Archive for September, 2008

Sep
29

Hangzhou at Holiday Time

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Hangzhou at Holiday or National Day here in China (see News story in the China View) is an experience in crowd control.  If you have every been in South Beach Florida during Spring break you will know what I am talking about.  Disneyland could not be busier on the 4th of July than the West Lake district of Hangzhou during National Day festivities that are just beginning here in China.

“October 1st in the year 1949 Chairman Mao declared the founding of the People’s Republic of China and waved the first five-star PRC flag. The PRC’s National Day was declared at three o’clock on October 1, 1949, in front of 300,000 people during a ceremony in Tian’anmen Square” according to an About.com news story.

Traveling to Hangzhou from shanghai a day before the National Day was pleasant with relatively light traffic and overcast sky’s.  Arriving in Hangzhou the weather in the West Lake district was decidedly cooler than Shanghai which was a treat.  The following day, Monday, was the beginning of the National Day week holiday season and travel within the city slowed appreciably.  The grid lock in the intersections between the buses and cabs with the pedestrians that are constantly criss-crossing the streets was chaos for drivers.  Fortunately, traveling up Longjing Road to the hillside above Hangzhou was less of a mess than the traffic jams down by the lake proper.  We were able to visit a local tea farm for lunch and enjoy a lazy cup of Longjing tea at 50 RMB a cup!  The exchange rate is for the yen is 6.75 RMB to a U.S. dollar currently so figure that at about 7 bucks a cup twice the expense of a Starbucks coffee.

As I mentioned in a previous post, West Lake Dragon Well tea, grown on the hills surrounding the city, is Hangzhou’s specialty. From growing it to writing poetry about it, Hangzhou green tea is consumed almost everywhere throughout China and abroad being highly prized where ever tea effectionados gather. Longjing can be ordered on-line from a very good tea shop in Arizona called Seven Cups.

High grade Dragon Well is expensive often displayed in luxury shops like jewelry. Yet many of the poorest local people consider drinking green tea a necessity.  Hangzhou’s Longjing display’s its brilliant emerald green spears like leaves, especially in the Spring, boasting about three quarter inch long spikes.  These treasured leaves are renowned throughout China for their beauty.  Just recently I discovered that Longjing tea has 7 grades, really!  So even the poorest can afford a lower grade of green tea.  Tea made into tea bags is the leavings and sweeping of the sticks off of the floor, junk really for the uninitiated.  There is a very good description of Longjing Dragon Well tea found at TeaGenius.com

Some of the data I gathered about the very long history of tea culture in Hangzhou was highlighted when Hangzhou was the capital of the Southern Song Dynasty 1127 – 1279. The Teahouses of Hangzhou are reported to have been decorated with fresh flowers and famous paintings to create a place of relaxation and pleasure for the guests at the tea house. Besides rare varieties of green teas, plum wine was served in the winter.  What raised the Longjing Dragon Well green tea to be the most famous of Chinese green teas was the esteem of an eighteenth century emperor who visited Hangzhou and appointed a small patch of 18 tea trees to be his special tea garden.  See the Teagenous for more infomation on Hangzhou green tea.

Categories : China, Tea, Travel
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Sep
27

Tea Heaven

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This morning we are traveling to Hangzhou by car.  The couple hour drive to the East and a little South will take us to the lovely valley and the West Lake of Hangzhou.  According to the Lonely Planet, Hangzhou is one of the most traveled to spots in China:

Hángzhōu, capital of Zhèjiāng, is one of China’s most famous tourist sites. Located at the southern end of the Grand Canal and surrounded by fertile farmlands, the city has been a significant cultural centre for hundreds of years. Modern-day Hángzhōu, with its characterless architecture, has little to differentiate it from other Chinese cities. The main reason for coming here is to visit the legendary West Lake (Xī Hú), a true beauty in the midst of a concrete jungle.

For Me the main reason to visit Hangzhou is for the tea.  The Dragon Well or Longjing tea which is grown and roasted in Hangzhou is popular everywhere in China where tea is treasured.  There are few places in the world that enjoy Hangzhou’s reputation for tea.  Think Napa Valley for wine and Hangzhou for tea.

