The city is also the site for one of the largest and oldest private gardens now owned by the Government. The Humble Administrator's Garden is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and was originally built in the Shaoxing period (1131-1162) of the Southern Song Dynasty, but in 1513 CE Wang Xiancheng, who was an Imperial Envoy and a poet of the Ming Dynasty, took it over and created a garden when he was retired by the Emperor from Imperial life. In Chinese, the name of the garden was The Stupid Administrator's Garden, given in a fit of bitterness at being discarded by the Emperor. The gentler name was given through a well-meaning translation. I kind of like the original better.
It was an extra trip out to Suzhou, and we paid a fee to do it in addition to the rest of the tour. The only alternative was to go shopping in Shanghai or lie in my bed in the hotel. I was so sick at this point I couldn't really speak, but I'd been looking forward to this for much of the trip, ever since I found out that the Humble Administrator's Garden was the one the Portland garden was modeled against. I really wanted to see the original, and so we went.
Jeff, of course, had found out that in China it was International Children's Day, and so he gave all the kids packets of Chinese Cheez-Its, and he had a whole bag of Fireballs, which were super spicy jawbreakers. All the kids gobbled theirs and were yelping at the heat. *laughs*
Jevons got to talk a little about Suzhou and what we were going to do there along the way. The city itself was known because Marco Polo fell in love with it. It reminded him of Venice, and he called it the Venice of the East, and lived most of his time there. It was a Ducal State, and its primary product was silk, which turned into a light, soft, portable gold for the country.
This is when Jevons came up with the fascinating analogy. That the people are like the water of the sea and that the emperor is a boat that rides on the waves. So long as the emperor takes enough care of the people, they will support him, but if he abuses the people too much, the ocean will rise. The people also regard the Communist Party as the present Dynasty, and so long as the people are taken care of, enough, they'll let the Party rule in much the same way the Emperors did.
The Grand Canal has proven to be a huge asset for the country, though it caused the fall of its founding Dynasty, because it enabled trade from the North to the South. Jevons said that China, the country, looks like a Rooster, with the Yellow River going across the North and the Yangtze River crossing the South. The heart of Han Country was between the two rivers, and the Grand Canal connected the two Great Rivers.
The Garden. The juxtaposition of human manipulation on a grand scale to emulate Nature was densely packed through this whole thing. The lake, islands, and creeks are all man-made, the paths were four layers of cross laid brick or stone to make the drainage work, and every plant was put there by plan. There are three points to the Garden, East (Dwelling Upon Return to the Countryside), Center (Zhouzhen Yuan), and West (Supplementary Garden), and all three are placed around a large lake. And all of the sections have the five essential parts to a Chinese garden: the plants, structures for viewing and enjoying the garden, water, zig-zag bridges across the water, and rocks.
The windows for all the buildings were those individualized stone grids that I was introduced to in Portland. Jevons said that there are 280 of them scattered through the grounds and they were all unique. Many of the buildings also had the bead tiles on the edge of the roofs, which I learned about in Portland. They're the bottom most tile on the roof, and have a point in the center of them that the water collects to the center and drips of in a string of water, so the whole edge of the building looks like it's got a curtain of beads coming down the side.
The kids found this snail while we were stopping to stare at a 550-year-old maple. And Jet hadn't seen many snails, before, so he was fascinated. This little guy was so tiny, and it was fun to put it up against and on the ticket.
The reason for the zig-zags was so that the view would change with every step. And they really worked. I loved these, and would have loved to sit on these for days, just sketching everything that I could see.
He was just sitting there drawing, and showing and selling the drawings. I now wish I'd had Dad ask him how much he was selling them for. *laughs* But they were scenes from all over the garden done in what looked like black ball point pen. I think Mitzi would have been proud, as she does a lot of art with just a ballpoint pen that is just these intricate, gorgeous pieces.
What I loved was that he'd clearly co-opted one of the small buildings for himself and was just doing what he wanted to do. Dad has taken pictures of his drawings as well, and they were beautiful.
The maze-like paths, the wandering water, and the way the islands in the water were built, there were corners that had to be turned all the time. It allowed for a virtual privacy in certain spots, and kept the visual fields pretty cut up, so that I couldn't see what were probably thousands of people wandering through the grounds.
