Monday, June 28, 2010

The beautiful West Lake of Hangzhou

"Viewing Fish at Flora Harbour".
This place has one of the ten most beautiful views at West Lake, Hangzhou.

Among the various places that I had visited in my recent trip to China, Hangzhou left the most positive impression in my mind. First, the air in Hangzhou (at least the places that I had visited) is fresh. Second, the people there appears to have an unhurried pace of life. This is especially helpful in reminding me to slow down to appreciate the finer things in life. Third, there are some very beautiful places in Hangzhou. One of these beautiful places is the West Lake (Xi Hu) of Hangzhou.

Please take note that my simple automatic digital camera may not do justice to the beauty of West Lake. Until sponsorship can be secured to use a more advanced camera, I ask you to use your imagination to feel the refreshing fresh air of Hangzhou and the leisure way of life of the common people.

Around the West Lake, there are lush green areas like the one you see in the above photograph. I felt a sense of tranquility as I walked about.

Above photograph: The four characters inscribed on the stone means "Viewing Fish at Flora Harbour". It was inscribed by Emperor Kangxi. Our tour guide pointed out to us that the last character "Fish" was deliberately written with one missing stroke.

Our tour group took a ferry and had a cruise of the West Lake. It was a leisure cruise. West Lake appears generally misty. It appears to be surrounded by hills. I was told that West Lake is a man-made lake.

Above photograph: Long Bridge. This bridge was rebuilt in the year 2002. A plaque nearby this bridge states: "According to historical records, during the Song dynasty, there was a three-arch spanning a broad outlet out of Qian Lake Gate. The view was spectacular as the bridge was 500 metres long, which gained it the name of Long Bridge."

Our tour group was told that in the Long Bridge was one of the landmarks that was being mentioned of in the legendary story of the Butterfly Lovers. The lovers, Liang Shanbo and Zhu Yingtao, had walked along and parted with each other several times at the Long Bridge.

Above photograph: Leifeng Pagoda. According to legend, Leifeng Pagoda is associated with the legendary Chinese folk story of Lady White Snake. However, we learnt that this structure that we see in the photograph was built less than a decade ago. The original Leifeng Pagoda was said to have collapsed.

Overall, I think among the various places that I had visited in my recent trip to China, Hangzhou is by far the best place to visit to relax and to enjoy beautiful sceneries. There is a good policy in Hangzhou to restrict the buildings of industrial and residential estates in certain designated area. In addition, there are policies for vehicles entering certain parts of Hangzhou (e.g. places near West Lake) to be fitted with engines that emit less harmful gases. Alright, enough of my bias reviews, I just prefer Hangzhou to Shanghai.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A delicious lunch at Waipojia, Hangzhou

I shall dedicate a post to share about the delicious lunch that I had at The Grandma's Kitchen, Hangzhou (外婆家)(or Waipojia). It was one of the most delicious lunches that I had during my 8-days tour in China. Waipojia is a food establishment that is well-known for serving home-cooked style Hangzhou cuisine. Most of the dishes that are found at The Grandma's Kitchen are dishes that are commonly served in the homes of the Hangzhou's locals.We understand from the tour guide that The Grandma's Kitchen is one of the most popular food establishments amongst the locals in Hangzhou.

After a long bus journey from Nanjing to Hangzhou, I felt very blessed to be treated to a delicious and wholesome lunch at The Grandma's Kitchen. The entire course that was served allowed me to taste dishes with various flavour ranging from sweet, sour, savoury to spicy.

We had the pleasure to be served one of the signature dishes of The Grandma's Kitchen. We were told that this dish had earned quite a fair bit of accolades. This dish is called "Chicken in Green Tea Flavour" (龙井茶香鸡). The chicken is marinated in some kind of sauce containing Longjing green tea leaves, and has a aromatic fragrance and lightly fragrant taste.

I had a hearty lunch and that brought me quite a bit of delight to continue with the rest of the day. From the good taste of the food, I am convinced that the people in Hangzhou know how to appreciate the finer things in life. Below is a photograph of some of the food that were served during our lunch at Grandma's Kitchen.

Grandma's Kitchen

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Lunch with Mystic

It was 18 Jun 2010. I took leave from work to get a breather. My good friend, Mystic, was wonderful to offer her company over lunch. She recommended me to Genesis Vegetarian Health Food Restaurant.

