Depending on what pamphlet you pick up, the translation could read Xixi Wetland Reserve or the Xixi National Wetland Park. Nearing our arrival however, we became aware of China’s increasingly different concept of a wildlife reserve or national park. It was first created during the Jin and Han dynasties, declined during the Republican Period and revived in Modern Times, according to their website. Having spent last summer prospecting the seemingly endless landscape of badlands for dinosaur bones on the CMR reserve, I was set up for perhaps the most opposite view of what a reserve could be. On the CMR reserve, I would literally hike for miles up and down the gullies that fingered down to the Fort Peck Reservoir and encounter only snakes, birds, and the occasional deer. If I ran out of water, I could fill up my Nalgene bottle in the reservoir and take a cooling dip in the lake while I waited for the iodine tablets to treat the water. As I hiked through the cobbled paths of the Xixi reserve, I was never more than fifteen minutes of a stand that sold cold water bottles for 6 Yuan (less than one US dollar).
I am still unsure of how to characterize the experience best. On one hand, you would find yourself surrounded by Zen-inducing beauty. You are immersed in a world of greenery housing unseen birds with unfamiliar songs. Despite being nestled next to a city of over four million people the silence of the scenery is broken only be the sounds of birds and the occasional far off flute music of a talented fisherman. The beauty above is reflected in mirror-glass ponds that move only to the whims of a duck or the jump of a fish. The water is certainly not clear, but its murkiness appears to more benign than the obviously polluted waters of the city canal system.
A set number of people are allowed through the gates each day, and it shows. There are places that you can walk for a good ten minutes and only share the path with one or two people. It gives you the rare opportunity in China to enjoy a scene not entirely dominated by people. On a second glance, however, you begin to wonder if what you are viewing is truly that untouched. Every pathway is covered in stone, albeit in a seemingly old way that just feels right. Then you realize that far off music floating across the ponds is actually just three feet away from you, coming from a speaker hidden in the brush. Upon further scrutiny, you can see that the grove of bamboo in far distance is kept strait by a grid work of cut bamboo. China shows great skill in cultivating landscapes, evident by the many beautiful parks within Hangzhou. They are so skilled that it is very difficult to say what percentage or to what degree of the Xixi wildlife preserve is indeed natural. In any case it has given me a new appreciation for our park system, whatever its problems may or may not be. I will stop myself from musing too much on such thoughts, partly because I want to save space for pictures and partly because it’s a subject that deserves at least a couple weeks of stewing in a notebook.