Su Zhou (1)

Looking at Su Zhou makes me realize what Beijing could have been. Not that Beijing is in any way similar in its characteristic. It is mainly how Su Zhou preserved the old so well, and created the new well too. The old town of Su Zhou was still lived in by many residents. So Su Zhou itself is more a normal Chinese city now. But the city planning people managed to keep the city structure, some of the old city walls and gates are still standing. The moat around this square city is preserved too. defining the city boundary.

Ping Jiang road is also preserved as an example of how people used to live. Similar to old towns in Europe today. Interior is thoroughly renovated for modern living, but exterior is left as is. The atmosphere is preserved. Of the old days. A bit like Vennice because of its zigzagging waterway, numerous stone bridges, and tiny alleys. James and Alice told me it is better than Vennice cuz people still live in Su Zhou while Vennice is becoming a theme park. And James also said Venice stinks, while Su ZHou is still pleasant. Let’s hope that will last.

Then there are the gardens.

Alice mentioned a book that we should read to understand how a Su Zhou garden is built and how to appreciate a good garden. We couldn’t find it in the bookstore, instead we got a similar one by a different author. We didn’t have time to read the book till we’ve finished seeing the gardens. Luckily beauty is universal. People don’t need to get a degree to appreciate what is beautiful.

We’ve only been to two gardens this time: The Lingering Garden and The Humble Administrator’s Garden.

According to the garden book, the former is supposed to be enjoyed sitting down at various spots and in peace and quiet, while the latter is more a dynamic garden that the visitor could continuously walking along and more and more scenery would unfold in front of you like a story.

That was the undoing for The Lingering Garden. It was filled with tour groups with their guides yelling over their battery powered speakers. The whole place was a circus. We had no place to hide and no way to enjoy the garden the way it is supposed to be enjoyed. It looked better on photo now when we looked at them. We realize how pretty it is now minus all that noise filtered out by a 2-dimensional photo. Pity.

The Lingering Garden is famous for its “fake mountains”. Little hills built by piling up many of the rocks dug out from the bottom of Lake Tai. A pleasant surprise for me was these fake mountains have many built in caves and pathways. It is shady inside, but also with light streamed in because of the natural erosion of the rocks. The pathway inside usually has branches. So you wouldn’t know which way will take you where. No matter which way you took, you were delivered to a new spot in the garden and a new perspective would materialize and lightens up your eyes.

These rocks are part of the architecture sometimes. For example, in The Humble Administrator’s Garden, there was a two story structure along one of the paths, but it has no stairs. Instead, it was surrounded by these “fake mountains”, you pick your way in the mountain and suddenly there is a path going up. At the end of the path way among the rocks, you are on the second story of the little pagoda. very neat.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden (拙政园) is amazing!
Its design is such that no matter how crowded and noisy the main sections are, we just need to turn a corner or walk down a little further along the path to reach a secluded corner all to ourselves.

We found many such quiet corners and enjoyed them tremendously.

I loved “Listening to the sound of rain pavilion”. I loved the abundant banana leaves planted outside of the window. Its lush green makes the pavilion looks tropical. Imagining reading a book there while the sound of rain maginified by these lovely leaves. cozy and quiet.

I loved the names of these pagodas, pavilions, hall, bridges. They served as an extension of the view, added in the poet’s own point of view and another dimension to what you see. It seems to me that the ancient Chinese intellectuals wouldn’t ever leave a natural beauty alone. A human imagination, mood, story must be added to the scenery, only then would the scene be complete, becomes more superior. In some ways I actually agree.

For example, on top of the little hill by the main lotus pond in the Garden, there is a pagoda on top. Its name is “Waiting for the Frost”.

Another pagoda on the water is called “Lotus wind from four sides”.

A hall in the end of the stream in a more remote corner is called “Distance Fragrance Hall”.

The name brings what is not there into the scene, and excites one’s imagination. As if i was back in time when it was built and i could feel what the people felt then while they were standing at the same spot. The name connects two dots on the dimension of time.

Stone foot bridges across pond are usually built to be lower than the water bank, to create the illusion of walking on water.

patterned window on the wall is used to “borrow” scene from the neighboring section into your current surroundings. This should only be used in a big garden a dynamic garden. Not suitable for a small garden, where hiding the next surprise is essential.

Hiding away what’s next is another essential part of Su Zhou garden creation. Nothing should be in plain view.