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A lake that thrills in any season, for every reason

Updated: 2011-05-05 18:41
By Sandra Lee ( China Daily)

Poets and artists through the centuries have tried to capture the beauty of West Lake in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province. The question becomes, "Which West Lake?" It is a constantly changeable feast for all the senses. It shows different aspects by day or night, summer or winter, filled with visitors or in the wee hours, a silent beauty.

I love all its faces, but as someone born in spring I especially respond to its springtime show. I celebrate another birthday in China by getting up early in order to be at the lake while the morning mist is still lingering, brushing over everything softly.

I'm not the only one on her misty shores, though. I stroll by groups of locals who love their lake, mostly engaged in some form of exercise. Solemn, focused tai chi - some with fans in their hands and others with swords swishing through the air - and one group doing Chinese movements to jazzersize tunes. A group of ladies with red cloths in their hands swing and sway and nearby another group does a series of serious stretching movements.

Not everyone is part of a group, there are a variety of individuals who have their own routine. Some walk briskly while slapping themselves vigorously, chest, back, whack, whack. One fellow's arms are flailing as he puts himself through rapid hand and arm movements.

I see elderly folks up against railings stretching their legs above their heads. I give it a try and hope no one notices I can barely lift my legs past my waistline.

Joggers go by and it wouldn't be a morning in China if there wasn't at least one person walking backwards.

One lone woman dressed in red tai chi clothes performs her routine next to the statue of Hua Tuo, famed physician and founder of wuqin xi which mimics the motions of tiger, deer, bear, monkey and bird, for health. He would have enjoyed this graceful lady moving beautifully at his feet.

Boatmen in their cinnamon colored jackets stand by their moored boats as they swap early morning smokes and stories in the calm before their day of rowing tourists all over the lake, begins. They don't have to join any exercise group, their whole day is one long exercise program.

The sun is peeping over the hills and the ancient design of "hills on three sides and the city on the fourth" begins to be seen as the mist slowly dissolves. Pagodas are coming into view as a few men start to show up with their little stools, fishing poles, and tea or rice wine for slow sipping.

As the day wears on some visitors will try to buy some fish from them so that they can tell everyone how they added to their Hangzhou experience with a meal of fish guaranteed fresh from the lake.

I walk a zigzag bridge to keep the ghosts, who can only move in straight lines, at bay. The morning breeze ripples the water as I proceed to an arched bridge. I stop at the top to enjoy the huge golden buffalo statue emerging from a lagoon.

Walking slowly through the Orioles in the Willow area I pause for a moment to just absorb the bird song, the swaying willows with their sweet fresh leaves, the fruit trees bursting with blooms.

The sun is up. It's been an hour and already the scene has changed. The groups are beginning to disperse to make way for the visitors. It is crowded now on the zigzag bridge and cameras are clicking away. The magic of a misty early morning is beginning to fade.

I know I should honor my magical hour with local Longjing tea, but old habits die hard and I hurry towards a tall coffee, knowing I've just been part of a very special scene of West Lake in spring.

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