I love complicated
You come me you'd alway
slogan seen on a coat, Suzhou Museum
|Seen leaving Suzhou museum|
We set off across town to the Humble Administrators Garden, one of the finest in the garden city of Suzhou, indeed one of the finest in China.
I was predisposed to dislike the 'humble administrator'
(though not necessarily his garden) because anyone who calls themselves
'humble', like Uriah Heap or Emperor Tu Duc of Vietnam (we met him in Hue)
almost certainly is not. But the Chinese word translated as ‘humble’ also
suggests a level of, at best, semi-competence. Ming official Wang Xianchang was
unhappy in his job and was passed over for promotion so in 1510 he threw in his
post, bought a cheap patch of land outside the city and planted a market garden
- a humble enough occupation.
|Suzhou and Jiangsu Province|
The story might be believable except for the history of the land. In the 9th century the plot had been the garden of Tang Dynasty poet Lu Guimeng. After a fallow period it became a garden again in the 12th century while during the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368) it was the Dahong Temple garden. If the administrator was humble, the plot was not.
|Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou|
The garden was perfected, Wang Xianchang died and bequeathed the garden to his son who lost it in a game of cards. The story then becomes complicated and for a century or two the three parts, the Eastern, Western and Central Gardens were under different ownership. They were brought back together under state ownership in 1949, restored and opened to the public in 1952 and became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997.
|Bonzai trees, Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou|
|Better when the lotus was in bloom, Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou|
In several places artificial 'mountains' have been raised,
the largest a couple of metres high. We paused on one where an arbour was inscribed
with a short poem by (I think) Wen Zhengming
|A Chinese tour party, all in identical caps, file past the pond|
Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou
'Among Mountains, Flowers and Wild Birds'
The cicada's churring makes the forest quieter
The singing of birds makes the hills more tranquil.
The same cannot be said for the chatter of Chinese tourists.
When westerners were a novelty it was common for people to sidle up and shyly ask to be photographed with such an exotic curiosity. It still happens in remote regions, but among the more cosmopolitan and sophisticated denizens of Suzhou an excuse is required. Here the photograph was for granny who lived deep in the countryside and had never seen a foreigner. Of course we cooperated, but retaliated by having our own photo of us with them!
|Humble Administrator's Garden, Suzhou|
From the garden we took a short walk to the Suzhou museum.
(like the museum’s website) seemed more excited by the museum building than by its
contents. It is the work of I M Pei, the Chinese-American architect responsible,
among other things, for the 1993 glass pyramid outside the Louvre. His family
came from Suzhou, but he was born in Guangzhou in 1917 (he will be 100 on the
26th of April 2017) and spent his childhood in Hong Kong and Shanghai before
choosing to study architecture in the USA and eventually becoming a major
international architect influenced by Le Corbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. Apparently incapable of retiring, he was pleased
to be asked to design a new museum for his parents’ home town in 2005.
|A short walk to Suzhou Museum|
I really cannot like his earlier Brutalist works. Unlike them, the museum is based on old-style Chinese houses but it is so geometrical it looks, to me anyway, like a kit building.
The installation in the atrium is intended to suggest a traditional landscape painting, but at first glance I though it was a scene of industrial dereliction. I doubt that either I M Pei or the Suzhou city fathers will lose much sleep over my disapproval (yes, I am as humble as an administrator).
|Traditional landscape or industrial dereliction? Suzhou Museum|
The thousand year old Pearl Pillar of the Buddhist Shrine was rediscovered in 1978 in the Ruiguang Pagoda (see next post). The main body is made of nanmu wood with decorations of crystal, agate, amber, pearl and sandalwood, with carved jade and woven golden and silver thread.
The 10th century Olive Green Lotus-Shaped Bowl found in 1957 in the Yunyansi Pagoda is a remarkable example of ‘Five Dynasty’ period (907-960AD) ceramics.
|Olive Green Lotus-Shaped Bowl, Suzhou Museum|
|Throne room of the Zhong Prince, Taiping Rebellion, Suzhou Museum|
He said his restaurant was No 1 on Trip Advisor and pressed a flyer into my hand. I don't know why he mentioned he had been born in Iran, but as we shared that oddity we seemed to bond and I said we might well return for lunch.
|Canalside area near Suzhou Museum|
We took a short boat trip along the canal. It was a pleasant way to view our interesting surroundings, and very relaxing, though not perhaps for the chap doing the rowing.
Afterwards B was keen to choose a restaurant for our lunch, but we decided to assert our independence and find a restaurant ourselves. There was plenty of choice and we picked one, sat down and ordered a couple of small, cheap pork dishes that we hoped would make a light lunch. They did, though neither was particularly inspiring and the dishes were too similar - at least they were not meatballs and mashed potato.
After lunch we returned to the hotel. As we had a late start tomorrow B suggested a nearby temple/garden we could visit in the morning and left us with the instruction to 'rest this afternoon.'
We may be getting older, but we are not so old we need to lie down all afternoon after a morning's sightseeing, nor are we so helpless we cannot find our own places to visit. Hanshan Si, Cold Mountain Temple, was according to the map, a mile or so down a dead straight road west from our hotel.
|Canal alongside Feng Qiao Road, Suzhou|
The temple had been here since 500AD and is well known in
China and Japan because of a few lines by the Tang dynasty (618 -755) poet
|Bell, Hanshan Si, Suzhou|
Moonset; through the freezing air the caw of a crow;
By Feng Qiao, breaking my rest, the fishing lamps glow;
To me as I lie in my boat the dark hour brings
The plangent repeated sound as the temple bell rings
At Hanshan beyond Suzhou.
It is a remarkable evocation of a scene in so few words. Reading it I find myself pulling my cloak closer around me and shifting uncomfortably on the hard planks of my boat. And it is not only me, at New Year Hanshan is crowded with Japanese visitors who come to hear the midnight bell. The temple has grown rich on their donations.
|Hanshan Si, Suzhou|
I liked the view
of the temple roofs, though, even if it was not the grand canal.
|Puming Ta, Hanshan Si, Suzhou|
|Roofs, Hanshan Si, Suzhou|
Inside the main Buddha hall the Buddha himself...
....was supported by what looked like a jury of arhats (and more of them tomorrow).
|A jury of Arhats, Hanshan Si, Suzhou|
|Dinner in Suzhou|
South East China
First of the Hong Kong Posts