West Lake Culture of Romance


There is heaven above, and Su-Hang below… and it is here in Hangzhou, China, where I returned after a three-year absence.

Truth be told, this was the heaven I needed after the past three years. Eight days of quarantine bliss, where the only voices I had to deal with were my own.  A perfect recipe to re-enter a country where I had spent much of my adult life. 

Speaking of perfect recipes, the first meal in my room: DongPo Rou 东坡肉, a famous Hangzhou dish named after the great Song dynasty poet Su Shi. And for someone who doesn’t get poetry, I sure spend a lot of time trying…

Su Shi’s poem: Drinks at West Lake through Sunshine and Rain (饮湖上初睛居雨) has significance, as it was written about Xi Shi, one of the four beauties of ancient China, and West Lake is said to be the reincarnation of her. 

“The shimmer of light on the water is the play of sunny skies,
The blur of color across the hills is richer still in rain.
If you wish to compare the lake to the Lady of the West,
Lightly powdered or thickly smeared, she is the best.”

~ by Su Shi 苏轼 (1037-1101), aka Su DongPo

Returning to Hangzhou set the stage for one of those magical moments that pop up in life, where once again, the only thing is to relax, step into something new and see where it goes.

Decades ago, as a young man, I was told when the moon was just right late at night, the swaying willow trees of West Lake would transform into a beautiful goddess. I imagined her to be the ancient beauty Xi Shi.

Poets and lost souls would become enraptured by the sight of her alongside the lake and willows, and with imagination, it was almost possible to touch heaven.

There were many drunken nights where I stumbled around the lake, only to wake up humbled by the morning sun and a mouthful of willow leaves…

With this memory, my first stop out of quarantine was easy, visit West Lake to chase the ancient Chinese beauty Xi Shi once again. This myth I’ve been pursuing for the past two decades.

For most Chinese, visiting West Lake is something one must do, just like in ancient times: to experience West Lake is to experience the epitome of Chinese culture.

Poets, artists, and lovers flock here to live through the stories from Song dynasty greats comparing Xi Shi’s beauty to the lake. One famous Daoist philosopher, Zhuangzi, wrote about her entrancing beauty, including her in a renowned idiom: 沉鱼落雁 ~ Upon seeing Xi Shi’s reflection in the water, fish would forget how to swim… Fortunately, I am a pretty strong swimmer. 

During the month I spent in Hangzhou, it was impossible to walk around the streets without imagining I was in the Song dynasty, around me a blend of achievement while not forgetting the Daoist nature of compassion and being one with nature.

Over its 2,100-year history as “the Heaven on Earth” for its culture, beauty, and romantic feel, Hangzhou and West Lake have fueled many dreams.  

In times we have now, where the world is spinning wildly with epidemics, war, politics, and challenging business, it is good to have a place to escape to, to wrap ourselves up in the culture of romance.  

West Lake holds the subtle Daoist culture of romance and oneness between man and nature. As cold and calculating as the world can be, Daoist thought reminds us of the flip side: art, culture, and nature to balance our lives.

West Lake is where Lao Zi’s philosophy of Daoism impacted my life, specifically part of verse 67:






Lao Zi, Dao de Jing, verse 67

I have three treasures of the Dao to hold and protect.

The first is compassion.

The second is self-discipline.

The third is humility.

From compassion comes courage. From self-discipline comes generosity.

From the humility of putting others ahead comes leadership.

The advice is rooted in simplicity, which contradicts today’s modern world.  We often wish to have a simple, enjoyable life, but in an age of hi-tech, where everything comes at increasingly fast speeds, we are forced to react just as quickly and move at such a pace. 

We work with technology all the time, and it is easy to forget that in between all technology is human interaction. Human interaction requires compassion; it is where love is derived, and we build relationships that guide us into becoming better people.

Compassion creates a deep-seated love, giving us the courage to defend all that is good in the world. It is the creed of a great society and great people, and I do not know anyone who would not do anything to defend what they love. 

At the end of the day, if there is no compassion, there is nothing. 

My West Lake journey was a perfect reminder of how compassion allows people to connect with others and their culture, and from this, happiness takes seed.

Compassion towards ourselves allows us to reconcile with all beings in the world. How can we live in peace if we aren’t at peace with ourselves? At peace with ourselves, we have the self-discipline to be generous, to avoid petty arguments, prejudices, and irrelevant gossip that can veer the spirit from growth.

With a generous spirit and self-will, we broaden our thoughts. Ridiculous biases of the past are tossed aside, and we embrace the simplicity of the world.  We develop the patience to be compassionate and seek a greater understanding, a genius.

Genius is not only for the few; it can strike anyone, anytime. All we need is the patience and awareness to let it happen.

Awareness… this is a bit of a problem even with me. Staring at our mobile phones, snapping photos at each moment we see, we speed through life without taking the time to enjoy the calm.

In this world of clicks, likes, and social media influencers, being bold and gregarious are traits we are taught to exemplify. There is not much self-discipline or generosity in this art – where success lacks compassion.

We understand this. See it in existence, and we can all agree that something is missing here. Yet here we are…

The irony of the above selfies and my participation is not lost. I understand the triviality of sharing the world’s beauty at the expense of not fully experiencing it as I should 🙃. 

The younger me would shake his head – it’s a delicate balance to manage. 

Self-discipline is needed to keep things simple. Simplicity is harder than complexity; it takes effort to think clearly. 

