We got off the train from Shanghai, hailed a taxi and headed towards New Century Hotel in Hangzhou. It was almost noon. Chen took care of the check-in formalities. We had just enough time to dump my bags in my room and rush downstairs for lunch. I was famished!
This was my first introduction to a Chinese formal business lunch. A few of the invited speakers had arrived that day and were present. I met some of our hosts including Dr. Jin San Zhang. Although we had talked many times over the phone, this was our first face to face meeting. We introduced ourselves, shook hands, exchanged business cards and took our places around a circular table. The food was brought in and placed on the rotating tray attached to the table. There was a plethora of dishes of different kinds. We helped ourselves as the items rotated in front of us. It was a delicious, leisurely lunch and as we got full, the conversation flowed.
After lunch we headed for West Lake in a minibus. There were two students acting as translators and guides. West Lake is a large, beautiful, fresh water lake near Hangzhou renowned for its beauty throughout the ages. Marco Polo had visited Hangzhou and the lake many times in the 13th century. It is now a UNESCO heritage site.
The sun had begun to slide westward and it was pleasantly warm. We strolled on the walkway by the lake admiring the view. Soon it was time to board a gilded house-boat with large glass windows which would take us on a tour around the lake. There were seven of us and we sat around a table chatting amiably and drinking tea.
We saw several species of birds, pagodas and small green islands in the vast lake. The fresh air, camaraderie and the walk had worked up an appetite. After the boat ride, we headed for Prée, a small chic café next to the lake for hot chocolate or coffee. It was the perfect late-afternoon pick-me-up.
We then walked over to Hangzhou Restaurant, famous for its seafood, for dinner.
Dinner was an expanded version of lunch with different items served with elaborate fanfare. I had practiced eating with chop sticks at home and that came in exceptionally handy. Throughout my visit, I always ate with chopsticks. Sometimes it was ungainly. Then the students would obligingly help out by lifting particularly slippery noodles into my bowl or shelling a recalcitrant shrimp or crab. I cannot thank them enough.
It was dark by the time we stepped outside after dinner. We took two taxis and headed for another section of the lake to see the fabled “Impressions of West Lake”, a Son et Lumière extravaganza depicting the natural beauty and culture of the region. Zhang Yimou is the artistic director. He also directed the opening ceremony for the Beijing Olympics. I noticed the same skill in his use of ancient Chinese songs and dances using traditional musical instruments. The audio was crystal clear. The large cast of actors and performers were walking on boards placed millimeters under the lake surface giving the appearance of “walking on water”. The precision choreography of the performers framed by the brilliant lasers behind them was a treat for the senses. On occasion, I still marvel at the videos I took. But the full impact cannot be captured on a small computer screen and tiny speakers.
Soon it was over. It was getting chilly as a cool breeze whipped up the lake surface. I was happy to have my jacket and hat. We slowly walked through the crowd towards our bus. I kept a sharp eye on our guide mindful that I did not get lost in that teeming multitude. It was slow going but eventually we made it to the bus and were soon on our way to the hotel. It was late in the evening.
I had landed at Shanghai at 4.40 AM and had made it through a pretty full day without feeling the effects of jet lag. No doubt it would hit me some time when I was least expecting it. That night…I was asleep before my head hit the pillow.
To be continued