Today Hangzhou is an important cultural center in China. It was the capital of the Song Dynasty, starting 1127, for close to one-hundred years – until the Mongols invaded. At that time it was one of the most populated cities of the world – estimated at one million. Throughout its legendary history, Hangzhou has been described an honored as the “City of Civilization”, “Land Abundant in Fish and Rice”, “Home of Silk”, and the “Capital of Tea”. Several friends had informed me in advance that the adventurer/explorer Marco Polo described Hangzhou as “the finest and noblest city in the world”.
On Saturday, June 13, we arrived to scenic West Lake (西湖) one of Hangzhou’s most visited sites, where we assembled for a traditional lunch on the banks of the Lake.
Although it was daytime when we arrived – I could see the romanticism of the district emphasized by ornate streetlights and through later conversation and reading I learned that West Lake is famous for light shows and fireworks. After lunch we visited the West Lake Zoo to meet the panda, birds, reptiles and fauna indigenous to China and Asia.
In the evening we had dinner with Mr. Shen Wei of Zhejiang Urban Construction Garden Designing Institute – selecting ingredients in sidewalk bins which were served in novel and delicious ways.
Mr. Shen took us to the Grand Canal (大运河), A spectacular man-made waterway flowing over 1,000 miles, the most ancient sections were started in the 5th century BC, and partially navigated sections were combined in 581–618 AD. There we experienced the recently opened lighting installation by Roger Narboni (with management by Zongtai Lighting group) – a collage of green-illuminated trees, large scale blue rectangles hovering over the water and softly lined and lighted bridges. On the opposite bank Shen’s designed -and -installed architectural lighting installation marked the landmark wooden buildings which have just been renovated – echoing with pre-tenant emptiness. Luminous red plexi-and-metal lanterns are effective here – creating a mysterious and quiet pattern of markers, and the building eaves are lined with white LED. In both lighting installations I question the use of cool stark white — and would rather have seen a soft candlelight color — more difficult to attain with LED.
A smaller town than Hangzhou or mega-city Guangzhou, Suzhou is known as a garden city. Four-thousand years old, Suzhou is one of China’s “24 Cultural and Historic Cities “. Additionally, Suzhou is known for its historic creative personae – “remarkable politicians, philosophers, strategists, scientists and artists”. Today prominent cultural institutions and talents reside in Suzhou.
Well preserved are Suzhou’s double chessboard layout of “water and land in parallel, canal and street in neighbor”, its network of rivers and canals composing three vertical, three horizontal and one ring, and its unique landscape of “small bridge, flowing water, white wall, black tile, cultural relics and classic gardens”. In today’s Suzhou there are 487 cultural relics under municipal-and-upper level protection, of which 15 are under state-level protection and 101 are under provincial protection. Over 60 classical gardens are well preserved and nine of them are listed in the Catalog of World Cultural Heritage, Humble Administrator’s Garden, Lingering Garden , Master-of-Nets Garden, Mountain Villa of Embracing Beauty, Surging Wave Pavilion, Lion Forest Garden, Garden of Cultivation, (among others). –Suzhou Culture and History Website
In 1991 I studied the “kare sansui” (dry landscapes), while living in Japan under the auspices of a Japan-US Friendship Society grant. I understood that the rock garden concept and craft was “borrowed” from the Chinese. Viewing the Chinese-designed rock-gardens has been a life-long goal. We visited the Lion Forest Garden (獅子林). The entry sign informed of caves and tunnels — which I could not picture. Japanese garden design did not prepare me for the experience to come.
Suddenly we were in a cool, dim cave. I fell in love with the framing of each view from under and over the rocks. An invitation to climb was implicit. We did. Walking along the rim of the naturally hewn rough rocks and then down the man-made steps and edges was exciting and enthralling… a highly aesthetic adventure playground.