GENESIS Health Food Restaurant is a vegetarian restaurant serving completely vegetarian meals and food items with no animal products.

We ordered the following:
  • Black sesame oat (drink) - $2.50 each
  • 7 - layer haystack - $7.90 each
  • Mango Salad - $12 each (for 2 - 4 persons)

    The black sesame oat is a healthy drink to have. It is served warm and is good for folks like me to like to be treated to black sesame from time to time. Mystic was singing praises of it.

    The 7 - layer  haystack is a Mexican-inspired vegetarian dish. I love it that it was filled with beans and various nutritious vegetarian ingredients. It is quite a special dish which I don't find in other vegetarian restaurants. I like the fact that it is served with crispy Nacos.

    The Mango Salad has a light and refreshing taste. The noodles has a smooth and light texture. It also serves as a great appetizer.

    Genesis is worth a visit for the health-conscious and the vegetarian-lovers if they are hoping to have a meal nearby Boat Quay. Most of the set meals are reasonably priced between $6.50 to $7.50. Many thanks to Mystic for her thoughtful company.

    (Photo credits: Some of the photos here are taken by Mystic)
    1 Lorong Telok, Singapore.
    (Near Boat Quay, at the junction of Circular Rd and Lorong Telok.)

    Mondays to Thursdays 8am - 8pm
    Fridays and Sundays 8am - 3pm
    Closed on Saturdays and Public Holidays

    Wednesday, June 16, 2010

    A bit more of Nanjing

    After a solemn visit to the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, the bus led the tour group to a place that specialises in jade. It was rather educational to learn how to differentiate between a real jade and a fake one. One way to do so is to rub the jade against the surface of glass. I also learnt that wearing a jade bangle over one's left wrist can have a calming effect on one's nerves and even help to massage a particular accupoint of the body.

    The jade establishment was very hospitable to treat the entire tour group to dinner. My friend who was onboard the same tour group loved it when the waiter brought a serving of chilli upon her request. It seemed that my friend has been missing the taste of spicy food for a while.

    In the evening, we were led to visit the Confucian Temple in Nanjing. I must have been feeling sleepy that evening. Our tour guide gave us an account of the Confucian Temple, yet I don't seem to recall what she had said. As best as I can gather from online sources, the Confucian Temple in Nanjing was originally constructed in the year of 1034 in the Song Dynasty to worship Confucius, the great philosopher and educator of ancient China.

    I vaguely recall that our tour guide had told us that there is a Jiangnan Examination School (Jiangnan Gongyuan) near the Confucian Temple in Nanjing. I read from an online source that when Nanjing became the capital of China at the beginning of the Ming dynasty, the Jiangnan Examination School served as the examination hall for candidates from all over China taking the various kinds of examinations.

    Admittedly, due to the large number of crowds in the area, I did not exactly visit the Confucian Temple itself. Instead, what I recall was that there were many shops nearby the Confucian Temple. If you ask me what I remember, it was food, shopping, the dark evening skies, and the river Qin Huai near the Confucian Temple. I was looking forward to a retreat to the hotel room even before the end of the day.

    We visited the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge the following morning. The bridge looked simple in design. Yet, when it was completed, it was considered an engineering feat! It was the first bridge to be built across the Yangtze River in Nanjing. I was told that the bridge was designed and constructed without external help from other countries. I enjoyed listening to the trivias that the local guide had shared with us on the challenges of building the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. I was told that many Chinese had volunteered their services and resources so as to make the successful completion of the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge possible.

    In many ways, the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge is a symbol of the Chinese national pride and indomitable spirit. I heard from the local guide that because this is a toll-free bridge, there is usually a high volume of traffic using this very bridge. To preserve this bridge of historical significance for generations to come, a fair bit of money has to be spent every year for the bridge's maintenance. The maintenance actually costs way more than building a new bridge. However, I think it is great foresight to preserve this special bridge to remind generations to come of the indomitable spirit of those who have made sacrifices to build this very bridge.

    If you were to ask me, my favourite spots in Nanjing in the trip would be the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and the Nanjing Yangtze River Bridge. Simply because they not only tell a story about the past, they tell stories of countless people who have made sacrifices in their very own ways.


