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Wednesday - May 16 - Up at 0530 - View from the 18th floor of the super hotel obscured by heavy overcast - nevertheless able to orient the view with city map. Buffet breakfast at 0600 - 0830 - another super large menu choice. One chef is making omlets to order, another making waffles and another making a Chinese noodle concoction. Plus many other exotic and unknown foods, and juices, fruit, pancakes, eggs and bacon and more. These hotels are incredible.
But trip goes first to the Huagang Park next to the West Lake. We walk through luxurious gardens with fish ponds containing huge carp (gold fish) and a villa. It is the Wei Villa of Jing Ximen from the1940's. Also stop at the Hidden hall Pavilion. Then we board one of the many lake boats that are so popular with the Chinese tourists. We take many photos despite the heavy overcast and haze. The Jinei Si Pagoda is one one of the nearby hills. We cruise around Santanyimyun Island.
Then we board the bus again for the drive to the Tea Farm and museum. The hills for miles around are covered with terraces on which are the multitude of tea plants. Tea is harvested three times a year on the days the leaves are ready. From the appearances it looks like the plants on various terraces are at different stages of growth. Here we have a lecture on the finer points of growing and harvesting tea plus the proper protocol in which it is to be served. There are many rituals involved. We watch a man walking on tea leaves in a bowl - I guess it is like treading on grapes. This is followed by a sales pitch which results in much expensive tea finds its way into the tour member's bags. A walk through the museum's sales shops reveals that it has much more than tea, in fact everything Chinese that a tourist might want. Then we walk up a winding, narrow street through a village (names Mei Jia Wu) to the home of a local family who cater to provide lunches. The village is clearly wealthy with much modern construction under way. It clearly benefits from the attraction of the Tea museum plus of course sale of all the local tea to the world. The luncheon host farms two adjacent acres of tea plants as well. We have a typical (for us) multi-course meal, with two meat dishes, vegetables, rice, beer, Coke and all. We take many photos and walk back down the street. The first family to settle here in early medieval times was named Mei.
After lunch we drive to the Feilai Feng (Buddha carvings) and associated Lingin Si monastery temple complex. The Feilai Feng is a long cliff next to a mountain stream (the both covered with fairly dense trees and bushes). The Feilai Feng means "The Hill that Flew Here" which was so named by an Indian Buddhist who thought the hill reminded him of one in India. The cliff is covered with 345 carved Buddish statues hewn into the living rock plusd in caves. Some rock carvings tell stories of the Buddha. There is a narrow path between the cliff and stream, but we stay on the paved path on the other side of the stream. From there we watch many Chinese visiting the statues. The first carvings date from 951 AD and there are many more from the Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming Dynasties. One of the most famous carvings is the Laughing Buddha. At the far end of the paved walk is the Lingyin Si (Temple of the Soul's Retreat), one of the largest and most famous monastery complexes in China. And it is well visited today. It was founded in 326 AD by Hyi Li (the Indian who named the hill). The monastery once housed 3000 monks. The buildings have been restored many times and today still house both original, ancient and modern, replica statues of Buddhist figures. Among they is the Sakyamuni, a Tang era statue standing 53 feet tall, and four Guardians of the Four Directions, and the Maitreya. There are class rooms, temples, a small museum and the usual sales stores. Many Chinese are burning incense in the courtyards. The temples are rather dark, making photography difficult (no flash allowed). We buy a DVD of Buddhist ceremonies and a map of China.
We next return to the hotel at 1545. Now Kelly Weiman takes us on a special walking tour through the neighborhood and into a very large market building. This is crowded with Chinese shopping for dinner (and more). The stalls are loaded with an amazing variety of live fish, other sea food, chickens, ducks, turtles, snakes, pigeons, doves and more. There are many tables full of unknown as well as recognizable vegetables, grains and fruits. There are many types of meat. There is also a hot food deli selling noodles and bread. Everyone greets is cordially and is smiling and appears as interested in our appearance as we are of theirs. Along one of the streets we find a jeweler who confirms that the "Rolex' watch we bought is fake and does not work. Back at the hotel, this evening we go out for dinner on our own. Once again Kelly goes out of her way to take us to a favorite restaurant. There are 11 courses, two meat and the rest various unidentified vegetables in interesting sauces. Later we pack once more for the next leg of the journey. It will be a train ride to Shanghai. We put the bags out at 2130 for pick up, since Vantage will take them on a different train to the next hotel. We will travel by the high-speed fast train.


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