Tea is used for daily drinking and for special occasions here in China.  As an example, on the first day of the Chinese lunar new year a cup of spring tea is offered to the Goddess of Mercy in wish of yearlong well-being; another old custom is the gift of tea to the parents of a bride to confirm marital relations.

The tea houses that line West Lake and huddle in the valleys of surrounding hills of Hangzhou offer tea that has to be experienced. Every trip we make to China always includes a trip to the Hangzhou valley and a visit to the tea houses that are up country in the hills surrounding the valley.  Brews of tea are not cheap, but the price of a pot buys hours of lazing around, a favorite activity of locals and visitors as well.  We will be having lunch up-country and I will post some pictures.  We are late in the tea season but its still worth the trip to Hangzhou.

Green Tea is harvested in two main seasons according to my father-in-law a tea connoisseur.  The first and best tea is harvested “before the rains” in Spring time up until April the second week of May (referenced by The Leaf article Mary Lou Heiss) which starts the Monsoon Season.  The second tier harvest is “after the rain” from June till about now in late September.  So the tea that is available now is of lesser quality than the fresh Spring “before the rain” tea but its what we got so it will be enjoyed very much.  Over the past seven years drinking real tea and listening to the experts like my “Baba” Jennifer’s dad, I have developed a real discrimination for good tea.  There is nothing worse than a wine snob unless its a tea boor.  I try to stay away from snobbery but definitely stay away from ignorance first.

So its off to the car and a 2 1/2 hour drive to Tea Heaven.

Our trip to Hangzhou will include a visit to the hospital for Jennifer’s Uncle who has been ill for the past two years with prostate cancer.  Jo is now every bit of 90 years old and doesn’t get around much.  After we pay our respects and spend some time catching up with the family in Hangzhou we will hit the road for the hills.

Categories : China, Tea, Travel
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Sep
26

It’s Qingdao Time

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Qingdao China is a wonderfully modern city on the Eastern coast an hours flight north of Shanghai.  The city is super clean with new roads and fantastic architecture.  It is really amazing how modern this city is.  From our travels throughout the greater Qingdao district it is evident to see that the rush for modernization here is China is in full tilt forward.  This probably stems from years of push by the Qingdao government stressing the overall development of the city and urban planning, ecological construction and residential buildings construction. All of the old shanty buildings have been removed in the downtown district and in the outlying areas this work is continuing.  I have a couple of pictures demonstrating this well.  As a result of this effort over the past 20 years, the city was awarded the honorary title of “National Model City for Environmental Protection” in 2000 by the National Chinese Government. The city gained first prize for the “China Living Environment Award” in 2002, becoming one of the cities with the best environmental conditions in China.

Looking around to find the history of this district has revealed several interesting tidbits.  Qingdao is the birthplace of Taoism.  I will have to look this up to sharpen my memory of this religion but if I recall correctly Taoism is founded on the idea of non aggression.  That is what I remember anyway from my reading during the seeking years of the 60′s.  The philosophy of the Dao or Taoist is more of a way of life than a religion and has long roots in the local traditions here in Qingdao.  Its a way of getting along in the world without putting yourself forward.  Shrinking to make yourself strong or something like that.

Second historical occurrence has to do with the German invasion and occupation of the City during the early 1900′s.  The Japanese have invaded and occupied Qingdao in both World Wars I and II finally being removed after 1945.   There is a hugely famous May 4th Celebration of the cities liberation. The German influence has remained however.  There is a German community that has remained founding a beer factory no less.  The Tsindtao brand has world wide distribution and locally honored.  Its pretty good especially the Gold label stuff. Tsingtao is produced with spring water from Laoshan, a mountain area to the North of Qingdao and famous throughout China for it purity.  Every year there is an International Beer Festival here in Qingdao lasting two weeks at the end of September.  We were lucky enough to get to visit the Beer Festival with Jennifer’s cousin Miao Miao (pronounced Meeooow Meeeooow like a cat crying for milk.  Serious!) along with her husband. She holds a very high position in the National Government in the Tax division.  The local IRS?  Her driver drove us all over the Qingdao district for two days.  Thank you Miao Miao, you are the “Bomb”.  That means you are great!  Wonderful meeting her and her family.  I will always remember her “Gan bei” which translated means “dry the cup”.

