Tuesday, September 11, 2007

11 September 2007: Hangzhou

What a delight it is to travel. I love it. I love what it represents- freedom from predictability, chains, the norm. Literal and figurative flight of the soul. I write to you from the Hangzhou Airport (China). I haven’t been able to post blogs or photos, as those websites are blocked by the Chinese government. At first I thought it was a sketchy internet connection when I couldn’t access those sites; then my friend explained it to me. This is a crazy concept to us Americans, isn’t it…freedom of expression, right?

Hangzhou is a countryside city, with seemingly endless shades, layers, textures of green. The biggest (both literally and representatively) sight is the West Lake, offering stillness, freshness, and reflection (both literally and affectively) (ok, I’ll stop doing that now, I promise) that I received tirelessly. The people here are peaceful and content; the children bounce and giggle and smile contagiously. I captured some of it in some fantastic photos. My absolute favorite photograph from my visit is of the little girl eating cotton candy. She was jumping up and down, exclaiming, “Hao chi, hao chi!” which means, “Delicious, delicious!” You can almost feel her happiness bursting through the 2-D picture. Ah…simple pleasures. Never, ever underestimate the power of simple pleasures. (Tell me, what’s one of yours?)

My 3 days here consisted mostly of strolling, nighttime bike riding, and happily breathing in the freshest air since being out on the waters of Hong Kong. I was told yet again that I was lucky to have uncharacteristically perfect weather for my visit. I’m really starting to think I bring good weather with me wherever I go. Hefang Street can be likened to Santa Monica’s 3rd Street Promenade, and this is where my friend Cliff and his wife Karen (who graciously invited me to stay with them) sat for a traditional tea mini-ceremony, ate dragon’s mustache sugary gooey goodness (note: not actually made of dragon’s mustache), and just enjoyed the beautiful Autumn night. We also strolled various areas and parks around the West Lake, including Hubin Road, Beishan Road, and Hua Pu. Most notable was the delicious smell of this flower…the name of which escapes me…but it was incredible, like gardenia or jasmine or the perfect most natural perfume, and it kept popping up all over the city.

One morning I hiked the Hangzhou peaks. It’s a sweet but challenging 2-hour hike climbing 4 main peaks, and offers amazing views of the city off both sides of the mountains. You get immediately thrown into the steepest part of the hike from the bottom of the hill, but it’s encouraging as you hear the city sounds waning, the quiet calm of trees calling, and oh, all the 70+-year old people who’ve already climbed their way before you, indirectly taunting your ego. There’s a whole peak culture. People practicing their various art forms (tai chi, qi gong), teaching lessons, playing cards, reading. It is wildly peaceful and free of tourists. There were moments when I wasn’t sure which way I was going as there are no signs and multiple trails, but I somehow made it to my destination: Lingyin Temple, where sits one of the largest (if not the largest) sitting Buddha statues in China. It was pretty striking, though the Reclining Buddha in Bangkok is still my favorite.

It was a relief to be among spiritual people again. What I experienced of Beijing is pretty devoid of that. In fact, what I experienced of Beijing was pretty devoid of life/aliveness in general. There seemed to be a stagnant, dull, disheartened energy in Beijing. Julie called it soulless, blaming the government for stripping people of their soul when they discouraged creativity and individuality. Even the expressions of children seemed empty. People seemed very much stuck in their daily grind, and I felt a subtle hopelessness permeating their outlook on life. I know my experience was very limited, but this is what I felt when I was there.

Still, I enjoyed my time in Beijing, relishing in the few more days of being hip-to-hip 24 hours a day with my Julie. We did a fair amount of strolling ourselves, visiting Hoahai Lake and walking from home to various parks early in the mornings. We also did a fair amount of feet-dragging, fighting through our laziness that wanted to keep us on our butts at home, away from the crowds, watching Sex and the City DVDs and stuffing our faces with serving after serving of Peanut Bing Sha (icey creamy Chinese dessert…make you jump up and down doing one-handed cartwheels tasty), visiting the Forbidden City, Tianamen Square, and the Summer Palace. My favorite was walking amongst the the grandmoms and grandpops at Hoahai Lake. I love sliding in with and catching glimpses of the local lifestyle. Finding ordinary moments within the extraordinary experience of travel and being in a new land. Also, the elderly seemed the most peaceful in Beijing…probably because they don’t have to worry about that dreaded thing called WORK.

Though work need not be so dreaded…so long as you find the proper work for you. Identify your passion…and find a way to turn it into work. It’s what I did, and it makes life so much more fun.

I’m once again flying through the Asian skies, wondering if the clumps-of-powdered-sugar-like clouds I see out the window taste anything like powdered sugar…or maybe like that little girl’s cotton candy (ok fine, or like MY cotton candy; she inspired me to get one too…at 11 in the morning…). My next stop is the motherland: Seoul, Korea. I am psyched to see my family, especially my little brother who lives there and who I think about and miss everyday.

So, til next time, my friends. Byebye!

PS Did anyone notice that the only foods I mentioned in this post were completely unhealthy sugary ones?? It wasn't intentional…but let it be a reminder to allow yourself indulgences here and then…be them of sugar, relaxation, nothingness, yoga, breath…LIFE.

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