From the moment I laid eyes on Xi Hu (Xi = West, Hu = Lake), I yearned to take a boat ride on it. While Suzhou is called the Venice of China, Hangzhou’s Xi Hu has a more palpable Venetian feel with its paddle-propelled ferryboats. On Saturday, I met up with Rachel, an engineer from a city near Hong Kong. She was also traveling alone, so we decided to hire a boat together.
The Dragon Boats were the most noticeable and decadent. The inspiration must have been a Viking longboat made Chinese by practically plopping two traditional buildings in the middle with a single longitudinal connecting beam.
Gaudily colored with upturned eaves, these boats featured disproportionately large figureheads. Everyone seemed to want their picture taken with the Dragon Boats.
If this wasn’t a Chinese lake barge, I would be surprised to see enormous bronze statues placed on the poop deck for display with no worries in respect to weights and centers.
The most popular pleasure boats afloat were these wooden tour boats built in the traditional Chinese style. They were probably the most stable as well.
Common rowboats were the most costly since the tourists had to pay for the privelege to row themselves around the lake. The rowers on the right were having a little trouble with coordination.
Small motor boats were available in one nook of the lake.
This was my favorite boat, a loosely carvel-planked paddle-propelled boat. I say loosely-planked because a one-centimeter thick layer of adhesive was sloppily pressed into the cracks between planks.
We found a gathering of the small boat drivers hanging out near the lakeside who all had the same price, 80 yuan (12 USD), to hit up two islands and come back. It wasn’t until we approached a few of these groups that we realized the price was fixed and we couldn’t haggle.
It was frustrating to not see the beautiful landscape on the other side of the like, but the fog lent a mysterious quality to the waters. Xi Hu seems to be one of those unique locations that is beautiful in all seasons.
Here is one of the three stone structures, or “Three Pools Mirroring the Moon” that we visited (or “poos” depending on which translated map you’re carrying). These small pagodas date back to the Song Dynasty. Everyone described them as “mysterious,” which I soon came to realize meant that no one I met knew what they were, though they are featured on the 1-Yuan bill.
While the driver paddled us out to the islands, him and Rachel discussed the history of the lake. According to the driver, rowboats were common until it was thought improper for a person of low status to paddle around a person of high status. The same mentality led to the phasing out of rickshaws. When Nixon visited Xi Hu in 1972, he supposedly told the people that motor boats were harmful to the environment, so they switched back to rowboats. The driver also claimed that when asked what he thought of Xi Hu, Nixon stated, “the people are poor, but the lake is beautiful.”
A dragon boat motors by us in the second video. Our vessel, on the other hand, slid through the water like a canoe. It rolled easily in the wake of the motor boats too.
The old-fashioned dredgers were the most unusual boats on the lake to me. West Lake was first dredged almost one thousand years ago. At that time, the sediment was used to construct the Su Causeway that traverses the lake. Now, dredging is carried out as part of a restoration effort.