Hiking around West Lake, I thought of all the great Chinese and Western artists and philosophers. The one thing they had in common was spending time in nature. It was part of their thought process: hiking up mountains, through fields, or around lakes. Humbled by their surroundings, they developed the discipline to unravel an idea.

Truth cannot be forced. Humility requires self-discipline and patience. From humility comes the inevitable arrival of an answer, a form of leadership. This is a strange contradiction when aligned with the high-pressure, running-with-your-hair-on-fire attitude of the modern world.

Always in a rush, we never get the answer or the spark of genius because we never let the mind relax and “be” which allows us to enjoy hidden smiles to brighten up an evening.   

In this world where everything happens instantaneously, it is easy to forget we are on a humble journey. Our current evolution of having an attention span of a gnat creates superficial happiness at the expense of depth – the expense of developing emotional roots in our own lives.

I’ve mentioned this before in my writing, and again I am amazed at how important the words my sister, Sandi, wrote in a journal she gave me over twenty years ago: “Take it slow, keep it simple.” In essence, be humble.

I often forego this simple tenet, but I understand the importance of reflecting on these words… take a deep breath, roll back time, and start again. 

Taking a deep breath helps when I lose sight of the simple joys life can bring and how easy it is to accomplish by sitting down and enjoying the harmony of life. 

Modern life appears not to appreciate humility or simplicity. But nature does not care what kind of car you drive, what phone you use, or the diamonds and pearls you wear… Instead, sit next to a lake, stretch out on the soft grass with friends, and watch the magic of a setting sun. Nature by your side.

Without the basics of compassion, self-discipline, and humility, it is impossible to achieve the potential of who we are as humans. To over-achieve and find happiness in the simplest of things. 

West Lake still holds magic for me. Its history and beauty, and the romance of culture it creates.  It is where I fell for my favorite verse of the Dao de Jing. It is at the heart of who I want to be.  To become. 

I suppose this person is someone Xi Shi could be impressed with, and just maybe, if I can become such a man when I ascend to heaven, I can sit with her and have a cup of tea… or perhaps 一杯白酒.

When one is humble, one can be brave.

* Special thanks to my niece Miu Miu Qiu who helped with the photos, and Happy Year of the Rabbit to all on this Lantern Day Festival.

148 Comments on “West Lake Culture of Romance

    • Thank you, Arlene. The lake was like an oasis for me, especially in the early years of work when it seemed there was never time for a break… Wishing you well.

  1. Randall, wonderful photos & interesting history. Your thoughts resonate well. Thank you & your niece for the incredible, detailed photography. 📚🎶 Christine

    • I thought you would enjoy the sunset photos and the reflections of the water, Christine. The scenery there is so poetic it is hard not to be inspired. Thank you, and I wish you a wonderful and healthy Year of the Rabbit.

      • Thank you, Randall. I was born in 1939 the year of the Rabbit. Lucky, it symbolizes mercy, elegance and beauty. Yes, the photos were poetic. And I especially liked LAO ZI DAO DE JING Verse 67. I did a screen shot of it to copy, keep and read again, many times. ☺️🎶🧡

      • May this year of the rabbit be one of pure happiness and health for you, Christine. I think you will definitely make it a special one 💛

      • Thank you, Randall. I’m hoping the year will be everything you said it will be. And all of that for you too, Randall. 🧡🎶

  2. I love the poetry. You found a Lady of the Lake in the East. Wonderful post and fantastic photos, as always. Kudos to Miu Miu Qiu for helping out.

    • The poetry, too, impressed me, and yes, the Lady of the Lake is special ~ even if only in dreams 🙂 Thank you for your nice words for Miu Miu and for me.

    • Thank you very much, J.J. When a photo can also express the atmosphere of the place, that is the goal of photography… but with West Lake, it is a pretty sure thing. Just a fantastic area of history and beauty.

  3. Clearly, you’ve started your next adventure Randall. It seems this will be a more inward one to compassion, wisdom, generosity, and humility. West Lake and your images are gorgeous. I’m glad you had time to slow down, and absorb the beauty and culture with your niece.

    • West Lake was the perfect place to return to when I flew back to mainland China. There were still restrictions in place when I was there, so fewer people at West Lake and on the streets of Hangzhou. It was surprising, but it also made talking to people easier, and I felt a lot of freedom relaxing around the lake. While I was in China for business and traveling by myself, I was also able to spend time in Hong Kong to see my friends and, of course, my niece there 🙂 She has an artistic eye and helped me so much in selecting photos.
      I look forward to returning to China again at some point this year. Cheers to the year of the rabbit, Brad, and thank you for the nice comment.

      • Thank you Randall. I’m glad you had time with friends and your niece. I hope you can keep some adventure and slow-time in with your work.

  4. What a beautiful post Randall, your words and photos truly captured my heart. Love the poetry too. Stepping into the past, reliving what you love while trying to stay in the moment, it’s all a fine art isn’t it. I know myself how easy it is to become distracted by tech/social media and the snapping of images whilst also trying to enjoy the now. I’m doing that right now, camped in front of a lake filled with bird life, under a blue sky, yet distracted by the modern world. Yet it’s all about balance I feel. Thank you for sharing your compassion, caring and thoughts through your beautiful words and images. Warmest wishes from down under. 💙

    • There is always something special about stepping back in the past ~ and revisiting a place with a lot of meaning and memories. Reconciling those great memories with where we are today can reset and rebalance us. And yes, it is very accurate that there are so many distractions in the world, which is not bad, but we have to be aware we don’t limit ourselves by spending too much time on one thing when there are other great options out there as well. Cheers to another year of great travel and experiences!

