Cruising in the Mist

Though we had seen the people and homes of Beijing, the pagodas of the Forbidden City, the industry of Shanghai and the culture of Wuzhen, we had yet to see the stereotypical image of China – that is, mountains, shrouded in mist, the tips of pagodas rising through, the sun just beginning to rise; perhaps a lake, perhaps a boat…this was to be our next experience and one of my personal favorite events in the tour.

Hangzhou is famous for its West Lake, a very large (yet shallow) natural lake in the middle of the mountains.  According to our guide, it is the most romantic spot in all of China: in the spring, young lovers may be seen cavorting about the banks; in the heat of summer, it is a popular location for wedding portraits; in autumn and winter, it remains a scenic location; and, for us, the West Lake did in fact fit the image of China as presented by Hollywood.

The Lake is such an iconic picture of China that it is featured on the back of the one yuan bill.  Now, before I tell all about the splendor of the Lake, allow me to state that this particular hotel at which we only stayed a day provided the greatest breakfast I had in China.  Delightful pastries filled with seasonal fruit, fresh corn, and – wonder of wonders –  a toaster machine that took less than five minutes to produce perfectly toasted golden brown bread, sans burnt edges or uncooked spots.  Even the bok choy tasted somewhat fresher.  But I digress…

After we alighted in the lobby (having become splendidly full), it became apparent that the light misty rain that had been falling ever since the rest stop still continued.  Taking this in stride, we were informed that cruises on the West Lake were canceled…except, as a special treat, ours.  So, with mist ahead, mist behind, and mist all around, we began a 10 minute journey around the West Lake to get to our cruise.  Keep in mind that this mist was not uncomfortable.  It felt closer to the misters at theme parks; it is chiefly for this reason that I had not yet bought an umbrella.  However, with the prospect of 10 minutes outside, I considered the idea enough to venture into one of the vendors’ stalls. (Remember that each city had a different system of vending?  From what I saw, it seemed that most vendors in Hangzhou had small shops around the West Lake.)  The price, though, was 50 yuan (about $7) and I had no time to bargain the vendor down, so I decided that the rain wasn’t harming me – if anything, it added to the experience – and continued on.

Skipping ahead to the cruise, the scenery fulfilled my expectations.  I looked out at the far off banks and images of ancient China looked back.  By this time, the clouds had progressed in such a way as to gradually cover the mountains.  As they blew by, different peaks loomed out from the distance.  Once our eyes adjusted to seeing through the mist, we could find many pagodas.  This truly was the most scenic spot I had seen in China – it was so affecting, in fact, that I sat in my seat (at the prow of the boat, away from the cabin’s cover), turned around, and just gazed, completely oblivious to the gradual wetting of my shirt and of my seat.  When one is on a moving boat, on a lake, water is likely to spurt up from the surface onto the front of the boat.  I, however, failed to care; I was completely immersed in the scene.  (I did join a friend underneath an umbrella before I became too wet.)  About an hour later, the cruise sadly came to an end, we strolled back to the buses, I once again failed to purchase an umbrella, and we were off to our next adventure.

Michael Vybiral

Michael and Tina at West Lake

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