Yuyuan Garden, Shanghai

Another of the most famous gardens in China, is the Yuyuan Garden in Shanghai. Read my post on the Lingering Garden in Suzhou, to get more facts about what a Chinese garden stands for.

 

Yu Garden or Yuyuan Garden, means Garden of Happiness in Chinese. Yuyuan Garden is located in the center of Shanghai’s Old City, a few blocks south of the Bund, and it has a total area of about two hectares (five acres). People say that the Yuyuan Garden is so exquisite that it can be comparable to the Humble Administrator’s Garden in Suzhou,

Just outside the entrance of the garden is a lake with the famous Huxinting teahouse, built 1784. It is standing on stilts, and there is a zig-zag constructed bridge leading up to it. According to traditional Chinese beliefs, this zig-zag design is not only for aesthetic appeal. It is also important for keeping the evil spirits from getting into the pavilion – evil spirits can not turn around corners…

Many famous people have visited here – for example the Queen of England.

Something I noticed immediately was the fact that the traditional male and female lions were a bit different here compared to all the other ones I have seen in China. These two are looking at each other instead of straight forward, and the female has a cub, or child, standing upright instead of lying on its back under her paw. The male has his usual power grip on the ball…Somehow these differences made the statues feel much more human.

Yuyuan Garden is believed to have been built in the Ming Dynasty, 1559, more than 400 years ago. At first it was the private garden of the Pan family in the Ming Dynasty, and it was the largest and most prestigious of its era in Shanghai after it was completed. The exquisite layout and the artistic style of the garden architecture have made the garden one of the highlights of Shanghai.

A centerpiece, and one of the highlights of the garden is the Exquisite Jade Rock. It is a 5-ton, porous, beautifully-shaped rock, which is said to have been carried from Taihu (Tai Lake) in Wuxi, Jiangsu province. The rock is characterized by its wrinkled appearance, slender shape, translucent nature and numerous holes eroded by water. Rumour has it that it was meant for the imperial palace in Beijing, but was salvaged after the boat sank off Shanghai.

Yu means ‘peaceful’ in Chinese, and so it really is. This despite its closeness to the big shopping area of bazaars.

Yuyuan Garden was first conceived by Pan Yunduan, an officer in the Ming Dynasty, for his parents to spend a quiet and happy life in their old age.

However, during the Opium Wars, the garden was badly damaged. In 1961, after five years of repairs, Yuyuan Garden was re-opened to the public, though it was not as charming as the original one. It was also partly destroyed in the Great Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). During 1986-1993, the government made another effort to repair the garden, the results of which we see today.

Feeding the Koi fish is popular. Fish is a must here as in every garden. It stands for prosperity.

Today, Yu Garden is divided into six general areas laid out in the Suzhou style with halls and chambers, an Inner garden with rockeries, ponds, pavilions and towers.

Each area is separated from the others by ”dragon walls” with undulating gray tiled ridges, each terminating in a dragon’s head. Sometimes just hiding behind a tree trunk and surprising the visitor with its huge head.

Chinese dragons are legendary creatures in Chinese mythology and Chinese folklore. The dragons have many animal-like forms such as turtles, and also imaginary creatures, but they are most commonly depicted as snake-like with four legs. In yin and yang terminology, a dragon is yang and complements a yin, a phoenix.

Chinese dragons traditionally symbolize potent and auspicious powers. The dragon is also a symbol of power, strength, and good luck for people who are worthy of it. The Emperor usually used the dragon as a symbol of his imperial power and strength.

In Chinese daily language, excellent and outstanding people are compared to a dragon, and a number of Chinese proverbs and idioms feature references to a dragon, for example: ”Hoping one’s son will become a dragon”.

Being a tree lover, I immensely enjoy Chinese gardens. One of my absolute favourites here, was a 400- year-old Ginko Biloba.

A perfect mix. And the dragon…is everywhere…

Details are essential in a Chinese garden. Perfection.

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Lingering Garden, Suzhou, China

The Chinese garden is a landscape garden style which has evolved over three thousand years. It includes both the vast gardens of the Chinese emperors and members of the imperial family, built for pleasure and to impress, and the more intimate gardens created by scholars, poets, former government officials, soldiers and merchants, made for reflection and escape from the outside world.

