With our winter vacation already begun, and three weeks till our trip back to the U.S. we decided to have a mini travel adventure. So we braved the Spring Festival crowds and headed to the ancient water town of Suzhou.
Suzhou is close to Shanghai and is famous not only as a canal town but a garden town as well, with some of the nicest gardens in all of China. The most famous of these gardens is called the Humble Administrators Garden. You know without even stepping foot in China that the Humble Garden would be anything but. (If it turned out to be a dirt patch with a fern or something I would have given the guy some mad props for being truly humble, but alas, it was quite grand.)
The Humble Administrators Garden is not only considered the nicest of all of Suzhou’s world famous garden, but one of the nicest gardens in all of China. (In fact it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.) And though it is called a garden, it is absolutely unlike anything you might have at your local park. We went in the dead of winter and were still suitable impressed, because blooming flowers and green trees have very little to actually do with it.
Instead, it is more like a sprawling estate covering several acres with winding paths, rock caves, ponds, rivers, bridges and dwellings. (And a couple of very clean public toilets. Nice of the administrator to think of his guests like that.) It was built over 500 years ago, by an actual administrator so that part of the name is true, to be a peaceful retreat to spend his retired years. Soon after it was built administrators son lost it in a gambling game. Over the years it changed hands many times, sometimes decaying to near ruins, but it was restored in the 1950’s and maintained since.
One of the things I was most impressed with was the pavilions. I love Chinese pavilions, and these did not disappoint, especially the names. One was called Listening to the Rain Pavilion and another was called Think Deep, Aim High Pavillion. Ah, the time they had on their hands before the internet was invented. They could build whole rooms for just sitting in and thinking in. Here’s another one called, With Whom should I Sit Pavilion.
There are also a lot of rocks, and hidden nooks in the garden. In China when you see a giant rock standing alone in the middle of the pathway, you know that there is a special meaning. Most often, it looks like something majestic: a monk, a dragon, maybe a turtle. There was no placard, and we didn’t have a guide, so we had to puzzle out the meaning of this one ourselves. What do you think it looks like?
There was a lot of zigzagging bridges, some covered, some uncovered. I later learned that one of the bridges is uniquely special for it is the only arched bridge in a Suzhou garden. It is called the Rainbow Bridge and is suppose to represent, duh, an arching rainbow. The reflection in the water on a sunny day is supposed to be especially nice to see.
And of course as soon as you step out of the serenity of the garden you are greeted by some equally as humble souvenir stall sellers. I mean, what could go better with peaceful, quiet tranquility than 30 loud people trying to sell you the same paper fan or teapot?