  5. I honor you Randall for the time you take to create and nurture your meaningful words and beautiful captures.

    It gives meaning and reflection to the reader to hear about your experiences and learnings in these spaces.

    Awareness, discipline compassion, humbleness and nature, all call us again and again to reunite with our truth.

    May we all slow down enough to trust in this. 🙏🏻

    • Thank you, Karen. These words fit in so well with some of your writing and experiences ~ so it is great to receive such a lovely comment from you. With so many different thoughts and options floating around in the world, retreating into nature and relaxing scenes can give us the time to think things through without being aware.

  6. I would add one further Chinese proverb – ‘with slow, steady, steps, one can walk up walls’. I have to agree with all you’ve written, especially about Daoism. And your pictures are lovely.

    • Great proverb, Mick. This represents the power we have when we take the time to appreciate our surroundings ~ it would have made a perfect addition to my post.

    • Merci beaucoup. Les scènes de West Lake sont parfaites pour la photographie. Bonne journée.

  7. This post and these images are incredible, Randall! I love anything related to water, of course. The images towards the end of you taking a photograph of her taking a photograph of the sunset was particularly beautiful. You made me want to visit that part of the world again!

    • Hello Jess, it is lovely to hear from you ~ and yes, doesn’t being around water create a serene feeling? I remember this is one thing we have in common. Add to it a sunset and rich history, and West Lake is one of those perfect places to escape reality’s chaos. After three years of being away, I was surprised at how incredible it was to see these places again and experience the food, smells, and people. If you get out this way again, let me know 🙂 Cheers to a great year of the rabbit for you. Take care ~

  8. Exquisitely written. Beautiful images (as usual). To take the time to enjoy and breathe in is one of life’s simple pleasures that we do not access often enough. There are one or two places of similar stature here in SA as you probably know :). Love this article. It moved me deeply.

    • Thank you very much, Sue. You are absolutely correct. Every place I have lived, there is a place for me to escape into nature and reset ~ as I am sure you have many in SA. To have someplace special to go to experience and enjoy life’s simple pleasures is a gift, and we need to take the time to enjoy and breathe it all in. Take care, and I wish you a happy and healthy year of the rabbit.

  9. Enjoyed your thoughtful (as always) soliloquy this morning Randall – an excellent start to my day. As I read your thoughts it seems to me you surely practice what you preach. The images as always are wonderful. I had to smile at the couple kissing through their masks. My husband and I visited the lake during our trip to China and I wish I’d had this post beforehand. We didn’t have a guide for this piece and knew very little of the history and mystery behind it. I only remember how beautiful and peaceful it was, and also the glory of nature all around it. I suppose some day we shall have to revisit it with the new-found knowledge! Be careful over there – the news is filled with stories about the prevalence of Covid. Wishing you well as always.

    • This soliloquy was one of the more enjoyable ones I have put together, Tina. Thank you very much. When I was at West Lake and began putting together this post, I thought of you and some of my friends who had visited West Lake and how it would have different meanings and feeling for each. The first few times I visited, I enjoyed it tremendously, and it was only after the first year that I began to learn and understand the history ~ which gave it a different glow. I miss the feelings of first seeing it, but you describe it well: peaceful with the glory of nature right out in front of us. The photo of the couple kissing with masks was hilarious! My last couple of visits to West Lake were during the beginning of the Covid outbreak, so there were fewer people, and everyone was wearing masks ~ but the spirit of everyone was incredible… a lot of happiness and enjoyment in the day, as West Lake, has the charm to do so 😊.
      I look forward to you returning!

  10. Yours is the best account of West Lake that I have read. Many writers praise West Lake with eloquent prose or poetry, but you also have such beautiful images! Thank you.

    • This is a very touching comment, Hien. West Lake has been a second home to me during my time in China ~ the perfect escape when I had free time, and a large part of the reason is the feeling of history/culture when I am there. It is a photographer’s paradise in many ways, but that is also the beauty of the place: it has something for everyone to fall in love with. Cheers, and since you taught me a bit of Vietnam culture, happy Year of the Cat!

  11. Your words resonate with what I believe we all need more these days: compassion, self-discipline, and simplicity. There’s an expression in Javanese my mom often says to me when she tells me stories about the problems some people she knows have. Angel digawe dewe, literally “difficulty created by oneself”. I find living a simpler life a lot less taxing to my mental health. And of course, being grateful of life while enjoying some beautiful views like the images of West Lake captured by you is a good reward we can give ourselves. Happy New Year of the Rabbit, Randall!

    • Wonderful story of your Mom and her saying, Bama. It is an excellent insight into life, ‘digawe dewe.’ A good friend of mine read this post, and we talked briefly about it, and she said it is great I am now embracing these beliefs, and I said, “you didn’t think I thought this way before?” We had a good laugh because we realized that no matter what, I am still going to have my moods… I will still digawe dewe because it is in my nature and human nature. There is no getting around it. Often, when I finish writing a post, I feel a little depressed because I think what I did just wasn’t good enough… but worse, I’ll never be able to write like this again. It is a funny, childish thought, making me think that we need to put pressure on ourselves, a healthy kind – the wanting to get better, to succeed kind.