The earliest recorded Chinese gardens were created in the valley of the Yellow River during the Shang Dynasty (1600–1046 BC). These gardens were large enclosed parks where the kings and nobles hunted game, or where fruit and vegetables were grown.

They create an idealized miniature landscape, which is meant to express the harmony that should exist between man and nature.

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Every detail is important. Carefully selected, crafted and put in its proper surroundings.

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Originally a classical private garden, the Lingering Garden (23,310 m2 ) is one of the four most famous gardens in China. Possessing typical Qing style, it is well-known for the exquisite beauty of its magnificent halls, and the various sizes, shapes, and colors of the buildings.

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Like other famous gardens in Suzhou, the Lingering Garden seeks to create stunning natural landscapes within limited space. In it, domiciles, ancestral temples and private gardens are included. Buildings, trees, and flowers blend harmoniously with their surroundings.

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Of the four parts, the central part is the essence of the whole complex. This part was the original Lingering Garden while the other three were added during the Qing Dynasty.

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Lingering Garden was commissioned by Xu Taishi (徐泰时), an impeached and later exonerated official in 1593 CE. Stonemason Zhou Shicheng (周时臣) designed and built the East Garden (东园) as it was initially called.

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Liu Su, another official in 1798 CE, reconstructed and renamed it Cold Green Village. He was an avid collector of Scholar stones or viewing stones( naturally occurring or shaped rocks which are traditionally appreciated by Chinese scholars), and added 12 more to the garden housing them in the ”stone forest”. The garden soon acquired the nickname ”Liu Yuan” from the owner’s surname. From 1823 CE the garden was open to public, and became a famed resort.

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During the Sino-Japanese War, the garden was abandoned and it even degenerated into breeding zone for army horses. After establishment of the People’s Republic of China, Suzhou government took over and renovated the garden.

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It was reopened to the public in 1954. In 2001 the garden was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list, and remains a major tourist destination.

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To sum it up, a typical Chinese garden is enclosed by walls and includes one or more ponds, rock works, trees and flowers, and an assortment of halls and pavilions within the garden, connected by winding paths and zig-zag galleries.

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By moving from structure to structure, visitors can view a series of carefully composed scenes, unrolling like a scroll of landscape paintings.

 

The Legend of the Isle of the Immortals

 A miniature version of Mount Penglai, the legendary home of the Eight Immortals, was recreated in many classical Chinese gardens

An ancient Chinese legend played an important part in early garden design. In the 4th century BC, a tale in the Shan Hai Jing (Classic of Mountains and Seas) described a peak called Mount Penglai located on one of three islands at the eastern end of the Bohai Sea, between China and Korea, which was the home of the Eight Immortals. On this island were palaces of gold and silver, with jewels on the trees. There was no pain, no winter, wine glasses and rice bowls were always full, and fruits, when eaten, granted eternal life.

In 221 BC, Ying Zheng, the King of Qin conquered other rival states and unified China under the Qin Empire, which he ruled until 210 BC. He heard the legend of the islands and sent emissaries to find the islands and bring back the elixir of immortal life, without success. At his palace near his capital, Xianyang, he created a garden with a large lake called Lanchi gong or the Lake of the Orchids. On an island in the lake he created a replica of Mount Penglai, symbolizing his search for paradise. After his death, the Qin Empire fell in 206 BC and his capital city and garden were completely destroyed, but the legend continued to inspire Chinese gardens. Many gardens have a group of islands or a single island with an artificial mountain representing the island of the Eight Immortals.

Source, Wikipedia

Water Village, Yangtze River, China

 

On arriving by boat to the Water Village, you used to anchor up by this pavillion.  Facing the new, big cruisers, another, bigger pavillion has been built.

The evergreen waters, the silent mountains – and the lifting fog –  brightened my spirit. I knew this would be the highlight of our journey.

Cruising along the Yangtze River, you can still see fishermen rowing a wooden boat from which they fish. The history of fishing on the Yangtze River can be traced back seven thousand years.

