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Travels: Overnight in Hangzhou West Lake, China (26-27 October 2008)

This marks the first time I’m taking a train from the new Shanghai South train station. I have been here a couple of times but it is impossible to get train tickets to Hangzhou on the day itself, especially for weekend trains. When that happens go to the back of the station and take the long distance bus instead. It is a little more expensive and takes longer to get to Hangzhou. But what matters is that it’s the train today. Plan this trip is to spend a night at the west Lake in Hangzhou and shoot morning at the lake. Too bad weather will be bad this weekend but lets see what comes out of it.
Hangzhou should look better in spring and one of the equinox days, but I’ll treat this trip as a scouting trip. Found a hostel (Mingtown Garden Hostel) on the west bank of the lake, strategic for morning pictures on the lake. Lenses I brought goes from 12mm to 50mm on DX sensor, and a rangefinder for night shots. I’m rather self sufficient this trip. I have a towel, and change of clothes. Packs quite small into the backpack. Will be using primarily this E71 for GPS duties, but I just can’t leave the Garmin behind so that is in the bag as well. I really need to think about leaving things behind and not duplicate for the duties I will be performing during trips!

Packed quite heavily for a weekend trip. Normally I’ll just bring a small pack for a night, but I’m trying to simulate my next medium duration trip next month. Going with a 30 litre pack with external attachments. On the left side is attached a gitzo 1541T tripod and my mont bell jacket attached on the right. In a small bag inside the pack is a leica M2 with 35mm f1.2 Voigtlander and in the second think tank speed demon belt pack is a Nikon D300 with 2 lenses. This is quite a heavy setup. Will need to lighten up for the longer trip. The backpack balances quite well, but definitely no room for a sleeping back if I need one. Will be travelling with the ipod touch and just a phone/blog machine this time. No blackberry. That will stay home.

Starting to love my E71. I have already loved my old E61 and the addition of a GPS that is actually working and acquires signal quicker than my handheld Garmin makes it more compelling. The camera on this phone is good enough to put on the web. My usual workflow is to keep Location tagger app on, and take a picture with the built in camera. The picture will be automatically tagged with the GPS coordinates. Using Shareonline, i then create a post to Flickr and just save it as a draft post. I then send it when I’m at a wifi point. I have of course the ability to send it immediately via EDGE here in China. Nicely done.

The train left shanghai at 0810 hrs and here I am in hangzhou at 1005hrs. This is the T coded train, fast but not the D coded bullet train. 2 hours is not too bad. Short enough they sell standing room tickets. The train I took actually goes all the way to Ningbo. Which is not too bas a place to go (search my blog for my report on Ningbo last year).

Crap. Was looking for a bus that goes to the West bank of the west lake. Bus that says line 2 does go there, but since my chinese reading is spotty, found its a tourist bus no 2. And I really really hate tourist buses. This one is shaped after trolleys in San Francisco, and with wooden interiors that look over varnished like a chinese boat. And the most uncomfortable seats in a bus. the aisle is narrow, so I’m hitting passengers with my carbon fibre gitzo tripod when navigating inside the bus. But you pay according. 3 RMB for a bus ride is as reasonable as it gets. Good good. Just need to make sure they move quicker as this seat sucks. The bus swings via the southern shore of the west lake and seems to terminate roughly near Yuquan. By the way, the official number of this bus is Y2. Apparently bus K7 also goes this way. At least to the west of west lake.

Oh what a bad weather. It has been raining the whole day, and its getting heavier now darkness has set. There are no colours to shoot, except perhaps for the nursery where I got to use the tripod for once. I will need to wrap the ends with neoprene when transporting. Reason: I dropped it when trying
to remove something from the backpack, basically careless and dented the ends when it landed on concrete.

The issue now is that near the hostel there are not too many places to eat. There are many 5 star club restaurants, which will probably not welcome a guy with backpack. There are 2 KFCs here though. Says something about the priorities of locals here. Wandered into a local restaurant with rowdy locals. Nothing special about the food except my dish looks strangely like snake meat. Next time I think I will be safe and go into a posher looking restaurant without the ultra thin plastic table cloth. 

Its now dark in hangzhou, as in, night time is already here at 6pm. Set up the gitzo on the northern bank of the large lake and took a few 20 second shots of the Pagoda in the horizon on the other side of the lake. One of the issue I see here is at that kind of night time shooting, it is very difficult to level the camera without any kind of level bubble. My next shopping item would be a innocent looking bubble level, those yellow thing they use to level large format cameras. I think I might be facing south so this will not be one of my choice location tomorrow morning. Will be scouting morning shoot location tonight although I don’t hold too high a hope for perfect morning weather where I will be able to see the sun peeking above the horizon at 6am. GPS maps to the rescue…

It is night and still raining and there is a fireworks show somewhere. I can hear the booming sound of firework propulsion not too far away. It’s probably coming from the north side of the lake as I could see the place being cordoned off after dinner tonight.

Its just over 6am now on a sunday morning and it has been raining non stop all night long. This is the worst weather for morning shots. At a moment there is no light and suddenly feels like someone turned on the fluorescent light just like that. No morning switch on transition at all, which makes for very uneventful photo shoot. This morning is a prime example of that. What could work are very low contrast and colourless pictures with traces of a small boat with a standing rower, will try and achieve that look while hunkered down in this little pavillion/bridge.

If there’s a positive thing about this thing, it would be two things. First is cheap buses, other than the tourist Y buses, the normal buses with no characters, or the K bus here in Hangzhou is cheap as hell. Took bus K27 to Longjing (more about this in a while) and K7 to the train station, and they cost 1 RMB per entry. If I knew this earlier, would have saved 2 RMB (ok, I’m nitpicking) when I got here yesterday.

Longjing Tea Farms: As I had something like 3 hours to kill before the train starts to leave for Shanghai on Sunday after noon, I boarded K27 that goes up to the hills next to West Lake to an area known as Longjing. Famous for tea, its quite obviously so as there are just tea houses on top of the hill. The bus stops at a point that is just next to some theme park dedicated possibly to tea, but a few hundred more meters on the road uphill, I came upon this well that looks like a tourist attraction. Appears as Longjing Well in one of my maps. A little more of a walk and you start to go downhill into the countryside. I didn’t go further, but this would be the adventure for next trip. Bus Y3 also passes by there, and continues where K27 left off. On the way back to West Lake on K27, the bus would pass by some medium sized tea leave farms. There are no swathing vista full of tea plants like the ones in advertisement, but I could see some photo opportunities here. Because of time issues, I couldn’t get off the bus at all stops and take some pictures, but be sure i will be back to explore this next time. So, Longjing tea… hmm…


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