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The train ride proved to be a wonderful experience. Modern, roomy, comfortable and fast, the train definitely was not what we had expected. After two hours, we reached Hangzhou where Director Wang Yunhui of the Zhejiang Province Hydrology Department was waiting for our arrival. After a short bus ride, we checked into our beautiful hotel right across from West Lake and had lunch. Then we were off again to a cultural exploration tour of the West Lake, one of China's most important cultural sights playing a big role in many ancient myths and sagas. The lake had for centuries been a favorite imperial retreat and its many islands and surrounding areas are beautifully landscaped. It’s also a favorite spot to get married or at least take wedding pictures.
After a boat ride across the lake to one of the larger islands we headed to the nearby Six Harmonies Pagoda which stands tall on one of the hills surrounding the lake. The original pagoda had been constructed during the Northern Song Dynasty (386-581 A.D.) but was completely destroyed in 1121. It has been rebuilt and destroyed several times but some of the old foundations can still be seen. The next stop was Fei Lai Feng, and its gardens and grottos. Fei Lai Feng, about 700 feet tall, is a pure limestone mountain that is very distinctive from the sandstone mountains around it. The caves of this mountain shelter contain about 330 stone statues of Buddha dating from the 10th to the 14th centuries. From there our guide Vincent, who’s mantra: “Just one picture and then go, go, go” remained with us for the rest of the trip, took us to see Ling Yin Temple, one of the most famous Buddhist Temples in China. The temple has been at this place since a very long time, becoming important during the Five Dynasties (907-960 AD) when the King of the Wu Yue State initiated a large-scale development of the temple as a sign of his devotion to Buddha.
Completely exhausted but very impressed, we finally arrived at the restaurant where we would have dinner that evening.
The following morning the group split up and one group went to the Hangzhou Botanical Garden while the others drove to the Zhejiang Province Hydrology Department where director Wang and about 50 people of his staff already awaited us. We were welcomed by a large banner across the main entrance. It read "Warmly Welcome University of Illinois Extension to Our Department!" Steve Ayers gave a presentation on Illinois water issues and Ryan talked about the road to success for American youth.
After a short lunch, we reunited the group and went downtown to the Silk Road where hundreds of silk shops line a long and narrow street. We got an introduction into different qualities and types of silk before the group dispersed.
After everybody had explored the silk shops, we drove to Longjing Tea Culture Village where the world famous Dragon Well Tea is grown and harvested. Thanks to director Wang, who met up with us in the village, we were invited to the house of the mayor of the village who served us tea and explained methods of growing tea, different qualities of the tea, harvesting cycles, the social situation of tea growers in the village and legal regulations introduced by the State. After an hour in the mayor’s house, his wife took us out to one of the tea fields and showed us the plants and harvesting methods.
The evening held a very special surprise for us. Director Wang and his wife invited us to a banquet at Jia Le Yuan Restaurant which is part of a compound that until very recently was closed to the public. This used to be, and to a certain extend is still today, a refuge and vacation spot for the highest officials of the Peoples Communist Party of China. The compound is very large and beautifully landscaped and the hallways of the restaurant are lined with pictures of all important party leaders including Chairman Mao. At our arrival, we learned that Li Peng, the former Premier and Communist Party Chairman, was dining there as well that night. We all felt overwhelmed by this degree of hospitality.
In the morning of Tuesday, April 22 we met David Xiong, our main contact at Wenzhou University. He and his crew of two drivers loaded us and our luggage onto two buses and off we went to Wenzhou.