The small wooden boat is usually twelve feet long and three or four feet wide, the boat usually has five to six cabins including the navigation cabin, engine room and the living cabins. With the rise in living standard along the Yangtze River, fishermen have installed diesel engines on their boats to save manpower.

To catch fish, there are usually two ways: net casting and using hooks. Daytime, fishermen cast nets with large stones as anchors. Then, one or two boats drag two ends of the net to catch the fish. Fishing hooks are put out before sunset and reeled in with the fish in the morning.

Every year, the fishermen repair the boat during the hot days of July and August. When the Chinese traditional Lantern Festival comes, the family usually eats a reunion lunch in the cabin and sticks incense on the fore at the same time burning papers and shooting off firecrackers to sacrifice to the water god for good sailing and good catch.

On our walk along the river, we were first met by stone faces speaking to everyone about what to do to fend off Evil…

Then – soft flute music reached our ears. A beautiful girl standing on the deck of an old wooden boat, and a man playing the flute, releasing its silvery tunes over the river.

Of course they were posing for us – but the old ways of this people, the Tujia, were both breathtaking and esthetically shown to us. As a visitor I could not but use my eyes and ears in silence. It hurts to watch the beauty and the sad loss of the old ways  – even if we know about the hardships they meant as well. It is the same everywhere in the world.

Following the wooden pathway by the river, the silent calmness and serenity  overwhelmed me. This was indeed a picture of a Lost Paradise.

The lush bamboo  and the stillness in the air, the boats and the fishing nets – and the sun lifting the veil of mist.

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Only the faint sound of the flute faraway, and the sound of birds rustling in the foliage. Tears in my eyes. It doesn’t matter if this gloryfying of the old is just…gloryfying. This little village shows the essence of old Chinese life, art, painting and poetry.

Leaving this Paradisiac painting and hiking further into the river valley, we approached some water wheels and an old homestead.

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On the little arched bridge, a young couple was standing – obviously this used to be a popular place for lovers to meet.

Soon we were to see a little performance on the marriage customs – Weeping Marriage of the Tujia Ethnic Minority.

The marriage date for girls of the Tujia Ethnic Minority ia usually welcomed with crying. According to custom, the new bride should begin to cry half a month or one month before the wedding ceremony. Whether a girl could cry about her marriage became a criterion to value the girl’s ability and virtue.

In order to be regarded as a good girl, the girl begins to study how to cry for marriage when she is twelve years old. Some will invite an experienced person to teach them. When 15 years old, girls will invite each other to match who cries best and teach each other.

There are songs which are sung when weeping for marriage. These include singing for parents, sisters, brothers, the matchmaker and ancestors. When singing the weeping marriage songs, the emotions are fully expressed through the mournful tones. They say that on hearing the vivid and strong words of the song, even the toughest man can’t fight back his tears.

The weeping songs can be sung by one person or by two. If one girl sings, she will cry for her destiny, the deep affection to her relatives and the feudalistic marriage custom she suffers under. When two girls are weeping together, it is called ”sister crying.” The bride cries and sings first, and then the other one will sing together with the bride to console her.

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The Bride unveiled

It is said that the weeping marriage custom originates from the marriage system in the old times. Girls sang and cried denouncing the marriage system and dreaming of flinging off its chains. Today, although Tujia girls can choose their loved ones freely, they still cry out of tradition.

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Our lovely Tujia guides. The basket on their back will show if they are married or not. Carrying flowers – free, carrying a baby – married.

Before reaching the waterfalls, we saw the bamboo forest swaying – monkeys! Maybe we would get closer on the other side of the river.

But first – the falls. Not very big, but fresh  mountain water falling through the lush bamboo forest. Have you ever seen an old  Chinese painting?

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The narrow gorge ahead of us.

Hiking back, quietly, everybody pondering and reflecting on their impressions…

…I suddenly found more reflecting and pondering faces – monkeys. This one became my favourite during the short time we were listening to them and watching them climbing rocks and branches. He was sitting there on the rock with his wise little face turned slightly upwards. Sometimes he glanced at his hands and into the greenery, but never jumped around making ooooooooooo – sounds like the others. I called him the Philosopher.

These monkeys had bushy tails instead of sleek ones to use for gripping branches. Unfortunately none of our guides could name the species. I tried to find them when I got home, but the closest I get is Rhesus Makak. If anybody knows – please write me!