      So maybe, a little ‘digawe dewe’ can go a long way in helping us learn and be better – we just need to be sure we know how to flip it to ‘creating harmony by oneself’ and nature is good at doing this. Maybe that is why I like to travel, always trying to stay one step ahead of the difficulties 🤔? This thought you have given me is worth thinking about in more detail. I enjoy it and wonder if the seed planted with this thought will one day make it into a post?!? Thank you, Bama, and enjoy your day.

      • Sorry, I should have made it clearer. Angel in Javanese actually means difficulty, and it’s not pronounced like how it would in English. So yea, “angel digawe dewe” is a term that often comes up in the conversations between me and my mom, a reminder for both of us that there are ways to make life simpler.

        However, I do agree with the notion that we still need to challenge ourselves — our brain, our body, etc — to some extent because that is essential for a progress to happen. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t know when to stop.

        Enjoy your day too, Randall!

      • Ha, this is great, Bama. I thought your Mom was calling you “angel” using the English definition of the word, and I guess with the Javanese meaning of ‘difficulty’… maybe she still was calling you Angel 🙂 I like the phrase “angel digawe dewe” because it is good to reflect on this thought. Sometimes I think it is good to sit back and reset ourselves because we all fall prey to “angel digawe dewe” at times. I wish you a great Friday and weekend ahead.

  12. What a special place ❤️ Thank you for this Middle Ground reflection Randall. I notice my pace is slow without youngsters around. In a way I am grateful.
    May we all come to see the beauty in being present and keeping things simple. 🙏🏻

    • Thank you, Val. It was great to return there once again. The unique places we all hold are valuable for just what you mention: keeping things simple. West Lake can make anyone reflect on life (past and present), and in doing so, it slows us down.

  13. Thanks a lot, dear Randall, for this text that reminds of the teachings of my late Gurdjieff teacher. Awareness and compassion was the centre of his teachings. Well, the teachings of all the traditions of spiritual thinking are alike.
    Wishing you a healthy and happy New Year
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

    • Great comment, Klausbernd; thank you! You touch on something I believe, and that is all the teaching of traditional spiritual thinking have a common thread of beauty to be found and can be linked together. You also introduced me to someone new in Gurdjieff. I just read the following about him: “… taught that most humans do not possess a unified consciousness and thus live their lives in a state of hypnotic “waking sleep,” but that it is possible to awaken to a higher state of consciousness and achieve full human potential.” For the most part, this is what I strive to find every day, even though I fail on most days 😂. I wish you well ~

  14. Now I want to wander around West Lake and look for the beauty Xi Shi. I think all that’s required to find her is to pause, breathe, and open our eyes. I think she was strolling by your side, Randall. What beautiful photos, and a lovely reflection on Daoist principles of compassion, self-discipline, and humility. Living with slowness and simplicity should be easy and yet many people have forgotten how. I rather liked this line: “Our current evolution of having an attention span of a gnat creates superficial happiness at the expense of depth – the expense of developing emotional roots in our own lives.” I definitely don’t want to spend my days living like a gnat. LOL. Wonderful post, my friend. ❤

    • This is an excellent thought, Diana, and I think you are correct ~ Xi Shi was strolling by my side all the time :-). There is something special about a place when all you have to do is step one foot in, and you are transported to a place where time and distractions are no longer a concern. There is no choice but to slow down your gait and admire the scenery and the people around; it is then introspective thoughts begin. It is excellent you chose the line of having an attention span of a gnat, as I jokingly mentioned this to my niece here in the States just the other day, which cracked us up. A lot of truth to this, and I am not immune either 🙂 Thank you for the charming thoughts, Diana, and wishing you continued success and happiness.

  15. As usual, a breath of fresh air, Randall. Sounds like you had a pleasant return. I concur with your observations, as Hafiz put it, “I sometimes forget that I was created for joy…” 🧡

    • Beautiful; thank you, Eliza. Just this morning, I was feeling the typical ‘Monday blues.’ The only problem was it is Tuesday 🙃, and then I read your Hafiz quote and had to laugh and agree 100%… “I sometimes forget that I was created for joy…” It is funny how all it takes is a sentence or thought, or that ‘breath of fresh air,’ and the day’s outlook looks completely different. Enjoy your day ~

      • 🙏🏼 I have that poem in my bathroom and read it every morning, and frequently during the day, too. It always sets a good tone for my day, reminding me what is truly important. 🙂

      • I will have to do the same with this poem ~ a great way to start the day. When I first started work in China, my alarm clock was a programmed stereo that would start my day with a Tom Petty song which always put me in a good mood 🙂

  16. You were very lucky to have grown up in China and just as lucky to be there now.
    I couldn’t disagree with anything you’ve said here. I often tell myself (and blog readers) that it’s good to feel small. To make sure I do, I climb mountains and listen to the roar of waterfalls, and stare at the stars. I’d bet my walking stick that you do the same. Thanks for a beautiful post.

    • One thing I remember from my early days in China; was my fascination with this new culture and all it offered. The different philosophies in the other regions of China were fascinating, and they all had a common thread of humility is an essential part of growing up and finding potential. The one difficulty I had at the beginning was needing access to the quiet woods and fields that I was used to, but after a while, such places seemed to search me out as well. And, yes, you may keep your walking stick, as there is nothing better than drowning out the world than sitting in nature and hearing its symphonies and, if lucky, staring at the stars overhead. Thank you, and enjoy your day!

