Saturday, October 6, 2012

City with a poetic soul

City with a poetic soul

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Location : Hangzhou, China
Chan Wai Kong

Source :New Straits Times,15 September 2011

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  • Flower Pond
THE Chinese city of Hangzhou, with its rich history and picturesque scenery, fascinates CHAN WAI KONG.

WHAT happens if a poet, rather than a bureaucrat or politician, becomes the governor of a city? In the case of Hangzhou in southeast China, it has become the most magnificent city in the world, as according to Italian traveller Marco Polo 700 years ago.

As history has it, the poet governor, known as Su Dongpo (1086-1094), transformed Hangzhou (about five hours´ flight from Malaysia) into a city of superbly designed gardens, stone bridges and lakes.

Visitors to Hangzhou´s famed West Lake are greeted bya stone statue of Governor Su, a statesman during the Song Dynasty, who´s also an adept artist and calligrapher.

Heavenly embrace

Hangzhou, which basked in splendour some 2,000 years ago, remains as charming and elegant as today. There is a quaintness about Hangzhou that makes it "different" from other crowded, polluted Chinese cities.

In China, there is a saying: "Shang you tian tang, xia you su hang" which means "up there is heaven, down here is Suzhou (a city in eastern China) and Hangzhou."

I instantly understand the meaning of the saying when taking a boat cruise on West Lake and marvelling at its picturesque scenery. Embraced by three mountains, the 60 sq km West Lake has top 10 spots with poeticdescriptions about their scenes.

They are: Spring Dawn At Su Causeway, Breeze-ruffled Lotus At Quyuan Garden, Autumn Moon Over The Calm Lake, Lingering Snow On The Broken Bridge, Viewing Fish At Flower Pond, Orioles Singing In The Willows, Three Pools Mirroring The Moon, Twin Peaks Piercing The Cloud, Evening Bell Ringing At Nanping Hill and Leifeng Pagoda In Evening Glow.

It is a good time as any to let your poetic soul take a tour of the 10 spots.

While taking a stroll at the lake, I take on a musing mood and come up with a verse or two such as "Going to Hangzhou without cruising the West Lake is like going to Beijing without climbing the Great Wall".

Charming tale

Fittingly, Hangzhou also has a great love story to tell - that of Lady White Snake Bai Suzhen who married scholar Xu Xian. Later, Bai was captured by a monk and imprisoned in a deep well at the Leifeng Pagoda (near West Lake).

Charmed by the story, I visit Leifeng Pagoda. It´s a place where mythology and technology meet, as it is the first pagoda I have ever visited which has escalators. How about escalators for tourists at Batu Caves?

West Lake is like a beautiful woman that wears different clothes for different seasons. It takes on a different look for each of the four seasons as lotus, willows and plum flowers take turns to dress the realm in spring, summer, autumn and winter.

Food for body and soul

For spiritual seekers, Hangzhou has ancient pagodas, temples, cultural places and scenic spots to keep them occupied.

For Muslims, there is Phoenix Mosque, one of the four ancient mosques built in southeast China during the Tang Dynasty, and was rebuilt in 1281 by a Persian named A-La-Ding.

The Christians have Santa Maria, the biggest cathedral in Hangzhou which was built in 1661 by an Italian clergy, Martino Martini.

On the commercial front, Hangzhou is a thriving city dotted with hotels, restaurants and shopping centres. Withmore than 9,700 restaurants, it is known as the City Of Gourmet Food.

The better choice?

The citizens of Hangzhou, proud of its rich culture, generally feel that they have "better living conditions" than the inhabitants of Shanghai.

Evidently, there is an on-going rivalry of sorts between the folk of Hangzhou and Shanghai, only 45 minutes away by bullet train and three hours by bus.

Hangzhou citizens like to say that Shanghai (15 million population) is a city of huge shopping complexes whereas Hangzhou (six million population) is a garden city with clean streets.

"Which is better... live in a shopping centre or in a garden?" asks David, a tour guide from Hangzhou, without expecting a reply.

"Shanghai people are busy making money so they live a stressful life. Hangzhou people are more relaxed and friendlier," he adds.

From my experience and from speaking with Malaysians who have been to Shanghai, I agree. Hangzhou folks are indeed more accommodating than their Shanghai counterparts. Marco Polo, I´m sure, felt the same way too.

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