    Sunday, June 13, 2010

    Read: This Time I Dance

    Tama J. Kieves
    This Time I Dance! - Creating the Work You Love
    Penguin Group, 2003
    (English 650.1 KIE, BIZ)

    A book that I had read about a few months ago had recommended that readers could read This Time I Dance! Admittedly, yours truly is in the process of working to clarify what it is that I love to do in life. I was also exploring how I could have a life that I love while earning a good livelihood. That somehow pointed me to find a copy of this book to read.

    In much ways, This Time I Dance! is not a manual. Nevertheless, I have found it quite an inspiring read as it is in many ways a journal of the journey that the author herself had taken to seek and develop a career in an area that she loves, writing. This book is written with a very personal touch, that is honest to speak of the fears, the transitional blues and at the same time, the enthuasiasm and the inspirations that occur in the author's very journey of seeking to do what she loves.

    Two of the quotes that I like to share from this book:

    "Be even kinder to yourself when you feel fear. Love, not anger, inspires right action."

    "Give three hundred seconds to your dream. Take a tiny step with big integrity. It takes a step to break to break into a run. The result at hand doesn't matter. The resolve does. Show up for your love. Showing up always shines." (pg 167)

    It's a book written with love, honesty and in an encouraging tone. Readers who would want more could check out this website:

    Saturday, June 12, 2010

    Nanjing, full of history

    The walls of Nanjing.

    My recent visit to China in mid May brought me to visit various parts of China. One of the places that the tour group brought us to visit was Nanjing. Nanjing came across to me as a place to visit if one were to learn more about history.

    The Chinese name of Nanjing, 南京, I learnt means "Southern capital". Nanjing is currently the capital of China's Jiangsu Province. It has also served as the capital of China during several periods in history, for example, during the short-lived Southern Tang Kingdom (937 – 975 CE) and during (1368 - 1421 CE) parts of the Ming dynasty. I also found out from wikipedia that Nanjing was the capital of the Republic of China before the Chinese Civil War in 1949.

    On our way to Nanjing, our dedicated tour-guide gave us an introduction to the history of Nanjing. Nanjing is known as Jinling 金陵 in the ancient times. Literally, the word "Jinling" meant "Golden Tomb". I was told that one of the Kings had been advised that in order to suppress the emergence of another ruler who would emerge from Nanjing, the King had to bury golden statues of a boy and a girl in a selected location in Nanjing.

    We were also told that the forbidden city in Beijing was modelled after the imperial city that the first Ming emperor, Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, had built in Nanjing. I would have like to have a closer view of City Wall of Nanjing that was designed by Emperor Zhu Yuanzhang, and my closest encounter with the ancient city wall was a glance of it from my seat on the tour-bus.

    When it was time to have our lunch, we were served the famous Nanjing salted duck. Somehow, it seems that Nanjing was well-known for its various form of duck meals, from boiled salted duck, roasted duck, braised duck to duck blood and more. I was told that the ducks that were used to prepared Peking Duck had originated in Nanjing. So it seems that the origin of certain dishes in Beijing could be traced back to Nanjing.

    After lunch, we visited the Xuanwu Lake, one of the three most famous lakes in Nanjing. With quite a pretty limited time at the area and the dull skies, I did not manage to get to experience the full beauty of the Xuanwu Lake. Nevertheless, with some imagination, one could imagine colourful mountains surrounding the tranquil waters of Xuanwu Lake.

    Our next stop, the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, is highly recommended for the history-lovers. I have limited photos taken at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall since I was spending most of my time viewing the exhibits.

    On 13 December 1937, the Japanese army occupied Nanjing. During the first six to eight weeks of the occupation, the Japanese army committed numerous atrocities. The Chinese government estimated that 300,000 civilians and unarmed Chinese soldiers were brutally slaughtered during this period of the occupation. The Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall possibly serves as a poignant reminder that in no way should such war atrocities be allowed to happen in the future.

    My mood felt melancholic while I was visiting the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall. Does the thrist for power and control make a group of army lost their sense of humanity?

    We spent more than an hour there and I was pleased to have a fair bit of time to learn about the Nanjing Massacre. In the Memorial Hall, there were stories of survivors of the Nanjing Massacre and many survivors described how deeply the event had affected them and their families. I suppose one key objective of the Memorial Hall is to remind its visitors to learn from history, and not make the same mistakes that the Japanese army had done during the Nanjing Massacre.


    Wednesday, June 09, 2010

    More of Suzhou

    Maple Bridge (楓橋).

