Country Scribe : Eric Bergeson's Weblog

January 12, 2007

Master-of-Nets Garden

The smallest of the famous classical gardens of Suzhou is the Master-of-Nets garden, so named because the politics-weary scholar administrator who completed it was once quoted as saying that he'd prefer to be a fisherman.

The Master-of-Nets gardens is small, but it is known as the greatest of the gardens due to the effectiveness of the design in creating the illusion of space. One never feels cramped, and yet one is inside walls in tiny courtyards.

The designers of the Suzhou gardens had a passion for framing the views through windows. The Master-of-Nets Garden is probably takes this tendency to a new and salubrious extreme, particularly with this beautiful window.

This study has great views in all directions, each framed by ornate windows. The small space outside the window is made interesting by the addition of Suzhou rock and a little bamboo.

The basic design of the garden was drawn up before the year 1100, A.D., but the garden wasn't actually completed until the 18th century.

While ambling the gardens, we were charmed by this little toddler who, like most Chinese toddlers on the street, was bundled in so many layers that he could barely move.

January 11, 2007

Weeping Willow

Weeping willow line the expressway going back into Beijing from the Great Wall. The extend of tree plantings in China is staggering. I had Michael, our friend, guide and interpreter, tell the driver of our car that if people planted that many trees in Minnesota, I'd be rich.

The climate of Beijing is similar to ours in Minnesota. The trees used were similar as well. We avoid weeping willow because they are such a mess. The Chinese don't care--they have plenty of people to keep the highways swept of leaves and branches and the trees trimmed.

Yes, they sweep the expressways and all streets using brooms made of willow branches. I didn't get a picture, but a few miles down from where I took this picture, we wove around a woman who was sweeping the right lane. No signs, no blinking lights, nothing to protect the woman. The sixty-mile-per hour traffic adjusted to her presence with no problem.

Below is a picture of our driver. We were unable to ascertain whether he owned the new Audi, or whether the hotel owned the car and hired him to drive it. While we climbed the Great Wall, the driver sat for three hours and waited for our return.

Suzhou's Lingering Garden

Although the city of Suzhou is a center of high tech, the old town, which has been preserved, is famous for its many gardens.

The Chinese classical gardens were created by scholar/administrators as a way of escaping the city. They were meant to emulate the countryside. The rectalinear lines of the city were to be broken up by the unusual rocks of the Suzhou region, which were placed to represent mountains.

Above is China's most famous rock. Legends abound about how it found its way to this courtyard in the Lingering Garden. The rock is famous due to its unusual character. Chinese tourists were lined up to take their photos in front of the rock.

The biggest courtyard featured a pond.

The gardens are actually a series of courtyards in a residence. The residence is today considered part of the garden. Indoors mixes with outdoors, and the barrier between the two is part of the garden's aesthetic. Here, a series of doors stands open to a courtyard.

The windows of Suzhou are geometric and meant to frame outdoor views. The design of the courtyard gardens took into account how the exterior would be viewed from inside, through the frames provided by variously shaped windows.

The plantings in the courtyards were usually simple. Here, a rock path represents water and lily pads.

The distant, admiring look in the eyes of these tourists might make it seem as if they are viewing a mountain range. Instead, they are admiring an arrangement of rocks in a relatively small courtyard.

If you could overlook the many tourists, and we were told we toured the garden on a slow day, the garden was filled with many peaceful scenes. Just outside the garden walls, the city of Suzhou bustled and beeped. But inside the thick walls, one could hear only the birds.

What would a lingering garden be without some authentic lingerers? Lance captured the man below enjoying a smoke.

January 10, 2007

Shanghai, Old vs. New

In the sparkling Pudong district of Shanghai, there is some old left to contrast with the new.

In Pudong is a mall built along the lines of the Mall of America. It sparkles in stark contrast to the nearby scenes from the old town, seen below.

The skyscrapers in Pudong are surrounded by green spaces filled with recently planted large trees.

