On our first day of cultural sight seeing, we traveled to the main city of Suzhou to visit a traditional Chinese garden! The garden was built 508 years ago under the Ming Dynasty. This city of Suzhou took 16 years to build, and the man who built it died just two years after its completion. He passed it on to his son, who lost the whole city in a bet. The name of this garden is a mocking pun of the foolish son who lost his family's city. In the 508 years of its history, the owner of the land has changed 40 times! Suzhou has earned the nickname of China's "garden city" and it is also known as the "hometown of silk."
The architecture of the park features tall trees and rocks. The purpose for this is so that you cannot see the whole garden all at once. It was designed so that the further you walk in, the more beauty you are exposed to. There are four main gardens here, and first we saw "The Mother" of the garden. This gorgeous garden has also served as a set for famous Chinese movies! The white walls and black roofs seen on the garden buildings are an architectural style that is specific to Suzhou.
As we entered the next part of the garden, our tour guide directed our attention to a pathway with stones laid out in a chevron pattern. This pathway surrounds the outside of the house, and it used to only be allowed to be waked on by men because the path symbolized having a powerful life. Woman were not allowed to walk on this path, and they were expected to stay indoors. At the end of this pathway was a staircase with just three steps. Our tour guide said that it has only three steps and not four because four is an unlucky number in Chinese culture. The reason for this is that the pronunciation of "four" in Chinese is very similar to the pronunciation for the Chinese word for "death."
From the center of the garden, you can see a traditional Chinese pagoda. While it appears within walking distance, the pagoda is actually 1500 meters away from the garden. Its height and size is what makes it seem so close. Traditionally, Chinese pagodas are 7 floors tall, but this particular one is 9 floors tall, as in China's history 9 was a powerful number only allowed to be used by royalty. The government now owns the pagoda and has forbid any tall buildings being constructed between the pagoda and the garden, so as not to disrupt the beautiful view!
We were led to a guest house which was reserved for VIP visitors. In the guest house was a round table, which is very common in China for meals! During the past few days, we have enjoyed most of our meals at round tables!
In one of the small villas, there is a rock shaped as a dragon. This lucky dragon is believed to possess magical powers. If you touch its head, all of your troubles will fade away! (Additionally, if you play mahjong, you will win every time!)
Since the garden is surrounded by small bodies of water, it has earned Suzhou the nickname of "Venice of the East." Bridges were built across the garden to allow visitors to cross over these canals, but instead of normal straight bridges, they are shaped in a zig-zag. The reason for this is that Chinese people believe ghosts can only walk in straight lines, so on a zig-zag bridge a ghost would not be able to follow you. It is very interesting how every part of Chinese architecture has a historical or spiritual significance.
Ancient Chinese houses were often set up like this one, where a door would separate the men's rooms from the women's rooms. The men's rooms featured square tables, because this shape symbolizes power and the ability to achieve any goals. The women's rooms had round tables, which symbolizes following the rules of the husband and embracing domesticity. The importance of wealth and status in ancient Chinese culture was emphasized throughout the tour and is reflected in much of the garden's architecture. Their are even specific doors through which only wealthy people were allowed to enter back when the garden served as a royal home. Servants and low status guests had to enter through back passageways. One of the servant's quarters, seen below, featured stunning stained glass windows, and the glass was imported from Germany!
Our tour guide had some funny anecdotes and sayings throughout the tour. There was a bit of a language barrier, but she was very sweet, and continued to refer to us as "beautiful girls, beautiful girls!!" She also explained at one point in the tour that in ancient Chinese families, the husband controlled the finances, and he was focused on "money, money, money" while the wife was interested in "shopping, shopping, shopping!" When the garden was a home, a total of 700 people lived there (many of whom were servants to the royal family). The massive garden is visited on average by 30,000 people a day, and as you can tell from the pictures, it was especially crowded today since it is a holiday!
After our walk around the garden, we went on a boat tour to see the ancient bridges near the city of Suzhou. Some of the bridges we saw were over 2000 years old! While the boat was also quite crowded (this seems to be a trend in this country) it was a great way to see the city!
We then stopped for a quick photo shoot in our new scarves. We designed these scarves as a momento for our China trip, and they were digitally printed on silk in China! We will be visiting the print studio that made our scarves in a few days.
After our lunch break, we began preparing for a Qipao photo shoot! A qipao (pronounced "chee-pow") is a traditional Chinese dress that is often made of silk and features floral details. Mrs. Jiao rented qipaos for each of us so that we could experience authentic Chinese clothing (which is especially important for us as fashion students!)
Our qipao photo shoot was a blast, and afterward we returned back to the hotel to rest and prepare for another day of sight seeing!