Golden op­por­tu­nity cap­tured

A small site onWest Lake makes a big splash, as Ray­mond Zhou finds out.

China Daily (USA) - - FRONT PAGE - By RAY­MOND ZHOU ray­mondzhou@chi­

Shut­ter­bugs in Hangzhou are hav­ing a field day as the city emerges in a sharp azure splen­dor and the nor­mally dense crowds be­come more man­age­able.

Shortly be­fore the G20 Sum­mit, a vantage point on the south­east side of West Lake had rows of pho­tog­ra­phers lined up, their lenses tar­get­ing the Leifeng Pagoda.

The struc­ture in evening glow is one of the city’s top 10 scenes, as se­lected back in the Song Dy­nasty (960-1279).

“It has be­come much eas­ier to get a per­fect spot, nowthat the traf­fic flow is so much smaller,” said a photography lover sur­named Lin, who was try­ing dif­fer­ent lenses for the per­fect shot.

Hangzhou res­i­dents are given a week off for the big event and, with tourist at­trac­tions in neigh­bor­ing cities and provinces of­fer­ing deep dis­counts or free passes, many have opted to en­joy a va­ca­tion out of town.

For those who want land­scape shots with­out too many heads crop­ping up in the fore­ground, this presents a golden op­por­tu­nity.

Then there is the blue sky, said pho­tog­ra­pher Qiu Jian­hua.

“The bet­ter the air qual­ity, the bet­ter the pho­tos will be,” said the am­a­teur-turned-pro­fes­sional, who had 30 of his works shown in Switzer­land in 2009 and had a solo ex­hi­bi­tion in Hangzhou three years later.

Qiu’s fo­cus of in­ter­est is nat­u­ral scenery, but he is also fas­ci­nated by hu­man sto­ries.

In the past week, he has com­bined the two while pho­tograph­ing peo­ple strik­ing poses at scenic ar­eas — peo­ple young and old, fash­ion­ably clad and lend­ing them­selves read­ily to the al­lure of the en­vi­ron­ment and the cam­era.

“The pre­vail­ing aes­thetic for Hangzhou is sim­ple el­e­gance,” he said. “But against this back­drop can be a flare-up of pas­sion. You can de­tect po­etry and his­tory in this place.”

That’s why the Hangzhou res­i­dents, re­gard­less of age, show a mad­cap as­pect in his pho­tos, yet still man­age to pro­ject exquisite­ness and re­fine­ment.

Among Qiu’s trove of pho­tos of lo­cals cel­e­brat­ing the sum­mit on their doorstep are mass scenes of peo­ple snap­ping mo­ments of the city’s new glitz.

Un­like them, how­ever, he still uses film in ad­di­tion to dig­i­tal me­dia.

To wel­come guests to the sum­mit, he has com­piled a dig­i­tal guide to Hangzhou, gen­er­ously in­ter­spersed with shots he has taken over the years of his home­town.

Of all the man-made struc­tures in and around Hangzhou’s West Lake, the three pago­das that loom over the wa­ter are among the small­est I have seen.

Yet they are so con­spic­u­ous, thanks to their lo­ca­tion.

Ris­ing just 2 me­ters above the sur­face of the wa­ter, they are like a trio of diminu­tive doyennes frozen in time do­ing a Zen ver­sion of the Matisse dance.

They form an equi­lat­eral tri­an­gle, lo­cated 62 me­ters from each other.

One need not read too much into the nu­meral 62 be­cause the an­cien­tChi­nese did not use the met­ric sys­tem.

But 33 is a nifty num­ber that in­ter­preters with a bent for clair­voy­ance have come up with— stand­ing for the to­tal of moons that can be seen, from a panoramic an­gle I sup­pose — at this par­tic­u­lar site.

Each pagoda has five round holes, and when lit from within, it would ap­pear that there are a to­tal of 15 moons vis­i­ble from afar. Then, as the moons are mir­rored in the lake, the sum adds up to 30.

Of­course, oneshould­not­for­get the real­moo­nand its re­flec­tion. As for the 33rd moon, it can only be seen by those with a fer­tile imag­i­na­tion, as it ex­ists only in the mind.

