Saturday, December 17, 2011

Culture Corner: Jiangsu and beyond...

Famous for its classical gardens and criss-crossing canals, this is Suzhou.  For what it’s worth, it is known as the “Venice of the East” because of its canals.  It’s also said “In the sky there is heaven, and on earth there is Suzhou.”  You'll have to go and judge for yourself.
Aside from its waterways, Suzhou is also famous for its classical gardens, which are not gardens at all, but in fact the estates of the city’s former rich which have been opened to the public.  Full of meandering streams and pools, stone walkways, libraries, studies, leafy trees, moon viewing pavilions, opera stages, and flowers, these “gardens” have great names like: “Humble Administrator’s Garden” or “Garden for Lingering In”.  They rival anything Western mansions can throw at you in terms of sublime beauty, relaxation, luxury, and livability.
Unlike Western mansions which are meant to impress with a single glance, Suzhou’s garden estates are like mazes that leave new corners to be explored at every turn and door; at no point can you stand in one place and take in the entire property, which as you walk around leaves you thinking the grounds are not only bigger than they really are, but feeling secluded and relaxed at most times, even though you might only be a stone’s throw from a street or another area of the “garden”.  This is Blue Wave Pavillion.
This is the “Master of Nets" garden on a rainy morning.  The blending of architecture and nature are what the Chinese pride themselves on and no better example can be found than here.
Stuck in a time warp, this is the water town of Zhouzhuang (“China’s Number One Water Town!!!!”).  In the old town there are no roads, only canals, which are the roads, and stone walkways between the small homes.  The architecture and infrastructure look natural and wonderful in this decaying state, but lose their romanticism when I tell you it was a place full of nothing but people selling souvenirs.  It was here I perfected my pronunciation of “I don’t want anything.” in Chinese.
Featuring the esteemed West Lake (pictured above), this is Hangzhou.  To be honest, I couldn’t figure out why it was esteemed.  History must play a hand in that legend...
This is the mountain resort called Lushan where people come in the summer to escape the brutal heat of China.  I found it deserted due to winter but covered in a beautiful layer of frost.  I happily spent some time tramping through the forests by myself, breathing clean air – clean air, such a thing I never thought existed in China!!  This is a lake in the area one morning.
If I told you this was the Rocky Mountains, you might believe me.  But no, it’s Lushan, again.  Slowly crackling into glittering shards in the sunlight, the hoarfrost was amazing.
These are two very happy boys who popped out of the woods as I climbed down Jiuhuashan and became my walking companions for a time.  I envied them greatly as they had no cares in the world other than to play in the bamboo forests and blue streams flowing down their mountainside home.  Those with good karma are reincarnated as one of them.
This is Yangzhou and its "famous" five pavilion bridge stretching over Slender West Lake.  I’ve yet to discover what makes something “famous” in China, as the word is tossed about when discussing just about anything.  This, however, seems worthy.  (Don't worry about the black bars at the top and bottom of the  photo.  They are the result of my "modern" camera's panorama setting... :)
I don’t know why, but for some reason I really like this photo, even if there is no one at the tables other than the waitresses.  There is a certain ambiance, or feeling of comfort that doesn’t lie; Chinese restaurants are great places to relax.  And they entirely lack the foolish, tacky, ridiculous, nonsensical, cheesy, and dare I say, detestable wall “decorations” I’ve seen at places like Applebees and whatnot.  A fake alligator head wearing sunglasses…  photos of high school football teams… antique farming equipment…

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