The pavement, of course, was wet and a little muddy from all the dirt everywhere in the garden, but the cool edges of the smoothed river rock was very distinctive. It did feel like a sort of foot pressure-point massage, and walking along the path in barefeet was right on that edge between pleasure and pain and was all sensation. I loved it.
I'd had exactly that sensations once before, when I was going barefoot through a mountain stream with a rock bed. That had been slipperier and a bit more fraught with current. This was easy and I was very glad I did it when Jet slipped his shoes off too, to try it out.
I loved the little girls playing there, and through the pavilion there were these stone mosaics set in the paths. There were pictures of crabs, birds, flowers, and all kinds of things. There are a few pictures of them in the set for this day, too. They're pretty fun.
In the courtyard there was also a tiny gift shop, and some members of our group bought a small painting for everyone to sign to give to Jevons for a farewell gift. We were all pretty tired by then, and I just sat for a while outside the gift shop, and Dad and John were a little worried about me, but it was okay.
Of course, the one that all the kids loved were the various figures of boys or monkeys, who would pee in an arcing spray of water whenever the hot water was poured on them. The other three kids had bought some figures while we were at the Reed Flute Caves, and Jet found a vendor on this street, and had Dad and John bargain for him.
So he got one, and was very very happy.
We got into the bus, headed to the Canal, and had an absolutely fabulous lunch.
The one dish that I just loved more than anything was this pork roast. It's actually slow cooked with preserved mustard and a soup of soy sauce, sugar, ginger, garlic, green onions, and it was like getting hit between the eyes with homesickness. It's a dish my mother used to make when we were kids, because it's really just put everything into a pot and let it slow cook all day (often made in a Crockpot) and fill the house with its meaty aroma and would just fall off the bone. I remember it being served with steamed buns that were a perfect compliment to them.
It's not really a dish Mom makes anymore... but now I want to make it again. *laughs*
That still kind of bemused me, especially since that particular tunnel was packed with tourist vendors, who descended on us like bees to honey. There was a whole pack of ladies who had folding straw hats. *laughs* On the boat, John talked it over with Jet and I, because we hadn't seen the paper hats Jet had gotten in Beijing, for anything approaching prices that were as reasonable around here, we decided that the folding straw hats might be as fun a present. We hadn't seen anything like those, either, and they were probably far more practical than the paper mesh hats.
We all fit on one of them, and people were allowed up on the decks when the boat was going slowly enough. But we all had to be in the glassed-in cabin for the fast runs from the docks to the city canals.
About a third of the Canal's actually maintained, today, for the water traffic and commerce that runs alongside it. The whole country, however, had been in drought, so the northern two-thirds was just allowed to dry out. The South, however, has plenty of water to maintain it and they use it for tourism as well as business.
The seats were quite nice, and Jevons kept up a running commentary as we chugged along the canal. The Grand Canal was built for the Inspections, which were pretty much tribute collection trips. After seeing the gardens in Suzhou, the Emperor decided to bring gardeners back home with him, which is why the gardens in the Forbidden City are so beautiful.
The Emperor used to disguise himself on these trips, so that he could just wander about the city and pick up girls. He could have illicit affairs with large numbers of women up and down the Canal, and girls would come to the palace and say, "I'm a princess."
And they'd have to let her in to be tested through a magical ritual involving sesame oil, salt, water, and drops of blood from the supposed daughter and the Emperor. If the drops of blood clung together, then she'd be accepted, otherwise, she'd be sent off.
I loved the ivy growing on the walls, and how they often hung lanterns over all the bridges. Jevons said that they love lighting them all at night.
It was interesting to find out that the government actually pays everyone to maintain and keep the foundations solid through the city.
Still, they were everywhere, and we had to be a little careful of them when we were on the outside of the ship.
With all the water , the city had to create its own sewage system, since sewage in the water would contaminate everything everywhere (a problem that Venice itself had for quite some time), they created a municipal sewage system 600-800 years ago. It relied on people carrying chamberpots and collecting their contents every day, along with a whole series of public restrooms that collected from those that couldn't afford the service.