While we were visiting the city of Qingdao we were fortunate enough to take a trip up the coast to the Laoshan mountain via Miao Miao’s driver.  We drove up the spectacular coast and ended up taking a gondola ride up to about mid way to the top of the Laoshan mountain.  From there we hiked up another couple of hundred feet to a very old Taoist temple remembering that this is the birthplace of this religion/philosophy.  The grounds of the temple were simply amazing.  Several of the trees growing there have been alive for thousands of years.  There was one Camilia Japonica that towered above us with an inscription dating to a planting 414 years ago.  The days sunlight finally broke through allowing me to take some really nice pictures of the temple grounds and woods which can be viewed at flickr.

Qingdao was home to the 2008 Olympics hosted by the Chinese featuring their wonderful harbor for the sailing competitions.  Qingdao is a very sports involved city having a very active soccer program.  Everyday from out hotel balcony we could witness the runners and joggers up and down the sandy beaches.  Swimming in the netted off area in from of our hotel was a very large swimming area measuring about a half mile of open water by one mile along the beach.  Qingdao is a wonderful place to visit.  So far of all of the cities in China where I would want to live Qingdao ranks at the top of every list.

Interesting Links to Qingdao information

That’s Qingdao

Categories : China, Travel
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Sep
22

Shanghai in the Fall

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Its almost the Fall season late in September here in Shanghai but by the weather you would never know it.  This past week temperatures have been over 30 degrees Centigrade something near the hundred mark on the Fahrenheit scale with very high humidity.  As a matter of fact I mentioned to Jennifer that it felt like monsoon season and sure enough the rain was awash withing the hour cooling things down for a bit.

Bicycle VenderBicycle riding here in the Old World is still an expected mode of travel but the gas guzzlers have come a long way in the last few years.  Every year the number of bicycles is going down and the motor-driven cycles, mopeds and scooters not to mention the cars and trucks have taken over the road ways.  Here in the great city of Shanghai bicycle traffic still is important for commerce but the writing is on the wall.  The world’s oil reserves are going to be taxed by the hungry giant that has awoken from a long slumber.  China is 21st Century and Shanghai is leading the Country into it with a vengeance.

Here the streets are clean.  Every day hoards of street cleaners roam the sidewalks and gutters hand collecting discarded debris while street sweeping trucks take care of the roadways.  In the few pictures that I have taken over the past week I have been astounded by how really neat the streets are throughout Shanghai.  Even the spitting is down.  You know that spitting has been a national past time here in China for centuries and is a very hard habit to break.  The Central Government has issued statements decrying this habit and in preparation for the recent Olympic Games in Beijing has outlawed this disgusting past time.  Old habits are hard to break even for those who are 100 percent human.  I found a You Tube Chinese video anti spitting campaign cerca 1950.  It didn’t work. The Chinese Spitting Image is long standing and reported on internationally even if they are 100 percent human. I refer to the Chinese.  Here is another You Tube Spitting video that is hilarious.  So like the rest of the world we really are a mix.  I love China and love spending time here, after all my wife is Chinese and 100 percent human.  Someday I hope to rise up to maybe 90 percent but Jennifer doubts that I can get any higher than that even if I spend the rest of my life in China.  The other 10 percent is animal.  They don’t call me Tiger for nothing!

This afternoon we travel to Qingdao a beautiful coastal beach and harbor city up the coast.  The two hour flight will bring us to this wonderful city and cooler temperatures ranging in the low 20′s and down to 17 degree C. overnight.  Finally!  Qingdao is famous for its beer.  Now that’s what I’m talking about!  The yearly International Beer Festival that is held in Qingao runs this year from September 19th through October 5th.  We will be there in the midst of it.  One of the worlds great beers in brewed in Qingdao.  the Tsingtao Beer factory was founded in 1903 by German immigrants.  The taste and style of the beer is distinctly German reminding me of Becks.

So its off to the Beer festival and then on to Yellow Mountain district for a hike.  Jennifer and I will be keeping track of our travels and pass along the dialogue if interesting.

Categories : China, Travel
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