Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Squeezing through the Humble Administrator's Garden

By the entrance to the Humble Administrator's Garden - it is 7:30 AM and the tour guides are already busy waving their flags and gathering their troups. To the left, the Wu Zhu You Ju Pavilion with its striking four moon-shaped door openings and an old phoenix tree in the front (Pavilion of Phoenix Tree and Bamboo).
This is it -  Zhuōzhèng Yuán, the Humble Administrator's Garden, is on pretty much every list of remarkable cultural sights to be seen in China. It is considered one of the four most famous gardens in China along with the Summer Palace in Beijing, the Mountain resort of Chengde in Hebei Province and the Liu Lingering Garden, which is also situated Suzhou. In addition, it is a Unesco World Cultural Heritage site, and one of the Cultural Relics of National Importance under the Protection of the State as well as a Special Tourist Attraction (grade AAAAA) of China; the list of accomplishments is quite remarkable for one single garden...  and the crowds are thereafter.
The Wu Zhu You Ju Pavilion again, as seen through with its moon-shaped door openings; a rare moment when no-one was in sight; only half a second later this quiet view was gone again.
  Ta Ying Ting - Pavilion for Pagoda Reflection at the southwestern corner of the garden.
Not just the most visited and renowned, the Humble Administrator's Garden is the largest ancient garden in Suzhou and the whole Yangtze River delta, covering about 52,000 sq. meters (12.85 acres). it was originally built by Wang Xianchen between years 1506 and 1521, who was an administrative censor in the Ming Dynasty. He chose the name to indicate his expectation of retirement and settling into pastoral life (zhuō zhèng means literally humble administrator - in my opinion, a somewhat contradictory name to give for a garden on this scale...). Since then, the garden has changed owners several times and its present architecture and scenery are mostly in the later Qing style.
Beside the "Lodging for 18 pairs of Lovebirds" with its elegant, blue stained-glass windows, and a light, wisteria-covered stone and cast-iron bridge leading to it. 
What would a Chinese garden be without a boat hall? Here, the handsome Xianzhou Stone Boat, embraced by water on three sides and with two levels - it is much larger than many Chinese families real homes...

 The Mountain-in-View Tower is surrounded by water and lotus flower on four sides - when they flower in the early summer, this must be a breathtaking sight.
The names of the many pavilions and bridges in the Humble Administrator's Garden are enchantingly poetic. Yuan Xiang Tang - Hall of Remote Fragrance; Yi Yu Xuan - Leaning Against Jade Gallery; Xiao Fei Hong - Little Flying Rainbow Bridge; Xue Xiang Yun Wei Ting - Pavilion of Fragrant Snow and Luxuriant Clouds; Yu Shui Tong Zuo Xuan - Gallery of "With Whom Shall I Sit?" and numerous similar others had caught my imagination long before my visit in books invariably illustrated with ethereal photos where no visitors stir the quiet peace of the garden. Sadly, my experience couldn't have differed more from expectations built up by those pictures. As I mentioned before, my visit fell in the middle of the Golden Week following the Chinese National Day, and literally hundreds of millions were on the road, ticking off the most famous sights on their bucket lists. Instead of spirited wandering through pathways and pavillions, I pretty much squeezed through the gardens, despite hanging at the gates at 7:30 AM when they opened. After starting, there was absolutely no return against the steady flow of tourist groups with extremely loud guides shouting out their stories through microphones despite signs forbidding this explicitly. A bit stressed out - and desperately trying to be positive and see this as an experience in itself - I snapped my photos, often hanging over other people's shoulders or umbrellas or else. So take my advise and do not try to see anything on the lists of cultural wonders mentioned in the first paragraph during the Golden Week, unless you are extremely fond of walking breast to breast with unknown people.

Scholar's stones and penjing in the Penjing Garden - with several, exquisite miniature landscapes to be contemplated.

A view from the Penjing Garden - I can't help, but it reminded me too much of a cemetery... so clinical and so many penjing in dreary stone vessels...

Water forms a large part of the Humble Administrator's Garden; here, a long waterside corridor that winds along the east wall.

 A brief escape from the crowds up to a little hill with a pavilion on the top. "Please follow the official path" - and don't even dream about going back to take a second look at something you missed!


Northern Shade said...

After looking at the crowds in the first photo, I don't know how you managed to get some of your other shots devoid of people. It's unfortunate that your visit coincided with the peak visiting time, as you wouldn't get the same feeling of serenity that the gardens seem designed to create.

I actually like the idea of the Penjing garden, but perhaps they could have been displayed a little better to show them off.

Like in your previous articles in this series, the way the architecture meshes with the gardens and water is really beautiful.

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

I agree with you about the timing of my visit; I should have done more research to it, but now I just traveled when an opportunity came... Next time, I'll go early on spring, when so many trees and other plants are in flower, it would be interesting to see how they lived up the gardens. But as they are, they are completely charming and harmonious, and extremely well-designed. Such a cultural treasure!

Daniel Mount said...

Liisa, I love following you around the globe. In someways I hope you never settle down. Though it would be nice to have you back in the Pacific Northwest. Or have you land where you really want to be.In the mean time keep those ever observant sense openign and keep reporting in we're listening....D & M

The Intercontinental Gardener said...

Daniel, it is so good to hear from you; I hope you both are well up in the north! It's been a couple of interesting months here in South East Asia, so much new expressions and things to learn. And yes, I do hope too that we finally can figure out where to settle and build a real garden again, but until then - more adventures...
All the very best, Liisa.

Unknown said...

I love this garden. We went when our kids were in high school- dragging them to all the gardens of Suzhou- and even the most apathetic teenager said" huh, it's not so bad being a Humble Administrator" !