was in the arena with the 8000 terra cotta warriors. Here a group of about eight Asian teenagers asked me to pose with them. They all smiled big and held up peace signs. I did the same and then laughed warmly. They were a fun little group and I wasn't at all offended. My dad and Kiana was asked to be in pictures with other groups too. I guess we are the whitest/kassaq/american looking people in our group.

The third person was a man with an expensive professional camera. We were waiting at the shore before our boat ride and he asked me if he could take a picture of me. I was only about 70% awake at the time and sort of nodded politely and didn't move. He snapped about five pictures and I stared off into the water, not even bothering a smile. When he was done she showed me one of the pictures. Damn, he was a pretty good shot. I half anticipated he would try to charge me to have a copy or something but he didn't. He just moved on taking pictures of the flowers and trees and other picturesque things.

I was quite complimented.

When we got back to the bus I set up my computer on the bus to type out yesterday's blog. I asked Marissa (who sat across from me) of me and my makeshift office. For those of you who have visited my blog and seen only pictures with no text in a particular post it's because I am using my bus/travel time to write text to accompany the pictures that I upload in the evenings when I have internet access in the hotel rooms.

Our next stop was a silk factory. This first picture here is of the silk worms that produce the cocoons that are the actual silk. In a silk worm's lifetime they each eat 30-40 mulberry leaves. The mulberry leaves are quite large considering the size of the worm itself. Essentially this eating of the leaves (pre-cocoon making) takes up about 90% of their life. Post the eating of the leaves is cocoon making and cocoon seasoning. From there they become moths where they reproduce and die all in less than 24 hours.

So here in the silk factory the silkworms don't quite make it to that last 24 hours of their life. Once in a cocoon they are picked up and microwaved for 20 seconds which kills them humanely. From there the cocoon's are de-threaded. It takes seven or eight cocoon threads to make one thread of the silk. And then seven or eight of those that is used to create the thread of silk needed to create parachute material.

Can you see the eight oval looking white things at the bottom of the picture? That is the cocoons themselves being unravelled into the machine and spun together to combine into that one string of silk.

Some cocoons contain two pupas. A little honeymoon suite perhaps? Anyway, these special cocoons are opened differently. By hand, the cocoons are opened and the pupas are removed. The remaining cocoons are spread to create the inner stuffing of a silk comforter.

I heard all sorts of things about how great a silk comforter is. I ended up buying one. For California. It's appeal is that it cools your skin. That's not so much a plus for me in Oscarville. I did buy though two silk comforter covers. One of those I will sent up to AK to shove my extra heavy down comforter into.

I also bought two small pillows and silk pillowcases for Marissa and Sabrina. They're really soft. I figured the small fortune I spent on my bedding was enough for me. As I mentioned though, I sat across from Marissa. And as we left I grew bitterly more jealous of her comfort. We were after all on the bus for quite a while.

Marissa also got a silk scarf from the silk factory. It was one of her birthday presents. She looked at several but became very attached to this one. She plans on taking drama next year in High School. He fondness for the color black and this ability to pull off blue leopard print silk scarfs makes me think she'll fit in just fine with the drama crowd.

In the silk factory I snapped these two photos from the outside of the bathrooms. Can you guess which is the "female" sign verses the "male" sign?

By the way, for those of you who are interested in this sort of thing, I used a western bathroom a majority of the time. But I DID eventually use a squat toilet. I was wearing a dress at the time so that helped immensely. I need to work a little on my aim, but you know... I am sure I'll get better at it.

Is this the sort of skill I can put on resumes in my future?

After the silk factory we went to a place called Leisurely Garden. Now stop me if you have heard this before... it was AMAZINGLY BEAUTIFUL. Actually it was almost too beautiful. Every turn, in every direction, there was a great framed background worthy of being photographed.

Our tour guide, Kenny, told us that was the way it is with Chinese gardens. It's not like an American garden. It's not just one painting-like view. It's every corner, every slight turn. Even the floors were worthy of pictures.

The girls, again, found room to space themselves from the crowd. Kiana usually occupied herself with looking for fish in the water while Marissa looked about at the walls and various plant life. Sabrina seemed mostly focused on the people around her.

I snapped this candid photo of the three of them while on the other side of a tree. It just couldn't get any more beautiful, you know? I could have spent a month there and still not have soaked in all of the pretty.

Sadly, Kenny, and his hip microphone, ushered us away from Leisurely Garden and into a temple.

Another temple.

I am sure this temple has some incredible importance but I was done listening. I was back to noticing things like rabbits hiding in the brush and beetles on the pavement. And... in this particular case... the fact this Fudog had both a baby Fudog and a ball. Is it a hermaphrodite Fudog?

I was hoping it would explain itself to me, but it whispered nothing.

Other Fudogs within the temple had two baby Fudogs. One in the traditional pose under the foot and the other on the Fudog's back.


Is this the monks way of saying they don't agree with China's planned parenthood policies?

My camera ran out of battery power here at the temple. Since it was our last stop and I had batteries in my checked luggage, I decided not to buy more batteries and take a tone of pictures from within the temple.

What I didn't snap a picture of was my dad and I entering a bell tower. It is said to take away one worry for every bong. The Chinese believe you have 108 worries. One for every hair on your head. You can NOT ring the bell 108 times though. For 5 yuan (about 72 cents) you can buy a ticket and ring the bell three times.

I am three worries lighter after today's adventures.


Auntie Kiki said...

I'm starting to enjoy the fact that you put up pictures and then come back and explain them. I'm turning it into a little game of trying to figure out what I'm looking at. This one has some doozies!!! I love that we finally get a good shot of your jade bracelet - BEAUTIFUL! A question though... You mentioned having to move your watch to your right arm. Is there an unwritten law that says you have to wear the jade bracelet on your left wrist?? Just wondering...

Bummer you couldn't take pictures of the warriors, but you did a great job explaining them, and I loved the story!

Erin said...

I was actually wondering about the squat toilets. Yea! I'm glad you used it. My friend Andre once told me that the human body is made to excrete waste more effectively if one is in a squat position. I thought of that when I was in Denali. Your trip looks wonderful and I can't wait to hear all the details. I'm still thinking of coming up to visit when I am in CA. We'll have to discuss when you get back from your awesome trip. Dirk and I are in the middle of writing our blog. I should have it posted by tomorrow. Look for it.

Anonymous said...

I really like Marissa's scarf- excellent choice. The picture of the three girls in the garden is great.

Deanna said...

i'm so glad you got to go to hangzou. (sp?). i think that was my favorite place in china, and perhaps the world.

love the stories!

Anonymous said...

I love the story of the silk worms and I bet that silk comforter you got is exceptional! Funny how you'll stuff it with your heavy down quilt for Alaska:)
I also love the story and photos of the chinese gardens and how you said its beautiful everywhere around each corner even the ground! Wow, you are great with photography and telling a story. Thanks again for sharing with us, your happy readers!