If all gardens in China are copies of Suzhou gardens, all lakeside landscapes are based on Hangzhou’s West Lake.
Poets and governors have been beautifying West Lake for over a thousand years. Lest you somehow fail to notice how lovely it is, the Chinese tourist board has carefully selected the Top Ten Scenes of West Lake for your delight and delectation (i.e. this is where you have to go and take a photo).
At some later date it added the New Top Ten Scenes of West Lake. As if this were still not enough, it then produced a Third Appraisal of the Top Ten Scenes of West Lake (this third list is frankly scraping the barrel – Sunny and Rainy Lakeside? Conjugal Felicity at Wansong Academy?)
Tourists are kept busy round the clock, rushing to see and hear things where and when instructed: Three Pools Mirroring the Moon; Evening Bell Ringing at Nanping Hill; Orioles Singing in the Willows… doing all the things you are meant to do: Viewing Fish at Flower Pond; Dreaming of Tiger Spring at Hupao Valley; Inquiring About Tea at Dragon Well; Photographing Self Next to Random Big-Nosed Foreigner…
This last strangely doesn’t feature in the tourist guides. But it’s what a lot of Chinese want to do. Maybe when the tourist board gets round to producing Yet More Top Ten Scenes I can feature as number nine.
Lovely though most of them are, none of the selected sights and things to do enter into my West Lake Top Ten, which would be:
– Pensioners doing tai chi in the early morning on Jade Belt Bridge
– Fat juicy baozi (steamed dumplings)
– Monks hypnotically chanting in the Longmen temple
– Old Shanghai ladies on lakeside benches, talking in the slow beautiful English they learned before the Cultural Revolution about their years sent out to countryside farms
– Cycling around using the integrated bike and bus system – excellently cheap and efficient
– Children in the kindergarten by my hostel, doing their morning exercises accompanied by brass band, drums or recorded renditions of Silent Night, in front of murals of battleships and tanks
– The lovely girl in my hostel who taught me some Chinese in return for English
– Smiley Buddhist nuns at sundown, padding about in their yellow slippers
– Tea earrings
– Daft tourist board categorizations