Old Town Shanghai

One of the highlights of the trip to China was our foray into one of Shanghai's remaining old areas. In the background are apartment buildings recently built by clearing out neighborhoods like the one in the foreground.

It was a rare sunny winter day in Shanghai, so people were drying laundry.

Inside one of the many passageways and doorways of the old town, chamber pots gathered from the surrounding homes await emptying and cleaning before being returned to their owners.

More Great Wall

Lance takes a different view of the Great Wall. Also, while atop the Great Wall, he looked down and saw a dropped glove in the snow. While attempting to photograph the glove, he came up with this somewhat abstract image.

January 09, 2007

Forbidden City

Here is one of the courtyards in the massive complex known as the Forbidden City, home to Chinese emperors for hundreds of years. The courtyard pictured above was used for ceremonies. The living quarters for the emperor were deep inside the complex, which, in total, has over 8,000 rooms.

I was struck by the coldness of the Forbidden City. Whereas the gardens in Suzhou were subtle and aesthetic, the Forbidden City was insistently geometric. There were few touches added which might make the place a more salubrious place to live. Even the chambers where the emperor slept were sparse and square.

The massive complex is undergoing renovation. Because the buildings are post and beam, made up of wood, they deteriorate rather quickly.

This pavilion, like many others, is undergoing an extensive renovation. The buildings which have been renovated have vibrant colors. The job of renovating the entire Forbidden City must be daunting, as it is an incredibly large compound.

Those of you who have seen the movie "The Last Emperor" will recognize these pictures. Since the movie was filmed (it was the first Western movie ever filmed inside the Forbidden City's walls) restoration has improved the state of many of the courtyards.

As with the Great Wall, the Forbidden City presents the modern Chinese with a cultural relic so monumental that simply maintaining it will require perpetual herculean effort.

Great Wall

The 3,900 mile-long Great Wall is a great tourist attraction in China. Many of the sites are swamped with tourists. We went to one which was relatively serene.

It struck me that the wall at times looks like the spine of a dragon.

Perhaps this picture gives some idea of the steepness of the Great Wall. We reached the guardhouse from where this picture was taken by climbing hundreds of very steep steps without railings. I am not one for heights, so I was always sort of sliding my way around, trying to find something to grab.

Two articles on China

Cousin Roy forwards an interesting article on a clash in Shanghai between the government and migrant workers over the schooling of their children. Note: There is no free public education in China. You get the quality of education you can afford and no more.

Another essay explores the question: Will China be able to sustain its economic boom under a repressive regime?

January 08, 2007

No car bombs beyond this point...

This sign appears outside the compound which houses China's highest leaders.

The things you see...

I am sure I could turn this picture of a shop in Hangzhou into a political statement of some sort!

Muslim noodle shop

The Muslim noodle shops ended up being our favorite places to eat. The average meal there costs 75 cents, but it exceeds in wholesome goodness what it lacks in cost.

Above, the noodle puller works on some cut noodles for Lance's soup. The noodles are not boiled until after the customer orders. Noodle-lovers can tell if they get old noodles, and they don't like it.

Then, the noodle puller works on long, narrow noodles for the rest of us. He pulls a loaf of dough over and over, whipping it up and around with more than a little showmanship, eventually ending up with one long noodle about twine-thick which he tosses in the vat of boiling water outside the front door.

This particular family recently moved to Shanghai from a Muslim section of western China--36 hours west by train--to open a noodle shop. This young man is 21 years old. He works 12-hour shifts, seven days per week. His brother works the other 12-hour shift, for the shop is open 24 hours per day.

A little boy who is part of the family sat and drank his tea in the shop.

With food as good as they had, this family will have no problem building a clientele. They were kind and hearty, perfectly willing to let me take pictures. Not all Chinese enjoy having their picture taken, so we learned to ask.

January 07, 2007

Modern monk

The monks at the Buddhist monastery in Hangzhou didn't shun technology.


A vanished trade in America, tailors were a common sight on the streets in China. The man above was in Shanghai's old town. Also in Shanghai was this little shop next to our favorite noodle shop.