It is our last morning in China. We are up early. Business people all over town line up in their suits and ties at street steamers to buy buns and dumplings for breakfast. (Picture by Nicolas Delerue) China is vast but it’s cities are huge and crowded. The Chinese seek peace in their gardens.
In the center of this snarling city is the UR Garden. The designers took great pains and cost to turn this former government employees home into a centerpiece of Chinese garden architecture. A walled garden shuts out the troubles of life and brings peace and quiet to the soul. It allows you to contemplate a higher plane and renew the spirit.
The Chinese people strive for perfection in everything they do. A perfect garden must have a hill, water, rock, plants, bamboo, a building and trees. The plants placement and position in the garden, and shapes of everything have special meanings. A rock must not overshadow water. All gates, walkways, windows and doors must suggest nurture, peace and serenity to soothe the soul. A tea house provides refreshment and joy.
A beautifully designed window does the same.
Each rock, each plant is chosen for its sense of balance and rest. Lotus for purity. Bamboo for strength and resilience. Flowering plum represents rebirth. If you plant a pine tree, you must have both a male and female tree. If one dies, the partner tree is removed.
Proper dragons guard the roof and walls.
The roof is enhanced with bamboo at the top to make music as the wind passes over the hollow tubes. The poetic aspects of a garden are taken very seriously.
When a contingent of Chinese Garden Architects from Vancouver came to see the garden, they politely said it was beautiful. Not perfect? They judged it imperfect because modern condominium visible in a little corner of the garden. Tsk, tsk!
We leave the garden to visit Shanghai Cultural Museum. On the freeway we see a huge cement column about 12 feet in diameter supporting an over crossing. It was beautifully decorated with writhing dragons. I asked why the need for such a heavy support column? Our city guide explained that it allows the dragons to get out. When they were building, the workmen had trouble in that spot. They insisted there was a dragon there and it would be bad luck to cover it up. The government architects came up with a solution. It is partially hollow and has an exit window. Now knowing what we do of Chinese culture and centuries of superstition embedded in their character, we understand.
The museum too, is a quiet place that gives a sense of peace…
Late in the afternoon we have free time and several of us take tea at a lovely tea house and then off to the Hip Hop Market to pick up any last minute souvenirs. This is not a souvenir market. We gawk at ultra modern merchandise. Shoes like I’ve never seen in my life with price tags to match. Baby items and clothing for the children or grandchildren of the very wealthy. Teens swarm the place with their phones and wrist band radios. They buy see-through blouses, painted skirts and bathing suits that would fit in a cigarette box. We are running from store to store like unruly kids were we see every kind of goods, rich leathers, golden threaded bags and scarves; canes, sunglasses, jewelry to dazzle an empress, plastic neon bracelets, fancy suits and ballgowns, jeans and top branded merchandise from all over the world. A city of such contrasts is Shanghai.
We enjoy a fabulous farewell dinner with a flaming dish of some sort. We fondly embrace our new friends and trade addresses and know we’ll probably never see them again. Unforgettable China.