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Visiting a Chinese classical garden

By Kerry Lander

June 2013:  After getting hopelessly lost on the streets of Shanghai for several days, we moved to the smaller city of Suzhou (approx. 30 minutes away if you are travelling by bullet train at 261 km/h).  Across the centuries, Suzhou has held the reputation for being the “Earthly Paradise” and “the City of Gardens”.  One of the four most famous classical gardens in China is located there, and when we discovered this, we made a beeline for it.

The Humble Administrator’s Garden was built as early as 1509 AD during the Ming Dynasty, and covers 5.2 hectares. All centred around a broad expanse of lake, it was quite wonderful to walk through. If you could somehow overlook the other tourists and China’s ever-present white/grey sky,  the classical style was indeed picturesque, and must be really pretty during the blossom season when pepped up by a bit more colour.

Garden landscapes mingled with poetic waterscapes, oddly shaped rocks, exotic and immaculately-kept vegetation, ornate woodwork, exquisite pavilions with those distinct roofs and zigzag bridges to deter demons, who can only travel in a straight line.

My inner child wanted to run along the many little paths, climb to the summit of small tranquil hillocks, clamber through the small twisty tunnels in the strange rock formations, and chase the garden’s resident cat. But, being all grown up and it being 37 degrees C with high humidity, we opted for sedate meandering (with much fanning) and posing at bridges and moon gates.

The garden culminated in a large bonsai garden courtyard. I don’t know much about bonsai but these looked to be fairly impressive and well-aged specimens.  We admired them thoroughly before starting the long but delightful walk back.

I hope the Humble Administrator was given to entertaining  and impressing visiting dignitaries, and didn’t humbly keep the place all to himself.

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