      • When we find that place we were meant to be and begin doing what we were meant to do we know it immediately, because life begins to flow through us unobstructed. I’m glad you have found them. Enjoy life!

  17. I enjoyed every moment of your photo essay, and I take to heart your urging to slow down and appreciate the poetry of nature and the nature in poetry.

    • Thank you very much, Liz. It is nice how nature can slow us down to where we need to be almost automatically when we take the time. And I love how you put it “… appreciate the poetry of nature and the nature in poetry.” Beautiful.

  18. This is perhaps what Im most in need to hear right now, self compassion and humble as I go through life, especially in yet another transition, again.

    Thank you Dalo, for sharing these precious moments by the lake, the sundown hour looks so divine.

    • Those moments when the sun goes down are the best. It is peaceful and easier to reflect on the good around us instead of the chaos ~ and to have self-compassion, understanding things will work themselves out naturally, especially when it seems everything is moving in different directions all at once. Wishing you a great Year of the Cat (I just learned this is what it is called in Vietnam 🙂 ) 😺

      • I’ve been resisted trusting things will work themselves out, but wisdom it says perhaps time to lean into that a little bit. Happy new year of the Rabbit Dalo! (And yes cats rule the world, every year is secretly just the year of the cat).

  19. I love your musings in this post, Randall, but the following words really ring true for me in my own life. “Self-discipline is needed to keep things simple. Simplicity is harder than complexity; it takes effort to think clearly. ”

    Your photographs of West Lake are just wonderful – allowing me to sense a deep sense of calm. Happy New Year of the Rabbit to you.

    • This saying I have always liked and believed; reminds me of the saying, “the right thing to do is usually the hardest thing to do…” Knowing this going into anything you do makes it easier when the going gets tough. Having the self-discipline to do the right thing and keep things simple while doing it creates strength. I can see how this affects you, as I grew up in a rural town, and all I ever had to do was look at the farmers and ranchers and admire how they approached every day. Best to you, Jolandi, on the success of your dreams with your quinta in Portugal ~

  20. Lovely! I didn’t realize that you have spent a lot of time in China. I do miss Hangzhou for its beauty, and your pictures do remind me of days past.

    • The beauty of West Lake was a welcomed sight for me, and being there brought back such a great flood of memories. It was strange, I still felt like I was a young kid again walking around the lake, but I thought of all the memories sandwiched between my first visit to where I am now, which was pretty cool. Thank you, Edwin, and I hope you get to travel back to Hangzhou again and share your experiences.

  21. A search and find the essences of happiness and compassion.
    Very fine work with meanings exposed for better understanding.
    Well written, excellent photography, totally enjoyable Randall!
    I could not stop reading!

    • I like how you phrase this, Eddie: the search to find the essence of happiness and compassion. This should be my motto every morning when I wake. It would put me on the right path and in the right mood to begin a day 🙂 Thank you very much for your kind and thoughtful words.

  22. Randall, this offering reminds me of some of your posts from years back. I love reading your work. Your mind is a joy to be near. A new adventure, even when revisiting a place near and dear, welcomes us by showing us what has changed and reveals the process if we pay close enough attention. Nature does it best, I think. The opportunity to relish in sounds, smells and “new” really is delightful when alone. The lake is a stunner and your photo choices leave us all in awe. Your niece did a fine job and I thank her for taking the time. How nice to work together. Thank-you for taking us along. Offering up prayers for your journeys ahead. May you stay the enlightened, humble and creative spirit we so adore. I have to say, I kinda LOVED knowing you stumble about after drinking too much and wake about the trees. Giggles.
    Oh, and… does anyone really understand poetry?!? Take care, Mr. Collis.

    • Such lovely words to read this morning, Aud. Thank you. It is funny you mention this reminds you of past posts, as I was very reminiscent when putting this post together. The whole time I was in China, I was in wonderment about how the China I knew as a younger man no longer exists. It is neither good nor bad, but the modernity and skyscrapers replacing fields of rice are incredible compared to my hometown, where change is minimal. But the one thing that doesn’t change is people, shared history, and culture, and this was cool 🙂 The outside world can change completely, but it is good to know what we have inside with memories, culture, and friendships will always be there and will always enlighten us. Having the time to get out and take all this in, and at a time when Covid hit China, was special… and yes, I laugh quite a bit at the memories of stumbling around the lake drunk; most of the poetry about West Lake by the greats of China were done under the influence 🙂 Cheers to you, Audrey, and I wish you great journeys ahead. Take care.

  23. Great article!

    Just want to say that the third sentence of Drinks at West Lake through Sunshine and Rain (饮湖上初睛居雨), “Lake” should be added before “lake” as the Chinese original is “若把西湖比西子“.

    Your translation of 不敢为天下先 as “humility” has the beauty of simplicity that in line with the flow of your article. However, it may not be correct if translates literally. A quick search on the internet shows other translations such as “dare not to be ahead of all under heaven”.
    Good night and regards,

    • Hi Echo, thank you very much. Yes, the translation of the poem was difficult, and your correction does make it better and more precise.