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This trip back into the China of old; customs, art, painting and writing, I am certain will stay with me forever.

Because this is no more

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernina Express and Alp Grüm – Turquoise and Red

At the railwaystation in Pontresina we caught the Bernina Express – a classic train on UNESCO’s World Heritage list. (From Chur to Tirano in Italy)

On our way from 1850 m to 2091 m above sea level, there were many interesting and beautiful views. People were standing up in the train so it was not that easy to get good photos.

Lago Bianco is the name of the great dam up here, famous for its turqouise water.

…and the train for being red!

On reaching Alp Grüm, we had the majestic glacier right in front of us – but the sun made it impossible to photograph it – we half planned to come back in the morning to get a better view…but never realized it.

Going down again – and the water suddenly changed colours when looking back. Light is certainly essential to how you interpret a scenery. We really had enjoyed this trip.

A walk in Verzasca valley – an extraordinary experience

The Verzasca is a Swiss 30-kilometre long mountain river flowing into Lago Maggiore. It is known for its clear turquoise water and vibrant colored rocks, as well as its treacherous currents. The Verzasca Dam is a few kilometers upriver from this lake. The Dam is well known for its 220 m height jump, which is one of the highest jumps in the world and also the most famous bungy jump, as it was used in the James Bond film GoldenEye.

Valle Verzasca extends over a length of 25 kilometres in north–south direction. The surrounding mountains respectively passes have an average altitude of 2,400 metres (7,874 ft).The Verzasca River valley is in Ticino, Locarno district, the Italian-speaking region of Switzerland.

The valley comprises several small municipalities, but we only visited Sonogno. My husband’s sister has a friend living there, hosting a restaurant at the end of the road. Sonogno is also the last village on the paved road through the Valley Verzasca. All motor vehicles are required to park at the entrance to the village. Understandable if you walk the narrow streets.

Here they meet again – Bodil and her friend – and we had a delicious meal at  his charming restaurant, Grotto EFRA.

With the connection to the public transport, tourism developed from the end of the 19th century, but still the majority of the young people of the Valley is looking for an income in wealthier regions of Switzerland or northern Italy.Today, the majority of the locals is active in the tourism. The conversion of the old Rustici houses into holiday houses created jobs, increased tourism revenues and ensured that the old houses and the characteristic image of the Verzasca Valley are preserved.

Sonogno is a very charming village and has a population (as of December 2013) of 94. The village has its own language which is a mixture of Latin and Celtic. But, the language of Sonogno is a dying language as only about 100 persons are known to speak it. Unfortunately we didn’t meet anyone using this old language – but that would have been awesome. The Villagers also speak Italian which is an official Swiss language – and I guess this will be the only language here within a couple of years…

The so-called Rustici (Italian for farm house) in grey stone, with white borders on the windows and heavy stone roofs, are typical houses in the valley. As a bar for the heavy stone roof, Castanea sativa wood is used. This tree was introduced by the Romans and is still growing in the southern part of the valley, below 1,000 metres (3,281 ft).

The local economy was traditionally based mostly on grazing. During the summer, the cattle grazed in the high alpine pastures, in the winter the cows were moved to their winter pastures. Due to limited jobs, many of the residents emigrated and after about 1850, many went overseas.The more recent exodus to urban centers, combined with emigration have caused a steady decline of population since the mid-nineteenth century.  In 2005 the agricultural sector still offered about 50% of the jobs in the municipality.

Due to its isolated location, the Verzasca Valley is claimed as one of the valleys that could keep the best its originality. The secluded geographical location made it unattractive for conquerors. First traces of settlement have been found from the early 2nd millennium BC in its south.  In the European Middle Ages, the population operationed mainly pasture farming, and since the early 17th century, many residents had to search seasonal labour outside their home valley; still unemployed young men were recruited as mercenaries for foreign armies.

So – let’s go to the beautiful river…its water is crystal clear, and the depth does not exceed 10 metres (33 ft). Its average temperature is 7 to 10 °C (45 to 50 °F).

I admit it was great to have a bath – we had about 34 degrees C this day as well. And a spectacular place to be!