    One of our tour group's stops at Suzhou was Hanshan Temple. I have read about this temple more than a decade ago when I was a teenager studying Chinese literature. Zhang Ji, a poet from Tang dynasty, had described a melancholic scene of a dispirited traveller. In this poem, the bells of Hanshan Temple was mentioned. So while I was visiting Hanshan Temple for the very first time in my life, I felt it was familiar to me in its very own ways.




    The Bell Tower of Hanshan Temple.

    I have also learnt that before Suzhou was industrialised, many of the people had lived beside canals. Canals are common in Suzhou. These canals had been dugged thousand of years ago so as to redirect the waters from the floods that had been common back then. With plenty of water and fertile soil, crops generally grow well in Suzhou. In some ways, as canals are common in Suzhou, Suzhou has been given a nickname by some as the "Venice of the East".

    Our tour group stopped by to catch a glimpse of one of the historic canals. Living beside a canal can in some ways pace a person to live less hurriedly since the water in the canal often flows at a fairly moderate speed. Most of the houses beside the historic canals in Suzhou do not have modern sanitary facilities. I was told that most of the occupants are either elderlys (who have lived in these houses for years) or new immigrants from other parts of China. While there may not be modern sanitary facilities, the unhurried pace of life may lend the dwellers a poetic lifestyle beside the waters.

    Admittedly, I was feeling rather tired from the day. The tour group was treated to dinner. The vegetables were my favourite since I am a vegetable lover. By the way, I learnt that in China, a bottle of beer is way cheaper than a bottle of soft drink. Anyway, that did not seem to both me since I prefer to drink water.

    The next morning, we visited the Silk Research Institued Shopping Center of Jiangsu Province. Here, we were given an introduction to how silk was produced and processed. I was interested to learn more about the processes involved and I found the introduction too brief. Whatever it is, at the very least, I am thankful to have caught a glimpse of how silk was produced and processed. I was told that the mulberry trees grow well in Suzhou. Mulberry leaves are the main diet of the mulberry silkworm. Such silkworms produced what is considered the best-known type of silk.

    Suzhou is not just well-known for its mulberry trees and silk, it is also a land with fertile soil suitable for growing crops. In addition, I was told that many farmers in Suzhou rear fishes.

    If you asked me of my impression of Suzhou, I would say that it has fertile lands and many canals. I love the sights of the beautifully designed gardens of Suzhou especially. I suppose it is difficult not to become poetic if one were to live in one of those houses with one of those beautifully designed gardens of Suzhou.

    Before I get too poetic, the tour bus as a matter of fact got me on the roads again. This time, the tour group were led to Nanjing.


    Monday, June 07, 2010

    The beautiful gardens of Suzhou

    After having glimpses of Wuxi, the tour bus brought us to Suzhou. Travelling on buses for longer than an hour appears to be a fairly common thing to do in a large country like China. I have learnt to realise than a one-hour journey on the road is comparatively a short journey in China. Thanks to the great driving skills of the driver of the tour-bus, I began to enjoy having long distance rides on the bus.

    While on the bus, our dear tour guided filled us in with anecdotes and interesting trivials of China's rich heritage and culture. I was particularly interested in most things related to history, culture and folklore.

    The bus also stopped by the lifestyle zone of the Suzhou Industrial Park. The Suzhou Industry Park is a joint project between the China and Singapore government. The lifestyle zone happens to be where most of the residential facilities and the Science & Cultural Arts Centre are located. Somehow, the landscaping and architecture of the various structures in the Suzhou Industry Park did remind me of Singapore. For security reasons, tour groups like ourselves were not allowed to enter the industrial areas unless we have special permission.

    Suzhou Industrial Park, located beside the Jinji Lake.

    In the background, Science & Cultural Arts Center, Suzhou Industrial Park.

    After the Suzhou Industrial Park, the tour bus brought us to Wangshi Garden (網師園). This garden is aong the finest gardens in China, and is recognised with other classical Suzhou gardens as a UNESCO World Heritage site. I learnt that Suzhou is renowned for its meticulously designed gardens, and Wangshi Garden is a great example of one of such gardens. Such beautifully designed gardens in many ways reflect the refined tastes of the people of Suzhou. I could imagine myself feeling more relaxed if I could retreat to a beautifully designed garden at my own background everyday when I am at home.