      For the translation of Laozi, this was difficult because “dare not to be ahead of all under heaven” is more of a concept, and I worried about having to explain it and reference it in my post. Hence, humility (as you say) keeps the simple flow of the article moving smoothly 😇. Laozi translations are always a bit problematic because even my Chinese friends say the meaning behind characters is a bit flexible by design. Thank you very much for the comment and help! Next week I fly back to Czech, and then I will return to China/HK in the autumn. I sure was happy to be back there (delicious food!), but I did not get to spend much time in HK.

  24. “ …the only thing is to relax, step into something new and see where it goes.”

    The West Lake photos are exquisite! Furthermore, your sister’s wisdom is a mantra for how to live.

    • Thank you, John. Sometimes the simple thought of relaxing the mind, stepping out, and seeing where the day will take me is the best feeling in the world. Those simple moments make life fresh. I hope February back in Hood River will treat you well ~ take care.

  25. Your posts are always beautiful in images, words, and philosophy. Sometimes modern political upheavals make you forget that a country is more than that, any country, as there are more natural states of consciousness related to the philosophies, art, and poetry that transcend and shouldn’t be forgotten when trying to deal with modern uncertainties. Reading your posts is like drinking a glass of red wine…softens life’s hardness.

    • It is so true we can get caught up in the political intrigue around the world, and it cannot help but taint the feelings we have about that country and its people. One country I long to visit and experience its culture and history is Iran, which, before I got to know a good friend from Iran, I would have been influenced by the political climate. Each place has natural, artistic, and philosophical beauty, unique and powerful – and understanding this takes us back to the basics of human relationships and friendships. I love the last line of your comment, Judy: “Reading your posts is like drinking a glass of red wine…softens life’s hardness.” Brilliant writing and observation 🙂 Thank you so much, and I wish you a great weekend ahead.

  26. Reading your post I felt the peaceful calm you feel at West Lake, Randall. Your reminders of what is important- compassion, awareness, simplicity- to name a few, hit home beautifully. Your portraits of local life along with your “ironic” selfie shots are perfect. I hope your journey continues to be fruitful and that you’re having fun with your niece.
    PS I love West Lake soup. Must be named for this special place. 🙂

    • Thank you, Jane, for the beautiful comment. Walking around the lake, and since we were in an outbreak of Covid, there were fewer people ~ and it made for a friendlier atmosphere and so easy to talk and mix with everyone. The selfie shots were limitless every evening and have become a part of relaxing, enjoying, and making memories. And yes, West Lake soup is another excellent local dish. In Hangzhou, the soup contains the leaves of a plant that grows in the lake… I do miss the food there quite a bit 🙂

  27. Golden thoughts to go with the golden hour. I’m reminded of learning about the “KISS principle” back in the earlier days of my technical career. Perhaps not as genteel as your sister’s reminder, it meant Keep It Simple, Stupid. A useful idea in life, as well as in designing computer systems.

    • There is something about the Golden Hour that fires up the imagination while relaxing every muscle and thought. Thank you, Dave, and I love the KISS principle. In finance, we used this term as well. Looking back, it was ironic as in my time in HK, we were working with derivatives, which offered simplicity in marketing debt, but in retrospect, no one could ever understand what such derivatives were because they were so complex 🙃.

    • I love this, Georgia! I didn’t think about the timing of the title and post so close to V-day, but it worked out well. Cheers to you, and I wish you an excellent final month of winter before the magic of spring descends on us again.

  28. This is such a wonderful post, Randall. You combine history, philosophy and nature so seamlessly here. Your photography is stunning with every shot telling its own story and holding its own. Your words, well, I felt like I was reading a really good book that I didn’t want to put down. It makes me so happy that you say, ‘I’ve mentioned before in my writing’ – that you acknowledged your writing. You write so well and I hope you know that.

    I agree with Hien in the comments. This is a fantastic account of West Lake, tying its significance to the challenges of the broader picture of this world today. Compassion, self-discipline, humility. Three qualities that make life all the more enriching. Yet we are often tempted by instant gratification and what’s popular that we forget to tune into ourselves and truly understand just how important these qualities are. As you said, short attention spans in the here and now comes at the expense of depth and developing emotional rots – and inner foundations so we can truly know and understand ourselves and then get to understand others.

    Reflecting on your words and photography, I get the sense that connection is key to living a more meaningful life (which is another topic altogether…). But making connections, especially deep connections and relations these days, is always easier said than done. Agree that ‘Simplicity is harder than complexity; it takes effort to think clearly’ especially with so many digital distractions these days. The self-discipline that comes with staying focused on self-improvement is always humbling, and when we look back to see how far we’ve come and then look ahead, we get that sense of humility – that we can step up to lead in some way and feel supported by the lessons learnt.

    Randall, you are still a young man, just minus the drunken nights 😄 Your inner child shines brightly through your words, photography and art. Keep being humble and brave. Wishing you a wonderful year ahead. Take care and stay safe 😊

    • I really appreciate your comment, Mabel. There was a serendipitous feeling when writing this post ~ I did not realize it at the time. My first dinner of DongPo Rou, and the poem that accompanied the meal, to having so much freedom and time to get out and explore West Lake due to the Covid outbreak, made everything come together without much effort, very much the way Laozi teaches, “do without doing” 🙂. The experience of meeting people throughout my time at West Lake during this trip versus my experiences in the past helped create additional pieces of thought that completed my feelings of West Lake/Hangzhou from when I first arrived decades ago versus this modern/thriving area of today.

