It was my first time flying business class! My mom managed to string together enough points to get us both seats in business on China Airlines. Ooh. I was ecstatic being able to finally enter the mystical 2nd level of a 747. Spacious legroom, fully-reclining seats, a whole menu of free alcholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and no small children. What a glorious 13-hour flight this was going to be.
Not long after the adrenaline of feeling fancy wore off, I fell asleep. And awoke to a surprisingly beautifully-plated lunch.
Haagen-Dazs ice cream for dessert, a light salad with raddichio and arugula. Bok choy and shimeji, a cherry tomato filled with light cream and sesame dusting. A soft croissant, red bean and barley soup, appetizers with pickled tomato and cucumber. Transculcent, iridescent cabbage wrap with shiitake, carrots, and beancurd. And a plate of berries to clean the palate.
Who would imagine that flying could be a culinary experience, too? Over the course of the flight, my mom and I took advantage of the various delicious things available. i.e. instant ramen, steamed buns filled with curried vegetables, and multigrain rolls. I appreciate this all the more now that most of my flights are with US airlines, which charge you even for a silly bag of chips.
Needless to say, I was very well-fed on the flight. And I’ve never slept better. Breakfast included rice porridge with a salted duck egg, some wheat gluten and pickled vegetables, a stir-fry of bamboo shoots, shiitake, and edamame, and some spicy broccoli.
We arrived in Hangzhou mid-afternoon. A hazy day. But the beautiful thing about Xi Hu 西湖, or West Lake, is that there is no poor setting to view it in. So after checking into the Hyatt Regency Hangzhou, my mom and I spent the rest of the afternoon on the lakeside. The rain–sporadic, sometimes softly pattering and other times outright angry–only accented the mystique and undisturbed peace of Xi Hu.
Boats lazily wandered. Lily pads rustled in the light breeze. And hardly any tourists. This was the right way to enjoy Xi Hu. When I first went in 5th grade, it was hot, humid, overcrowded, and there were no public restrooms anywhere. This was the furthest departure from that, and what I needed to appreciate the beauty of a lake that has inspired poets and painters through centuries. The architecture never detracted from the natural environment: when the sidewalks were wet, they became mirrors for the lake and its surrounding flora.
Night fell. My mom and I ordered a light dinner at a restaurant that was particularly well known for its delicious stuffed red dates (紅棗 hong zao) with sticky rice. This is a typical Shanghainese dessert. Meaty Medjool dates are caramelized slightly in a sweet syrup, sliced lengthwise (seed removed), and stuff with sweet sticky rice. One of my favorite snacks.
We continued to explore the parameters of West Lake after our meal. The 夜景 [yie jing], or night landscape of West Lake was just as romantic as in the day. Couples holding hands, hiding under the same umbrella, walked by.