Posted by: sharemore1 | November 19, 2012

Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Ago

Like the pokey little puppy, China is rushing roly-poly, pell-mell, tumble-bumble into the modern age.  And like the puppy in that classic children’s book, when it comes to the green grass China too sometimes stops short—preserving a site instead of building over it.

Bridge and Lotus Leaves

West Lake is one of those green places, the 41st UNESCO World Heritage Site in China.  Located in Hangzhou, one of the country’s ancient capitals, West Lake is renowned for gardens that have influenced landscape designers and poets over the centuries.  The Chinese understand history not by decades or centuries, but by dynasties and reigns within dynasties.  Thus it was during the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms Period in the 10th century that Hangzhou became the capital of China and West Lake began to be developed.

Fall Colors on West Lake

My husband Moshe and I visited the lake in late October, when splashes of orange and gold leaves stood out against the green pines, weeping willows and lotus pads.  The lake, surrounded by mountains on three sides, was a short walk from our hotel.  One poet immortalized the view of these hills as “Twin Peaks Piercing the Clouds.”

West Lake Passenger Boat

We soon realized we didn’t have time for the nine-mile walk around the lake, so we jumped on one of the red and gold wooden passenger boats.  As soon as we disembarked at Lesser Yingzhou Isle, we felt a sense of peace.  The spirits of the gardeners, poets and Buddhist monks who helped create this heritage site seemed to linger.   Even the names inspired contemplation.  On this island within West Lake are smaller lakes called “Three Ponds Mirroring the Moon.”


Learning about the lake transported me to another time, when governors were also poets.   One of these Hangzhou governor/poets was Su Shi.  He made his mark during the Song Dynasty (1086-1094) by dredging the lake after a long drought, which allowed the irrigation channels to flow once more into the farms.   With the silt he built a causeway connected by six stone bridges and planted it with weeping willows, hibiscus and magnolia trees.

One of Su Shi’s Pagodas


In the lake, Su Shi erected three hollow stone pagodas, each with five round holes.  During the mid-Autumn festival, candles are lit in each of the holes and their flames dance on the water along with rays from the full moon.   Su Shi wrote a poem about the festival, entitled Mid-Autumn Moon:

The sunset clouds are gathered far away, it’s clear and cold.

The Milky Way is silent, I turn to the jade plate.

The goodness of this life and of this night will not last for long,

Next year where will I watch the bright moon?

(It was only a few days before the U.S. election and I couldn’t help but wonder if any of our governors wrote poetry.   Remembering the avalanche of attack ads we had just endured, I quickly dismissed the notion.)


We strolled past acres of lotus ponds that have been cultivated at least since the Tang Dynasty in the 8th century.   We felt the rough bark of ancient trees that had outlived many rulers, some propped up as they recline ever more toward the lake.  The air was filled with songs from birds born just this year.   The old and the new seemed to be  in harmony.

Reclining Tree

Relaxing in the gardens, we almost forgot we were leaving Hangzhou that day.  We found ourselves on the other side of the lake from where we started, so walking to the hotel was not an option.   We decided to hail a taxi.  The custom for flagging down cabs is to reach out your hand, palm down, as though patting a large dog.  Our technique must have been flawed, for no taxis stopped.

If walking was out and taxis were not responsive—there was always the bus.  Moshe climbed onto one crowded bus, map in hand, to find out where it was going.  Suddenly the doors closed, leaving me on the curb.   Moshe shouted and pointed until the driver let me on and drove off.

We were finally on our way, but where?  Now I was the one who felt like the pokey little puppy that got home too late for strawberry shortcake.  Our penalty for pokiness, however, would be missing our train.

As we tried to figure out where we were going, a young woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked, “May I help you?”   She confirmed we were on the right bus and found someone who was getting off near our hotel.   We learned that the helpful woman was leaving in two days to study in Tel Aviv, where Moshe was born.  Exchanging e-mail addresses, we offered to show her around Tel Aviv next time we were there.

Back at our hotel, we grabbed our suitcases and headed for a cab parked on the street.   The train station was a less than a mile on the other side of a freeway, but too far to schlep our luggage.  The cab driver didn’t seem to think it worth his while to take us on the short but convoluted trip.

Ride to the Train Station

Once again someone came to our rescue.  After negotiating with the driver, we climbed into his three-wheeled vehicle that seemed like a large golf cart.  We squeezed in the back and crammed most of our luggage in front of our knees, balancing the rest on our laps.   The driver steered his vehicle wherever it suited him, with traffic or against it, on the road, the bike path or the sidewalk.  But he got us to the station in time to make the train.

Finally settled in my seat for the ride to Shanghai, I took several deep breaths and returned in my mind to the fan of boats I had seen in the graceful gardens of West Lake.

Fan of Boats


  1. Sharon, love the photos…and stories.

  2. What a beautiful place and great adventure! I can only imagine the ride to the train station!

  3. You made this place so enticing. Loved the way you framed the photos.

  4. Breathtaking – West Lake – your pictures, and the adventure to the train. Love the fan of boats. Thanks for your blog!

  5. It will be nice to return, especially now when I know how to say jiao pia (sp) what a lovely place.

  6. How lovely indeed. Your photos and writings take me to place I dream of. Thank you, Elizabeth

  7. So beautifully described and photographed!

  8. Ahhh, Hangzhou – this really brought me back to my time living there in 1987 – kind of a different world was China then, and yet not when I look at your photos. I’m amazed that you stopped to take a photo of the pedi-rickshaw while you were hastening to the train. Thank you so much for the beautiful reminders of the “other capitol”.

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