      One thing I like about the Dao de Jing is the natural emphasis on simplicity and the goal of maintaining a child’s mind: curious, creative, empathetic, and an integrity children hold via their simplicity. Such simplicity is the richness of life. And one thing I think we all understand as we get older is that life has a way of making us humble 🙂, and this can be such a good thing if we recognize it – a rod of iron, of truth, to keep us centered as life swings us around this wild world. These days, with the ease at which we can communicate with the world, we should be able to build deeper connections, but I think the instantaneous nature of these days can make us lose focus. Still, though, it is an exciting time to live.

      Yes, sometimes I do step back and realize I am still a young man if in mind only ~ and this can help me continue to strive to be humble and brave. Thank you again, Mabel, for such a lovely, thoughtful response. I have the feeling 2023 will be an excellent year for us both. Take care, and while springtime awaits me next month, you have the beauty of autumn to look forward to. Take care and stay safe!

      • It is fascinating how we come to see additional pieces and accumulate different feelings about a place over time the more we spend our time with it. We come to appreciate the history and the people behind a place so much more, and we come to find meaning around us as much as within.

        Simplicity is indeed the richness of life, and we learn to appreciate simplicity and in turn feel humble with what we’ve got. I think that also goes some way toward appreciating the connections we have and especially the deep ones and the ones that matter.

        You are young in the mind and also the heart, Randall 😊 Both will guide you far, and together who knows where you will so. As I always like to say no matter how up late I am, the night is still young… 😊 Enjoy the season ahead and take care. Safe travels.

      • Those little pieces we keep accumulating are part of the magic 😊. The more we learn and experience something we are passionate about, the more we realize how little we actually understand about it. And in return, we become a bit more passionate about learning and experiencing – it is a natural thing to do. While understanding how little we know, we begin to appreciate the opportunity to learn more (about what it is we are interested in as well as about ourselves). In a sense, this appreciation is the humility in knowing we will always have something to learn. Something to improve and become better. I think it is a great part of our human nature.

      • You said it so well. Humility is rooted in learning and passion. The more we learn and experience about what we are passionate about, the more we realise there is so much more to learn and understand – and also realise how small we are in the process. Always much to discover and understand about the world and certainly ourselves along the journey. Always a pleasure chatting with you, Randall 😊

  29. This looks like a promising post Dalo. As I often do now, I’ve copied it to a Word file to read and ponder at leisure…
    I’m sure it will take my mind wandering. (I’ll be back to comment) Xie xie… 🙏🏻

    • 谢谢 Brieuc, for most of my trip in China, my mind was in a constant stand of wandering 🙂 Cheers to a great weekend ahead. 🍷

      • Thank you. Likewise. Going to the countriside house… Far from the madding crowd. I still have pending comments on your post. I find it fascinating.
        I take you speak and write Mandarin?

      • Nothing like having a place to get away from the crowds ~ and enjoy the quiet of the countryside 🙂 Yes, I speak mandarin, which helps so much when exploring the nooks and crannies of China – and getting to know the locals. I enjoy this aspect of China the most. As for writing, I’ve used my computer for so long (typing pinyin), so my actual handwriting must be horrible now 😂!

      • I do envy you about Mandarin, Peng Yu… 😉
        If -whenever- I go to China I wish I could speak a few words… I always try to learn some of the local language… A dear friend of mine is Straights Chinese. She’ been teaching me Hokkien… which is probably not very useful in China. LOL.
        And I can understand to concern about handwriting. Even with our reduced Latin alphabet, I scrawl…

  30. Rainer Maria Rilke said that, “Our task is to take this earth so deeply and wholly into ourselves that it will resurrect within our being…” and it sounds as if you have done that~ captivating.

    • These are such beautiful words, Wendy. Thank you, and I think you can also understand how being in a place special with meaning and natural beauty allows us to relax to our very core 🙂 Wonderful to hear from you, and I hope you enjoy the final month of winter before the magic of spring sweeps you off your feet!

  31. And yet, you bring beauty, poetry, and the simplicity of nature to all of us. Thank you, and I wish you moments of quiet reflection and the infectious smiles of those around you. Such a wonderful post!

    • Thank you very much, Kelly. West Lake is one of those places where it is easy to slip into the past and also find those quiet moments to reflect on the beauty of nature and of the people around you. Every time I visit, it takes me away from the chaos of life, and it is easy to exhale and let your mind go. 🙂 I wish you a great week ahead.

  32. I missed this one as my notifications seem to have gone away.

    “Truth cannot be forced. Humility requires self-discipline and patience.”

    I love these words, and they are so reflective in your writings. I’ve spent the last two years exploring Buddhism and only recently, the Dao. I find Dao fits me more (along with Stoicism, hah).

    Once again, you capture the moment – and yes, using the technology to capture is that ever-present wrestling, isn’t it? But as always, you’ve done it beautifully, with grace, and within nature.

    Safe travels, see you down the road someday.

    • Thank you, and I agree. There is something challenging about waiting for the answer; it is not easy when it seems the impulse is to attack any issue and get moving forward as quickly as possible. What I love about Daoism is it consistently requires time to contemplate and be patient, and in the end, you never have to decide because what you choose to do comes naturally ~ and it takes some humility to trust in this process. It is excellent to hear you’ve explored the Dao, and I agree there is a certain kinship with Stoic thought 🙂 Wishing you continued safe travels and hope our paths cross on some road in the future.

