Saturday, June 7, 2008

China Day 08: The Master of the Nets

The third thing Suzhou is famous for, after waterways and silk, is its gardens. Chinese landscaping and garden design is a hugely old and developed art, and the gardens in Suzhou are some of the finest in the world. Our last stop today is a classic 'scholar's garden', the Garden of the Master of the Nets.

The first thing to love about it is the name, which was the nickname of the man who redesigned garden in the 1700s (the original garden was designed maybe 800 years ago). The second thing to love is its vest-pocket size: the whole thing sits on a mere 1.5 acres of land. The third thing is its loveliness.

The thing not to love is the crowds. Remember, today is a major national holiday. This was not the day to visit this garden, in the same way as four days into July is not the day to visit Washington DC.

To get to the garden, you have to go down a narrow alleyway that has been converted into a tourist milking pen:
The locals thoughtfully stretched a fabric net between the stall awnings to keep the sun off tourists who might wish to stop and browse; we were forestalled by Fred. He seems to be getting increasingly concerned about the weight of our collective baggage, which I understand since some of our group are buying the country one piece at a time. I would have appreciated a few minutes, though - I have been looking for fans, and I still haven't seen any I liked better than the one Ashley bought at Tiananmen Square on the very first day!

We entered the garden (see a nice map at this link) via the Sedan Chair Hall, complete with Sedan Chair:
Picture a little, exquisite Chinese person in there, being gently carried over all those tall thresholds! Our path then led to the Main Hall
where there are ornate screens that can be swung open or closed at will. In today's sultry heat we could easily picture the members of the family adjusting the screens for maximum air flow.

The Tower of Gathered Excellence, the ladies' main sitting room, is furnished with elegant Ming-era furniture, with a framed piece of picture jasper on the wall:
We then promenaded along the covered walkway around the central pond. There are few places where you have an unimpeded view across the whole garden:
This makes you explore slowly and lets you discover unexpected views and vantage points.
In one of the pavilions, June showed us the window whose lattice pattern suggested the name for the garden:
(It's the one on the right.)

Tucked in a corner - "out back" as you might say - there is a courtyard displaying more of the Taihu rocks we saw in Beijing.
The lakes where these limestone grotesqueries form are nearby.

Although we really enjoyed looking at the garden, Dad and I got tired of fighting the crowds - there were various tour groups, both Chinese and otherwise, about ten yards apart along the walkway, and we couldn't linger anywhere because we were backing up the next group back. Also the heat and humidity were opressive, so Dad and I scooted back to the bus and its air conditioning.

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