This viewof beauty and tran­quil­ity has a po­et­i­cally con­fus­ing name: Three Pools Mir­ror­ing theMoon.

Where are the three pools? you may well ask. Some may point you to the nearby islet with its four square-shaped em­bank­ments, but that would add up to four ponds.

The real an­swer lies in the three pago­das, which im­per­cep­ti­bly di­vide the wa­ter into three parts.

Again, ig­nore your sci­en­tific mind. Call up your in­ner poet.

As each pagoda lights up a lim­ited area around it, the vast­ness of the un­lit wa­ter is sim­ply dis­counted, ren­der­ing it into three pools.

Well, this is just one jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, but it is as­goodas another.

If you don’t be­lieve me, just whip out your wal­let and look at the back of a 1-yuan note.

It fea­tures a day­light scene of the three fa­mil­iar pago­das. But given the an­gle of the pic­ture, the dis­tant pagoda could not pos­si­bly be there. Call it artis­tic li­cense, which, if you think of it, is not that dif­fer­ent from a per­spec­tive-free scroll paint­ing.

The pago­das were built by Song Dy­nasty (960-1279) poet and gov­er­nor Su Shi, who was also re­spon­si­ble for the Su Cause­way on the lake.

He meant them to be wa­ter­marks to gauge the ne­ces­sity of dredg­ing of the lake. They were re­built in the Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644), and the nearby islet was con­structed from silt and mud in 1607, with im­prove­ments and ar­chi­tec­tural ad­di­tions later.

Mean­while, the ori­gin of the struc­tures be­ing known has not pre­vented peo­ple from com­ing up with their own ver­sions, many of which in­volve a snake-headed de­mon.

Un­like the fa­mous White Snake­spirit, this fishde­mon­isa vil­lain who snatches lo­cal girls or thrashes the city­with­storms.

Lo­cal peo­ple — or a Bud­dhist saint, de­pend­ing on which ver­sion of the folk tale you be­lieve — are said to have carved an in­cense burner out of a gi­ant rock and fi­nally sub­dued the fish de­mon by plac­ing the burner up­side down on its body. Ac­cord­ing to this myth, what pro­ject out of the wa­ter to­day are the legs of the stone burner.

Also, if you be­lieve in this tale, youwill prob­a­bly take July 29, 2013, as the night when the fish de­mon made a des­per­ate at­tempt to break free.

On that night, one of the pago­das fell into the lake after it was hit by a boat.

Per­haps to fore­stall the prospect of the story of the miss­ing pagoda from hit­ting cy­berspace, agen­cies in charge of the lake and its cul­tural relics took im­me­di­ate ac­tion. They called in frog­men to lift the pieces of the pagoda from the bot­tom of the lake. For­tu­nately, they were not dam­aged and the pagoda was re­stored be­fore day­break.

It was also then that many peo­ple learned that the pago­das are not sin­gle-piece struc­tures, but rather are mor­tise­and-tenon struc­tures.

No glue or ce­ment was used to build them, say the au­thor­i­ties.

The struc­tures came un­der the pro­tec­tion of the mu­nic­i­pal govern­ment in 1992, and were el­e­vated to provin­cial-level pro­tec­tion in 2005.

In 2013, as part of the Top 10 scenes of West Lake, the pago­das be­came a State-level relic.

En­chant­ing as the night scene is, the struc­tures have an ethe­real qual­ity in the day­time, too. If you look closely, the pago­das and their per­fect re­flec­tions are di­vided by a short and thin line of shim­mer­ing wa­ter, mak­ing them look like spin­ning tops.

And, if you re­mem­ber the last scene from Christopher Nolan’s film In­cep­tion, you’ll know that the scene im­plies a dream­like state.

Glid­ing on the sto­ried lake, one is as­sured that travers­ing dreams and re­al­ity does not re­quire 1,000 years of spir­i­tual pur­suits a la Madame White Snake.



The three pago­das draw not only a con­stant flow of tourists but also flocks of birds on West Lake.


West Lake is the cen­ter­piece of Hangzhou’s tourism ap­peal.


The land­scape of the pago­das is fea­tured on the 1-yuan note.

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