I used to be able to write. In fact, I was pretty good at it! But the part of my brain that used to house the cells that would generate intelligent thoughts has been completely replaced by something known as "Mommy Brain". In other words, I can't remember details about where we've been or what we've seen and I can't remember names of people or places. However, I can tell you (in more detail than you want or need) the last time my children had a bowel movement, took a nap, or ate something other than an orange lollipop. For everything else, thank goodness there's Andrew.
So, with that as a pathetic intro and no proper drum roll, here's Andrew's review of our fantastic visit to Suzhou!
Today we visited the Master of Nets garden and the Humble Administrator garden, and took time in-between for lunch at a silk factory and a quick run through a Taoist temple. Our guide Roy contravened all his training by suggesting that we skip the silk factory tour, as we toured a silk factory two days ago in Xi'an. As anybody who has taken a China tour knows, a "factory tour" is the equivalent of what would be called a "brief informational presentation of our timeshare property" in the US. So we swung by the factory for our lunch and ducked out before we could be force-marched into the showroom.
The Master of Nets garden was awesome. According to our guide, the difference between a garden and a park is that a garden is private, while a park is public. There are three types of gardens in China: first, grand imperial gardens like the summer palace; second, temple gardens for contemplation by monks; and third, private gardens like the ones we saw. Suzhou is famous for these. The Master of Nets Garden (I"ll call it the MONG for short) is smaller but beautiful. Like all gardens, it contains a special form of rock called "female" rock, acquired from river beds, and distinguished from the "yellow" rock quarried from the mountains. "Female" rock is softer and more slender, and comes in small chunks pocked with holes and full of character (this part of the sentence is no longer metaphorical). The owner of the garden connects these chunks together into formations that give insight into his philosophy and approach to life. Today, they are connected with concrete; in days past, they were connected together with glutinous rice, I kid you not.
We entered the MONG through the front door, which historically had a 2-foot-high board in front of it. For high status guests, the board could be removed and sedan chairs could be carried directly through the front door, but for everybody else, the side door was considered more than adequate. The height of the threshold denoted the status of the occupant. Just outside the threshold were two stone carvings, one on each side of the door. When the man of the house married, his wife would enter the house and short of an occasional banquet would never again step out of the house. When her husband left on a long trip, she was allowed to stand between these rocks to say her goodbyes to him.
Inside, we saw a sedan chair made of mahogany with bamboo, requiring eight bearers to carry one person. We also saw the receiving rooms: first, one for the men, and second, one for the women: darker, dimmer, and smaller. This latter room contained an "opium bed," so called because the woman of the house spent her whole life indoors idling, and would commonly turn to opium just to survive the boredom.
You can see a large painted map of the garden in our pictures, along with a couple of landscapes of the beautiful central section with the large pond. Also, you can see a close-up of the mosaic on the floor as you enter the garden, showing a crane with pine leaves (indicating longevity), surronded by a border of bats -- these are lucky in China as the word for bat (fu) is the same as the word for fortune. The remainder of the entryway is patterned after a fisherman's net, hence the name of the garden. As the story goes, the daughter of the owner was washing clothes in the canal when she fell in. A passing fisherman saved her from drowning, and in gratitude, the owner of the house bult the garden as a tribute to the fisherman. Hence, MONG.
From the MONG, we went to lunch and on to a Taoist temple -- very different from the Buddhist temples we've seen in various cities, with 50-100 separate statues of gods inside, many of which covered people with a particular zodiac sign and a particular age, so there might be a figure who was the patron saint of people born in the year of the monkey, but only those who were either 77 or 113.
From the temple, we went to the HAG: the Humble Administrator's Garden, which is famous throughout China. Humble in this case should be read as either "see how humble my great honking garden is" or "let me call this humble so nobody lynches me." The great honking garden is broken into three still-giant pieces, not by design, but perhaps by providence: the humble administrator's son managed to lose the entire garden in a single night of gambling, and it was divided into three pieces among the three winners of the bet.
We didn't actually have much time here, as the girls ran out of steam and we had to head home a little early. But you can see a few pictures here....