Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou
I have visited a number of gardens in different parts of the world and my favourite to date remains the Generalife in Granada, with probably Versailles a close second. The former is lustful, royally exotic, a tribute to Andalusia's moorish past; The latter is splendid, majestic, orderly and so very French. Having said that, I'm not a big fan of gardens in general, being much more of a teak and pebble enthusiast when it comes to lawns and backyards.
Suzhou is famous for its classical gardens (UNESCO world heritage sites) and one of the largest and finest was the Humble Administrator's Garden 拙政园 built in the early 1500s by a retired official. It would be a sacrilege to visit Suzhou without a trip to said garden so we dutifully made our way there on our second day. Seeing that my only idea of a Chinese garden was the one in Singapore, I was also keen to be educated on the subject.
I will tell you upfront that it's not my thing though the garden was truly beautiful. It is believed that Cao Xueqin based much of the garden in his novel Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦 on the Humble Administrator's Garden (having lived there as a teenager). Having fallen asleep trying to watch the TV series donkey years ago, I marvel at how one could find so much inspiration from a garden filled with pavilions, bonsai, bridges and more pavilions.
Standing in the pavilion you get the impression of being on a boat
But that's because I'm inculte. The only piece of Chinese poetry I knew was the Li Bai one and even then only its twisted version. With the garden based a whole lot on Chinese poetry, naturally I couldn't understand nor appreciate it much. I also couldn't quite get the landscaper's thing for giving one the impression that one is on a boat. Why not just go live on one?
I like the blue stained glass windows very much
The garden contains 48 different buildings with 101 tablets, 40 stelae, 21 precious old trees, and over 700 Suzhou-style bonsai. I rented an audiophone and passed it to my driver to listen to and lead the way. We could have hired a live guide, but I didn't feel like hearing stories about the bonsai. From time to time we latched on to a few groups being led by tour guides and just listened when we wanted to have information on a building or lake.
I find Chinese gardens a little too contrived in general, often trying to resemble still life/frozen moment or a piece of poetry. Maybe I'll look at them a little differently when I have a better understanding of Chinese culture, catch me out when I'd have completed my beginner Chinese Calligraphy class in a few months' time.
An example of famous Suzhou silk embroidery - beautiful!
I still want to visit Suzhou again. But next time we'll do the pagodas and museums. There is only so much I can take of pavilions, ponds, rock carvings and very precious but ugly wooden furniture.