(Singapore Management University / Green Volunteers)
On the 6th of December 2008, I accompanied 18 students from Singapore Management University (SMU) for a 17 day educational trip to Hangzhou, China. This project was called “Project Green Paradise) and the purpose was to visit schools to relate the Singapore experience and spread the 3R's (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle) message.
Hangzhou is a beautiful city with a 2,500 year old histroy and was for a time the capitol of China. The city is situated at the famous west lake, mant poems have been written about this lake, including the classic “Madam White Snake”. Hangzhou is a clean and refined city with a long history of famous artists, poets and architects. It is also reputed to have some of the most beautiful women in China, although at the time of our visit, they must have been on winter break. The weather in December is bitterly cold and some students resorted to wearing 3 tee shirts in addition to a jacket, on some nights the temperature sometimes was zero!
The daily school visits were a real delight and eye opener for us, although many schools had inadequate equipment (when compared to Singapore schools), they more than made up for this by a great spirit and enquiring mind and were always happy and cheerful. Maybe our Ministry of Education should send some of our teachers to Hangzhou to learn how inspite of the bitter cold and lack of study equipment, these children stay so positive.
It was not all work and we found time to visit a number of interesting museums like the Great Canal Museum that reveals in detail the long history of the canal system in China. Canals were not only for commerce but for military transport in time of war and civil strive. We also visited museums for swords and knives (for which Hangzhou is famous for) and one highlighting the history and styles of umbrellas throughout China. The newly built science museum was an exciting experience especially for those interested in science.
We also managed an overnight trip to a country town called QIANDAOHU, a 2.5 hour bus ride from Hangzhou where we visited the famous 1000 island lake which is 98 times bigger and hold 3000 more water volume than west lake.
Our host in Hangzhou was Zhejiang University, one of China's 3 top universities and often referred to as the “Oriental Cambridge” of China. Their green club members were very helpful and not only arranged our school visits but also for me to give 2 talks at the University about the activities of The Green Volunteers. At these 2 talks, there were more than 200 green club members from about 45 schools in Hangzhou. We also did an interesting programme with students at the Xixi wetlands park, an interesting natural/man made wetland habitat and a favourite bird watching spot in Hangzhou.
Most of our meals were taken at one of Zhejiang's 6 cafeterias and there was a great variety and the food both nourishing and delicious and best of all, we paid student prices! With a student population of 31,000, providing meals is a major taking at the university.
Hangzhou is an extremely clean city and there are street cleaners everywhere. I found out that the authorities spend around RMB18 (about Sing$ 3.6) to clean one square metre within the city area per month. The people around Hangzhou are an enterprising and hardworking people, everywhere you will see small businesses on pushcarts and every piece of available land is used for vegetable cultivation. There are many small neighbourhood parks for residents to relax, meet or do the time honoured practice of Tai-chi. Bargaining is a must and one has to be thick skinned about this, although most vendors are honest, there are a few that are crooked!
In Qiandaohu, I went to a shop selling vegetables/flower seeds and chose seeds that would have amounted to S$30 at most (I have bought seeds in China before) but since I did not speak mandarin and was a foreigner, he asked for S$185!! which led me to promptly walk out of the shop.
As we are doing a hilltribe organic tea planting tea in Northern Thailand, the highlight for me was a visit to the famous Dragon Well (Long-Jing) tea growing area anout a 45 minute drive from Hangzhou. Dragon well green tea is the most famous green tea in all of China. About 700 years ago, Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty visited this area and tasted the tea. He praised it for its colour, scent, taste and leaf shape. He ordered 30 tea trees to be planted near a famous tea house. Today, 18 of these 700 year old tea trees still survive (12 were destroyed during the cultural revolution). Qianlong also ordered wells to be built to irrigate the hills for more planting of trees. The honourfic title for the Emperor is Dragon (Long) and since he ordered the digging of wells (Jing) that's how Long Jing green tea got it's name! The quality of the tea also depends on the weather (like grapes).
In 2005, a special batch of first grade dragon-well tea sold for RMB150,000 (about S$30,000) per kilo (1000 grams). Not having the spare cash, I bought a kilo of 2nd grade tea for RMB600 (S$120 per kilo).
It was raining and bitterly cold when we visited so we didn't have the chance to reach the top of the tea plantation. We stopped at a tea house and was told that a glass of 1st grade tea cost about S$12, many of us chose a drink from the vending machine instead!
Another interesting trip to a historical sight was a visit to Lingyin temple. It's a 45 minute drive from Hangzhou. This temple is more than a 1,000 years old and built during the Song dynasty. It's a buddhist temple with touches of taoism. There are beautiful images of the Lord Buddah carved into the hills with some of them more than 1,000 years old. Even Emperor Qianlong (the dragon well tea guy) was involved in the building of a monastry). With swaying bamboos and babbling brooks and streams, Lingyin is a peachful place and an ideal place for meditation and contemplation, unfortunately it's a very popular tourist destination and this brings distrations.
As this was our first trip, I would consider it a success but there are many activities and areas that can be improved and new activities included.
Photos coming up soon!