June 3 – 5, 2009
拙政園 Humble Administrator’s Garden
Of the three gardens I visited, 拙政園 Humble Administrator’s Garden (HAG from here on) most resembled my expectation of how a classical Chinese garden should look like. HAG is large by Suzhou garden’s standard, but still it feels crowded because almost every square inch of the garden is used. Unlike the classical gardens in Japan, where a sense of spaciousness and simplicity is valued, an almost complete opposite is true for Chinese gardens. Empty space is treated as being wasteful, and every corner is delicately designed. While I personally prefer the simplicity of the Japanese style, I must say HAG’s attention to detail trumps anything I have seen in Japan. I am especially impressed by the many different angles in the maze like garden, when you can often find up to three to four layers within a single point of view.
The crowd is always the wild card in China; the best sight can become total hell when ten tour groups show up at the same time. The number of tour groups at HAG when I got there was tolerable, around five or so, but some of these tourists’ actions were downright uncivilized. At a small section of the garden was a very tall loquat tree, and its fruits were in full blossom. As tour groups came and went, most of these middle aged tourists seemed to be of marvel of the fruits. Suddenly, a couple men took off their shoes and threw them at the tree, hoping to knock some of the fruit down to the ground. They tried several times, each time missing badly, before putting their shoes back on and walked away while shared a hearty laugh with each other. It was quite amazing those men didn’t even express a hint of shame about their behavior or their lack of aim.
Fortunately, and much to my surprise, most of the tour groups left the garden just before dusk, and often I had part of the garden all to myself.
Although I enjoyed my visit to HAG, I did find its admission price of 70 RMB to be ludicrous, especially when compared to the standard of living in Suzhou.
獅子林 Lion Grove Garden, Suzhou
Well, blind luck rarely strikes twice in a row, and what greeted me at 獅子林 Lion Grove Garden (LGG) was your typical Chinese crowd. LGG is much smaller than HAG, so that doesn’t help. LGG is famous for its rock formation, said to be digged up from the nearby Tai Hu (Lake Tai). I find the buildings of LGG to be of greater quality than HAG, and the rock maze in the above photo is quite fun, but the garden is too clogged for my liking. The designer of the garden probably had a hatred of empty space, as no usable corner was left unused. Coupled with the hordes of people everywhere inside the garden, I much prefer the afternoon I spent at the Humble Administrator’s Garden.
LGG charged a reasonable 30 RMB for admission.
網師園 Master of the Nets Garden
網師園 Master of the Nets Garden (MNG) took the crown for the most overcharged site in Suzhou at 80 RMB. To be fair, this price was the admission price at night when the garden offered eight short traditional Suzhou performances like Kunqu and Guzheng. Most tourists at MNG during my night of visit were foreigners, for some reason. Each segment of the performances was around five minutes long – nowhere long enough to even be considered as a sample to these traditional art forms. The circus like atmosphere was also cheapened the performances; during the comedic talk-show segment, the actors held up various English signs such as “Please Clap!” and “Thank You!”, which always resulted in some light chuckles by the foreign visitors.
Visiting MNG at night is not a must, but it does provide a taste of the various local art forms and a different atmosphere to the many other classic gardens in Suzhou.