A Travellerspoint blog

January 2013

Suzhou - Day 2

The Chasms Between the Gardens East and West. The Leaning Tower of China

overcast 22 °C

We hired a tour guide (Mary) and driver (Mr.Wu!) thru the hotel. Cost 2000 Yuans for 2 days for both of us. We want a relaxing tour that tailored to our itineraries.

You can't really consider to have seen classical Chinese gardens until you've seen those in Suzhou.

The biggest difference between Chinese gardens and Western gardens are structurally obvious. What's more interesting to note are the fundamental differences in the designs that garden capture or reflect their polar opposite philosophies towards nature.

The Chinese gardens are all about emulating Nature as closely as possible. They use different shapes of rocks to symbolise mountains and peaks, ponds to signify lakes, water flowing over rocks to represent waterfalls, etc. There're no straight lines in Chinese gardens as there're no straight lines in Nature. And so bridges are arched and zigzag. In short, Chinese garden is a microcosm of Nature. Such reflection of Nature is very much followed the principles of Taoism where one is to live in harmony with Nature. It's really the Chinese ancient form of Environmentalism.

Western garden designs are polar opposite. It's about conquering Nature, making them yield to the will of Man, and making them resemble as little to Nature as possible. Let them reflecting the plans in the dwellings, with rectangular shapes and spaces. I suspect the spirit of the Industrial Revolution has a lot to do with it. It's about Human controlling their Destiny, and sculpting Nature in the image of their other creations like office towers, apartments, etc. It's like saying, we're God, and Nature is our subject, and it should reflect our desires, and plans.

Today the West is in Post-Industrial Age while China is industrialising, and so you see that Chinese developers have the same attitudes as the West in the 19th Century towards Nature while the West embraces the same ancient Taoist attitude that embodied in the Chinese gardens. Ironic, isn't it? At the same time, perfectly logical. This is YET another example that differences in culture may have been greatly influenced by their economic activities.

In the morning, we covered 3 highly recommended gardens of Suzhou: Master of Nets, Lingering, and Humbled Administration. The last 2 are UNESCO listed. The sky was overcast and there was a chill in the air. In other types of landscapes (e.g. beaches) this would be depressing, but here it added to the quiet, meditative qualities of these gardens (although the packed Chinese crowd subtracts it. Come here in low season should see lower crowd).

While it's crowded during busy season, the secret of Chinese classical garden is that there're so many twists and turns and niches that you could always find yourself a quite corner - a secret garden as it were - that you're totally alone and could claim it yours. Your little piece of heaven.

Classical Garden, Suzhou, China

For lunch, Mary took us to a local restaurant. We ordered a veggie and beggar chicken dish. I heard about beggar's chicken many times before (sometimes in wuxia movies) and they're available in HK restaurants only with advanced booking. This dish was ready in 5 mins. It looked like cured chicken, and tasted it too. It actually tasted leg hammy, or pork spammy.

Dish disinfecting machines are popular in China (Etta's dad owns one in his Guangzhou's home). This machine is used after the washing.

After you disinfected your tableware, if you just simply leave them in the open, you defeat the purpose as it gathers dust, at least. What to do? Simply shrink wrap them after disinfection. They look as if they are just coming out of a factory. I've seen This practise in restaurants of Shanghai, Suzhou, and Hangzhou (flash forward), even in some down-market restaurants. Especially them. Their kitchens may not be clinically clean, but at least their tableware is. What you don't see won't ruin your appetite. Ignorance is bliss.

shrink wrap tableware

Looking at the printed info on the shrink wrap, it looks like they're disinfected by some factory (or approved by some hygiene standard that the government set out ), and not done willy nilly. In a country that has a less than flattering record of food safety, this practise becomes a selling point for restaurants.

Gone were the days of the HK dining table ritual (which still practise in HK and southern China) whereby diners disinfect their tableware's themselves by placing it into a large bowl of piping hot tea. Of course, nobody would stop you if you simply drink

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Posted by FrancisQ 16:00 Archived in China Comments (0)

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