    • Thank you very much, Charlotte. West Lake is one of those places that will always stick with me.

  33. What a beautiful ode to the lake, to nature, and to a philosophy for a well-lived life; beautiful photos and words both. I found it soothing, and really needed that. I’ve just retuned from 2.5 months in Oz with family and am still suffering from jet-lag both physically and meta-physically. Slowly reorienting. This helped. Thank you.

    • Travel overseas with an extended stay does play havoc with your system, Alison. I hope you are slowly getting back in sync back home ~ and yes, hiking in nature is a perfect remedy to help get the body & spirit aligned. Thank you for the lovely comment, Alison. Wishing you further recovery during these last few weeks of winter so you can jump into the spring in full force 🙂

  34. I can see why poets and lost souls would be enraptured by their imagination in such a beautiful place.
    I can see why this place holds its own romantic tranquil energies. Such a beautiful place..

    Love verse 67 of Lao Zi’s philosophy…… Perfect words .

    Leaders around the world could do well to adhere to these words, and maybe then their own leadership would prosper!.

    ” At the end of the day, if there is no compassion, there is nothing. ”

    So very true Randall. As is your statement … ” Truth cannot be forced”… Indeed no, it has to be experienced and seen for one’s self.

    Lots of wisdom here Randall… and you have a beautiful Niece…
    Wishing you a Wonderful year of the Rabbit..
    Sue ❤

    • Thank you for the very nice comment. West Lake seems to have been made for people to get lost in their imagination and dream, Sue. The history and beauty of this place bring together people from all over the globe, but the real magic is seeing people from around China coming here to reflect and enjoy themselves. It has everything you need to revel in the simple beauty of Mother Nature and the basic, simple philosophies of life. I also wish you a wonderful year of the rabbit; take care.

      • It is wonderful that a place can bring unity from all over the globe… China has often been wrongly portrayed as have many other countries…
        We all have wonderful places and people in all our countries,
        Mother Nature and the simple beauty and philosophies in life are often all one needs for finding Peace and Harmony…. I am so pleased that the West Lake also spoke to your own heart, bringing that peace .. It most certainly came across in your images and words Randall..
        Thank YOU.. ❤

      • I very much agree, Sue. The cultures around the world show the immense diversity of humanity and creative thought ~ so much to learn from each other. Thank you very much for your thoughts.

      • Oh yes.. So very much yet to learn from our various cultures, as we unravel the layers we have been taught to believe.. 🙂
        Enjoy your weekend Randall, and many thanks for your lovely post and reply.. 🙂

  35. So beautiful. 😊 💗 Your posts are very gorgeous and fantastic ! 🧡 ✨
    Thanks for your kind comment. 🌹 Have a wonderful day ! Best wishes. ❤ ❤ 💐

  36. Had to revisit this one for a needed break…
    Thank you for this refreshing visit to a bit of peace and beauty. 🙏💞

    • Thank you, Gunta, for the nice comment ~ places like this are great to refresh the spirit. I wish you a good week ahead!

  37. Thanks for the beautiful reminders of how to live a good life, Randall😊💜 As always, your photos are incredible, and your words touch my soul.
    Sending all good energy and lots of love 💜

    • Thank you very much, Lorrie. Walking around West Lake has such good energy, and it is almost impossible not to feel the goodness of life ~ it also helps that nearly every photo you take there will be picturesque as well. Add to this the long history and profound culture 🙂 I wish you an excellent finish to winter; take care!

  38. Beautiful series.
    What I found very interesting is that there is always a yellow light in the pictures. Either from the sky or some light source I cannot see. It makes the series work very well together as one big work of art.

    • Thank you, Rabirius ~ while the photos I selected all represented an overall theme, I didn’t consciously think of yellow as a theme. Still, it makes sense as it is an essential color in Chinese culture, meaning Earth and nature. Reviewing the photos, I can see it now – you have a great eye to see this pattern.

  39. Going to a place for many generations for no other reason than to know beauty is a very powerful symbol of a culture, and a meaningful one. I thought about the part you mention about cellphones and not living the moment but recording it, maybe the easiness to record have populated our own lives with symbols with watered down meanings. Hopefully is just a transition from new technologies. Thanks for sharing such mature point of view of a place you knew from your younger years, Randall : )

    • It is great to hear from you, Francis, and I hope all is going well for you in Perú. This trip to West Lake made me think about technology’s new role in how we enjoy our lives. Since I am now ‘old school’ this new era of enjoying such a place of culture and natural beauty seamlessly with technology is surreal. Still, it also has a beautiful sense to it as well ~ people seem to be able to fall into the scenes and bliss of the area more easily with hi-tech. I am coming around to this trend of living the moment while recording it, and in doing so, it heightens our emotions 🙂 Wishing you well as you slip from summer into autumn later this month ✨ Take care ~

  40. I love the poetry. You found a Lady of the Lake in the East. Wonderful post and fantastic photos, as always. Kudos to Miu Miu Qiu for helping out.

    • Thank you very much, Max. The Lady of the Lake is enchanting, and this visit makes me look to the next… a wonderful place.

    • Thank you very much, Tiffany. It was strange being away from Hangzhou and Hong Kong for so long, and I didn’t know what to expect ~ to see the city thriving and people/friends doing so well was very inspiring. This visit brought back many great memories, and I was fortunate enough to create some new ones. Wishing you a great final few weeks of winter before the magic of spring arrives.

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