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A City with A Soul

  • Submitted by: Zhou Jing, China
  • Submission Date: 21st Sep 2005

Not too many cities deserve such a name as ¡°paradise on earth,¡± but Hang Zhou does. Too many cities now in China, desperate with economic development, are losing their souls, but Hang Zhou is not.
Why so? Nature blessing and human efforts.

Xihu (West Lake)
If not framed by layers of mountains or adorned with verdant islands, Xihu would become a common lake. Yet, the distant mountains add depth to the view, and shimmering water surrounds the islands, as if thousands of pearls flowing on the lake. Now and then, canoes and dragon boats pass through the picture. Everything is so elegant.
Surprisingly, the charm of Xihu is more than that. Different seasons, days, and hours create different Xihu. For photographers, every second matters. You can tell the importance of timing by the names of major scenic spots: Melting Snow on Broken Bridge, Autumn Moon on Calm Lake, Breeze-Caressed Lotus in Yeast Courtyard, Sudi Causeway in Spring Dawn, Evening Bell at Nanping Hill, Thunder Peak Pagoda in Sunset Glow, and so on. It might sound like a joke that I went to Hang Zhou three times within two months this year, but every time Xihu amazed me: the dramatic light that colored the lake, the curling mist that shaped the mountains, and the heavy rain that shook the lotuses wildly. As a tourist, I was never disappointed.
What makes Xihu more unique is its openness. Unlike Xuanwu Lake in Nanjing, there is no city wall isolating the lake from the citizens. As a result, it has permeated deeply into people¡¯s life. Not only can it be seen or passed by, it also invites you to spend time together. If you have time, it is always interesting to observe how the banks of Xihu can be personalized, as a playground for physical exercising, a stage for chore rehearsing, a home for tea tasting and a pool for late night dancing. Xihu, with both serenity and excitement, belongs to the rich and poor, old and young, lovers and celibates.

He Fang Jie: Food and Shopping District
During the first two visits to Hang Zhou, I went to He Fang Jie only for the food. Assuming it merely another touristy market filled with junks, I didn¡¯t bother to go further into the district. The third time was a bit different, as I went there with my boyfriend. Being curious as usual, he insisted on walking through it. Following him, I had to admit that, from time to time, he could make the right decisions.

Unlike Fuzi Miao (Confucius Temple), He Fang Jie is neatly organized and impressively clean. The shops, restaurants and stands are displayed wisely. Because of its fine details, nothing seems tacky or cheap. More importantly, people there are friendly and relaxed, no paddling or jostling. Here is an example. I was pretty full when I reached the end of the street (too much delicious food). A guy was selling Maci, a Hang Zhou specialty. Though I never had it before, the smell itself was too tempting to resist. I must have done a poor job of covering up my greediness, for the guy immediately passed me one slice, asking me to try it. It was so tasty! I could eat tons of it if my stomach allowed, but I told him and myself that I had enough food already. ¡°No problem,¡± he laughed, ¡°You don¡¯t have to buy. Here, try one more piece.

Mei Jia Wu: Tea Village
The weather was not on my side during my two visits to Mei Jia Wu, or Mei Family Village. First time, I strolled in a thunderstorm and second time, under a scorching sun, but as my boyfriend said, ¡°I¡¯m allowed to see something like this?after all the hardship.

Most people go to Mei Jia Wu for three reasons: to drink tea, buy tea and eat Nong Jia Cai, or peasant family dishes. My reasons were slightly different. Instead of buying the tea, I took pictures. Longjin Cha, or Dragon Well tea, known as the best green tea in China, is so far a pure luxury for me.
It is not a secret that agricultural fields can be really picturesque in China, such as the rice paddies and terraces. The tea plantations at Mei Jia Wu are as good as them, if not better. Neatly planted rows of tea bushes line up the hillside; meandering soil paths, like brown threads, sew the pieces of green together; villagers pick up tea sprouts in their wide-brimmed straw hats; bamboo forests swing along the top of the hills?

I would probably believe that Hang Zhou was meant to be this good, if I hadn¡¯t witnessed Nanjing being tortured for so many years. Knowing the price that Nanjing has paid for its urban development, I can now truly appreciate a city like Hang Zhou. Why are the mountains around Xihu not littered by houses of rich people? Why can you have fun in the markets of He Fang Jie but feel poisoned after only a short walk across Fu Zi Miao? Why can Mei Jia Wu be what it is like today but not an industrial park invested by some big foreign corporate? Why are there not so many high-rises that block your view? Why can people keep the peace of mind in the hustle-and-bustle of downtown life? Why are there so many trash bins? Why is the city so green? Why isn¡¯t the air smoggy?
To give a simple answer: it is because of the effective governance in Hang Zhou, the awareness of ecology, the respect towards traditions, the sustainable urban planning and the sense of art. With all these, easier to be said than done, Hang Zhou becomes a role model for many Chinese cities looking for their ways.