China – part2 Oriental SuZhou
Settled more than 2500 years ago, Suzhou is rich in history and culture. It is infamous for its iconic monochrome architecture (aka black tiles and white walls), which has become distinctly representative of Oriental construction. Few will probably know that this city is built on a historically disaster free zone, neither too dry or too wet, nor frequented by earthquakes – nurturing a certain lifestyle of prosperity and leisure. A long line of scholars born here has also granted an enriched literary culture.
My story begins here at Lion Grove garden …
Everywhere you look each detail can reveal to you the social status of its owner. Traditionally the higher your rank (as a government official), the higher your wooden base (horizontal beam forming a physical hurdle) at the front gate. It can become so high that the only way one can pass, is to have it taken out of its slot. It goes without saying that only the most important people may pass through the front gate (top right).
A quick quiz: Who is the little child standing next to the three deities of Good Fortune (Fu), Prosperity (Lu), and Longevity (Shou)?
History has it that the initial owners of this mansion of a courtyard, whilst extremely rich, was also extremely greedy in placing all three deities above his roof, in hope of receiving all of FuLuShou to himself. Not only was such greed socially frowned upon, and by providence it seems he was eventually bankrupted.
Decades later, when this residence was restored to its former glory, a few changes were made by its new owner. In particular, a playful little child holding onto the deities hand was added to the picture. The connotation was that whilst he wished for FuLuShou, he would unconditionally share this with those around him with humility, generosity and charity. Indeed, this man achieved what the previous could not. One might say this is superstition, but if you reverse the chronology one can infer that the innocent child added to the picture is merely an outward projection of his values.
OOps… just a small tangent on Chinese history and philosophy. I’ll stop rambling now… =P
Through the front gate and within enclosed high stone walls of Suzhou residences, lie extravagant courtyards with meticulously designed stone forest gardens, pagodas and small lakes. All the gigantic stone sculptures that form the stone forests were all excavated from the bottom of Lake TaiHu – how painful.
Chinese are very fond of homophones. Depictions of 蝠 (bat) – which sounds like Fu (good fortune) – in the ground has an auspicious symbol of having good fortune beneath ones feat. Stepping on it can bring you good luck! Look hard and you should see a bat like figure top right figure.
Can you guess which creatures are depicted in the natural rock-forms (top left & bottom right).
Light streaming in from one of the many leafy courtyards.
Calligraphy on the wall.
Tranquillity within the walls of ones home…
One of the many canals …
… and streets within the old city of Suzhou still retaining picture perfect snapshot of history.
Ok, finally a quick reel of some of the delectable bites we had in SuZhou. Contrary to the stronger and heavier flavours of neighbouring cities and provinces, SuZhou retains an element of subtlety in its cuisine with a bias for carrying sweet notes to its savoury dishes. I can’t remember exactly what the names were, and nor would I be able to translate them if i could remember… so bear with me!
Golden prawns from TaiHu.
A little something sweet to break the savoury – quite literally in the middle of a meal.
An imitation of the infamous Sweet and Sour Squirrel Mandarin Fish (松鼠鱼). As if inform us about how delicious and famous the version created at 松鶴樓 is, but don’t take us there. Tragedy!
And after a long hard day of eating…
we check into our superb hotel – Su Yuan Hotel! A little oriental ambience with all the modern amenities. =)
Buffet breakfast to start the day… of travelling and eating!
Hope you enjoyed my journey so far. Stay tuned for the next chapter: NanJing.