Here we were barely scraping by another boat. You can see, too, that many of the businesses were right up against the water. Many had steps and small docks to the water, and I saw other of these low long boats taking on passengers and taking them elsehwhere in the city, so I guess there are city water taxies.
The inflated yellow thing to the left was actually an inflated cartoon snake! 2013 is the Year of the Snake, which is Jet's year. That was pretty cool to see, along with a t-shirt in the Mall of the City God that had a very cute cartoon snake. Jet's growing up, as he refused to let me buy that shirt for him. *laughs*
That was interesting to see, too, that there were quite a few people on the shore who really looked at us. On the most part, through the country, not a lot of people made eye contact with us when we were traveling through all kinds of places. Occasionally, if there was a particular conversation, or someone at a tourist site wanted a picture, they'd talk with members of our group directly.
I remember one man at the pits in Xi'an suddenly grabbing a lady member of our group because he wanted to have a picture with her in it. It was interesting as much because he felt that it was a thing he had to do as it was because he was interacting directly with us to do it. There just wasn't a lot of that.
John did his bargaining in the tunnel of the wall and came out very happy with himself. We knew we also needed to spend the last of our Chinese money, as we were leaving the next day. Then one rather frightening thing happened, where a begger with no legs decided he had to catch someone and demand money from them. He had a really powerful upper body on a rolling platform, and he chased and grabbed at the Caucasian members of our tour! That was.... pretty disturbing, but as much from his utter desperation and roars of frustration when we weren't giving him the money he clearly felt he deserved.
This is a Communist country, not a socialist one. While the handicapped are given some stipends, they actually have what's called a welfare lottery, where you play the lottery and the proceeds go to welfare for those disabled or unable to work. The hospitals here, if you don't have the money or aren't insured, can turn you away. It's one of the reasons why everyone saves like crazy in China, without any kind of safety net for health, they have to pay for it all themselves.
So it's very much not a socialist state, it's a communist state, where the govenment owns all the land and lends it out as it deems fit.
It was pretty quiet on the way back, and John saw this outside our window. It was actually a collection of four different stores in a row that had all kinds of construction equipment, supplies, and tools. They were all pretty small, and they each specialized in something. This one was plumbing and hardware, another had gardening with dirt and rocks, and another was just lumber.
The night time view of the city was spectacular up there, and we took advantage of it while we waited for everyone to arrive and then when we sat down to eat. The floor to ceiling glass made it easy to walk up and look out. There was a full bar, and we were seated at two full tables. There was a four course meal of salad, main and side, and dessert, and it made me long, vaguely, for really great food back home.
Jevons is normally an English teacher during the school year, and does the guiding thing on the summers. He's the one that lines up all the local guides, and figures out where we're staying and what we're going to see and when. During the Elephant Trunk and Tea Shop day, he and Lily conferred and they swapped the schedule around to make it work, so there's a lot that isn't done by anyone but Jevons. He's done translation for the American State Department, and various dignitaries thereby. If you do go with Ritz tours and there's any way you can get Jevons for a guide, I'd highly recommend him.
What really bemused me was he was able to do the same magic in airports, too, we didn't have to be with our identifications, he would just take them all and we'd magically have boarding passes. We were pretty grateful.
Jevons' wife was also selling a few items, and lots of people from the group went to check that out. Good that they can make a little extra on the side.
It was a little sad, too. We got to know these people pretty well while we were here, and it was odd to have such an intense, day-to-day sort of relationship with them and then realize we'd probably never see them again. The group as a whole was wonderful. No one really complained at all. Everyone was eager for the adventure of each day, and everyone was curious and open to the whole experience. That was really good.
Jevons went around telling everyone when they had to meet him in the morning, as everyone was flying out the next day. We were all going in all directions at all different times, but Jeff and Millie were going to be flying to Beijing with us. They were catching a flight to the Bay Area from there, so we would part with them in Beijing. Luckily for me, we weren't going to leave until 1ish, and I could sleep in. We'd have to be checked out by noon, but that would be easy.
I knew that Dad and John had plans for the morning, but between the cold and all the travel we'd had that day, I was too tired to do anything but write a few things down, and then pass out.
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