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