    I was told that Suzhou's climate is generally humid. As such, there are some interesting features that one can observe in the buildings in Suzhou. For example, the base of the pillars in Suzhou are often made of stone. Such a material like stone is more resistant to the wear-and-tear from the humid climate as compared to the commonly available wood. It seemed that wood tend to rot easily in a humid climate, and it can be a very challenging endeavour to replace the base of a wooden pillarif it were to rot.

    In addition, ornaments made from marble stones appear to be more favoured compared to ornaments made from paper since the former tend to last longer in a humid climate.

    Our next stop in Suzhou would be Hanshan Temple. If you have found this temple familiar, you may have heard about it from the poem by a Tang dynasty poet, Zhang Ji (张继). Please stay tuned for more.


    Thursday, June 03, 2010

    A day in Wuxi

    One good thing about joining a tour group is that I could be introduced to the gists of the places that I would be visiting, without having to do prior reading up on my own. I have learnt that in China, tour-guiding is seen as a profession. Every tour-guide in China has to graduated with at least a university degree. I have also learnt that in China, all tour-agencies are government-owned establishments. In some ways, I can say that joining a tour group in China has in many ways open me to learn more about the Chinese culture and history.

    Interestingly, at each destination, there will be a local-guide to welcome and introduce us to the essence of the place. These local-guides are usually locals who the destinated locality. In addition, there is another tour-guide who will be present throughout the entire tour to play host to the members of the tour group.

    After a night rest and a buffet breakfast in one of the hotels in Wuxi, my tour group headed for the Taihu Film and TV Studio. Specifically, we visited the Three Kingdom Period (220-581 AD) Town of the Taihu Film and TV Studio. It was there that The Romance of the Three Kingdoms was filmed. There, one could visit the Wedding Chambers of Liu Bei - the King of Wu kingdom. One can also see castles on water and warships. Admittedly, I don't know much about the Three Kingdom period, so I was doing my best to piece the bits of history and fables together.

    While the tour group was at the Taihu Film and TV Studio, we caught a performance of a battle scene involving the three sworn brothers (Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei) against Lu Bu at the Hulao Fortress.

    At Wuxi, we learnt more about Taihu Lake. This lake is the third largest freshwater lake in China. I learnt that the surface-area of the water alone of Taihu Lake is the approximately the area of four Singapore islands. Gosh, it is a huge lake.

    I heard from our local-guide that the rearing of freshwater fish and prawns is very common in the Taihu Lake area. In addition, people also cultivate pearls. It was a natural thing to reason that we visited a pearl-cultivation factory, as one of our stops for the day. Technically, I see it as a place selling various pearl-related products.

    Possibly to reward everyone in the tour group for having done much walking and viewing of pearl products earlier that day, we were treated to a sumptuous lunch. One of the dishes was the Wuxi spare-ribs. It tasted sweet. Each spare-rib, I heard, costs 10 RMB. I was told that the lunch costs 600 RMB per table. I can't remember if this lunch was known as the Qianlong Banquet. Anyway, I won't have ordered so much food if I were out having lunch on my own!

    Wuxi Spare-ribs.

    One of the most interesting dishes that we had during the lunch was the dish shown right below. Guess what it was?

    It was mashed potato, topped with a form of sweet custard sauce, made into the shape of a dragon. It tasted pretty good and I would have reviewed this mashed potato dish if this dish was available in Singapore.

    After lunch, we went to the Zisha Arts Gallery to learn about how the best quality Zisha teapots are made. I think the making of Zisha teapots are indeed a very fine art! The lids of well-made Zisha teapots will fit perfectly on the teapots. I learnt that the best teapots in the world come from Yi Xing. Such teapots are made of zisha clay which is actually a rock-paste that is made from special rocks containing iron, mica, kaolinite and quartz. No photo here because photography was prohibited at the Zisha Arts Gallery.

    We also had a visit to Lihu Lake (Scenic Area). I was told that the Lihu Lake is a bay of Taihu Lake, and it is associated with the legend of Fanli and Xishi. Xishi is one of the four beauties in ancient China. Much of my trip to China seemed to get me reacquainted with Chinese history and culture.

    If you asked me what I remember about Wuxi, I shall answer: Taihu Lake, pearls, freshwater fishes and prawns, Wuxi spare-ribs, and the mashed potato shaped like a dragon.

    Virtual Tourist: Things to do in Wuxi