Last week, I got the week off from school on account of the Chinese holiday known as Mid-Autumn Festival (中秋节/中秋節 – zhōng qiū jié). The week around the holiday is known as Golden Week, a period of time that is hectic with families traveling home or out of the country to avoid the crowded cities. Shanghai is especially known for being crowded during Golden Week. The nice thing about Golden Week, though, is that plenty of things are discounted on account of the holiday, making for tons of deals!
During my Golden Week, I took a trip a few hours south of Shanghai to Hangzhou, in Zhejiang Province. In my mind, I compare Shanghai and other cities to those in the US and India, but Hangzhou was quite unlike any other city I’d been too.
It was very unique in that it was not a huge city, but still fairly busy, and definitely a center for tourism. It doesn’t have all the trappings of a westernized Asian city like Shanghai or Bangalore.
The only city I can compare it (and only in principle), is Mangalore, a city in Karnataka not too far from Bangalore. Hangzhou is very much a Chinese city in the sense that it is steeped in its own culture but not to the extent that it’s obscure and inaccessible to foreign travelers (as some small towns might be). Mangalore is very similar in that respect, though aesthetically and experientially, is very different from Hangzhou. Hangzhou’s street market felt very local, even though there were tourist stands selling trinkets that only tourists would buy. The street is lined with all sorts of Hangzhou specialties, including some vegetarian bread items (whose names I neglected to find out). Some stalls had very traditional Chinese sweet dishes, such as Eight Treasure Soup (八宝粥/八寶粥 – Bā băo zhōu) , a kind of sweet rice porridge.
It’s called that because the eight items used to flavor the soup are purported to have potent medicinal and healing qualities. Popular ingredients include peanuts, lotus seeds, and red bean. In the picture to the right, there’s also a bowl of grass jelly (仙草 – xiān căo), another traditional Chinese sweet often consumed on its own, or more recently, in bubble tea.
About half an hour away by taxi, is the Lingyin Temple, one of the most famous and largest Buddhist temples in China. It’s known as 灵隐寺/靈隱寺 (língyĭn sì), translating as “The Temple of the Soul’s Retreat”. The temple is in a bit of a secluded area, being closer to some of the tea villages than Hangzhou itself.
The temple grounds are sprawling and really quite stunning with a large scenic area of forests and caves with statues of the Buddha. While you’re there, it’s absolutely necessary to see the Mahavīra Hall, where a huge Golden Buddha sits, waiting to hear the prayers of devotees.
This temple is easily one of my favorite places that I’ve visited so far, and I’m really glad that I made the trip. I have a ton of photos, so I won’t be able to post all of them. They don’t do justice to this place anyway!
Food in Hangzhou was a little more difficult than in Shanghai, partly due to a lack of Western restaurants which might actually have things for me to eat. Fortunately, I was able to get some vegetarian mapo tofu (麻婆豆腐 – má pó dòufu), which often contains pork, beef, or chicken. You should always ask in restaurants whether they can make a dish without meat.
I was able to order a vegetable dish as well, and with rice, it was more or less a complete meal.
At Lingyin Temple, I was able to eat a vegetarian meal made by the temple’s noodle restaurant, which is a common institution in Buddhist temples. These small eateries serve completely vegetarian (and often vegan) food, so if you’re in a temple town near a temple for an extended period of time, it’s a good place to get good-tasting and relatively cheap vegetarian food. The only catch about Lingyin Temple, is that you do have to pay 40 or 45 RMB to enter, and then meal itself will be around 15-20 kuai.
I hope that you all enjoyed this post, and I look forward to writing next week!