Liralen Li (liralen) wrote,
Liralen Li

Suzhou, the Humble Administrator's Garden, and the Last Dinner in Shanghai - June 1, 2013

Suzhou is just West of and a little north of Shanghai, and it's on the Grand Canal, an enormous canal that was built all the way from Beijing, and was used by an emperor or another to do the Grand Inspection, a euphemism for Tax Collection. It's beautiful, though thinking about the fact that it was all dug by hand with what was essentially slave labor, it isn't that surprising that it was one of the reasons why that particular Dynasty didn't last more than a few years.

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.

It was another gray, wet day, and I napped some while we drove out of the city. The traffic was pretty heavy, and I was impressed at just how many cars were stopped at these gates.

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.

Busy Streets
Even just driving through, we could see how the canals cut through the city. Jevons said that we'd be having lunch by a 3000 year old wall on the edge of the Grand Canal. It was also the dock for our boat ride down the water. The Canal is considered the third largest project in China, the first being the Great Wall. The Canal is 1200 miles long, and was built by the Sua Dynasty, a dynasty of just 28 years. It died for the same reasons must dynasties die.

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.

We parked in town, near a vendor's street right in front of the Tourist Attraction that is the Garden. The weather was gray and wet, drizzling gently the way I missed from Seattle, and I was glad of my coat. We walked along the busy street and waited outside while Jevons went in to get our tickets. We walked through a wall and into this.

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.

Viewing Pagoda
Scattered throughout the grounds were these buildings, beautiful little places to go off the pathways, which were filled with people. All placed where there were good views, and this particular one had a huge Scholar's stone in the center of it as the only 'ornament' for the building.

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.

Tiny Intruders
I have to admit that I loved that for all that it was so controlled, that there were a few denizens that were uninvited.

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.

Zig Zag Bridge
Another thing we would never find in the US. There were all these low bridges for walking across the water courses, some of them didn't even have these shin-guards, and were lying just on the surface of the water. Without the 'safety' gear, the views were utterly unimpeded.

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.

Of course, there was this old man, who had taken residence in one of the small buildings and obviously had been doing what I'd been dreaming of doing. *laughs softly*

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.

This is one of those classic scenes through the garden, and as it was through the place, there were people everywhere. At one point, we tried to get a group picture with all of us in it, but it took about twenty minutes before we finally could get a shot that didn't include someone that wasn't in our group.

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.

Pebble Walk
Jevons had said, several times, that the walks with the rocks set on their sides were in order to make for a foot massage. He'd said it in the garden in Shanghai as well as here, so I finally did what I really wanted to do and took off my Keens.

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.

Near that paved path was a courtyard filled with what the literature says is over 700 Suzhou-style penjing/penzai. It's the Chinese style of gardens in pots or bonsai. There were plants in the collection that are centuries old, and they're also scattered through the gardens.

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.

Back on the Street
This is the street just outside the garden. Jet was fascinated by a vendor selling little Yixing clay (yes, the same clay used for those unglazed, very expensive tiny tea pots that I really do love using and having) figures. They were unglazed, so the clay would pick up water when it was soaked. When hot water was poured on the figures they would squirt in various ways.

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.

Dried TofuSalt and Pepper PrawnsPork with Shreaded VegetablesPork Belly with Green BeansEgg Flower SoupPork and Chinese Cabbage soupLeafy Greens with garlic and carrotsClose up of the Mouth

Slow Cooked Pork
That last orange picture is of a deep-fried whole fish dunked in a sweet and sour sauce that was amazing. It still had all its bones and scales, and the scales popped under the hot oil so that they were crisp.

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*

Through the Wall
This is the 3000-year-old wall right in the parking lot of the restaurant. I remember going to England and thinking, these people think of 100 years the way we Americans think of 100 miles. It's not much in either case. But having everyday elements of your life be 3000 years old?

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.

Our Boat Awaits
These were the Canal boats. A lot of them all lined up and waiting for customers.

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.

*giggles* Jeff taking a picture of us.

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.

Suzhou is Built On Canals
In Suzhou itself, the canals are used a much as the streets for travel between houses and businesses. Many of the houses had small stone steps that went from the house, along the stone foundations in the water that you see here, to the surface of the water. There were hundreds of tiny personal docks everywhere we looked, but few craft other than the tourist long boats.

There were, of course, bridges everywhere, and a classical Suzhou-style painting frames domestic scenes with bridges or shows the city after one has come through a tunnel. Many of the bridges are 400-years-old, and the house foundations are often 450 years old and built fifteen feet over the surface of the water.

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.

Deep Foundations
These are what Jevons called a "private dock".... to me they just looked like steps sticking out of the wall over the water. *laughs*

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.

Side by Side
In present day, the city has a whole series of concrete tanks, and every house is required to have its own septic system.

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.

Framed Picture
And here's the classical framed picture of the city, with all the lanterns out and all the small craft tied up to the sides of the canal.

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*

A boatload of tourists seemed to be as much a sight for them as they were for us.

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.

Right On the Water
We chugged back to the docks we'd started from, walked through the park, and Jevons told us to use the restrooms in the restaurant we'd had lunch in. It was easy to comply.

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.

Chinese Home Depot
One of the interesting things was finding out that the farmers were lent their land by the government and expected to derive everything they needed from that given resource. They had to make the money from their sales to educate their kids beyond the mandatory education, they had to pay for their health costs, and the land was their sole fallback. There was no welfare for farmers, only city dwellers were paid if they lost their jobs. Farmers, if they left their land, couldn't get anything to help them. There was one lady begger the other tour members talked with for a bit, and she got nothing from the government because she chose to abandon her land.

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.

Shanghai at Night
When we got back to the hotel we had a little time, and we got cleaned up and dressed up because Jevons had reserved tables for us at the Japanese restaurant at the top of the hotel. It was a Japanese steak house style restaurant, and Jevons was pretty excited about being able to offer us American-style steaks and fish.

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.

A Toast!
After the meal, Angelo got up and toasted Jevons happily. We all drank to the toasts, and Jeff got up and gave Jevons the painting. That was pretty cool, as Jevons was pretty clear about how much he liked us as a group and was very happy to have the painting and would keep it where he could see it.

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.

All of Us Again
So this was a picture of everyone on that last day. It was really fun to just have everyone lined up and smiling. We had the wait staff take these because we wanted Jevons in the photographs with us. He's there on the left.

Happy Family Dubious Girl
We also got a shot of Jevons with his wife and baby girl. He'd been with us for these two weeks, so they missed him, too. It really helped having him take every airplane with us and stay at the hotels wtih us, because it allowed him to deal with any problems with the travel or accommodations arrangements as they happened. In many cases we didn't even have to check in because he would take our passports and do it for us.

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.

The Kids
*laughs* And these are all the kids together. That was pretty fun.

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.

The boys went swimming
The dinner pretty much totally exhausted whatever reserves I had, so I just went back to the room, had a hot bath, and the boys went swimming down in the pool. They had to bring shower caps as swim caps, and Jet found a "No Spitting in the Pool" sign! And the radio controlled lockers were still fascinating for both of them.

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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Tags: china, food, travel

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