Combine the cold water and granulated sugar in a medium pot (roughly 3-quart capacity). Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has completely dissolved.
Add the cinnamon sticks, star anise pod, vanilla bean paste, and lemon peel (or other flavors of your choice).
Peel the pears, leaving the stem on, and gently rub each pear with the lemon half to prevent the pears from oxidizing. Using a melon baller or small paring knife, core the pears from the bottom end; this will allow you to keep the pear in whole form for presentation.
Using a large spoon, gently lower the cored, whole pears into the poaching liquid. The poaching liquid should almost completely cover the pears.
Return the poaching liquid to a low simmer, cover the surface of the pot with a parchment round, and simmer the pears, occasionally flipping them during the cooking process, for about 12 to 15 minutes or until tender. Remember that you will be cooling the pears in the liquid, so do not overcook. You can test whether the pears are done by piercing the pear (through the bottom end) with a paring knife. The pears should be tender but not mushy.
Cool the pears to room temperature in the poaching liquid. Serve or transfer the pears to a large container and refrigerate for up to a week.