Sunday, November 8, 2009

An ancient garden and a bit of calm

Tranquil YuYuan Garden- which since 'yuan' means garden literally translates to Yu Garden Garden- is right smack bang in the middle of one of the busiest tourist areas in Shanghai. NanShi or 'Old City', a renovated-in-traditional-style shopping street, was once inside the walled part of Old Shanghai and is still surrounded by non renovated alleyways and lanes where we found some fabulous street food.

The 5 acres of garden have a traditional Chinese feel with rockery, pavillions, doorways and gates and koi ponds. It was created more than 400 years ago, during the Ming Dynasty, as a filial present from a son to his high ranking father. It apparently took Pan Yunduan twenty years and all his life savings to build. The guide books don't say whether his father was pleased after he died it became neglected and fell into disrepair until the mid 18th century when it was bought by merchants. During the Opium Wars in the mid 19th century the British army occupied the area and it was used again during the mid 20th century by Japanese Imperial troops none of whom were particularly respectful of the beauty they were residing in. Twenty years later the Shanghai government restored it to its former glory and reopened it to the public and in 1982 declared it a national monument.

We wandered through the delightfully named gardens and pavillions; Ten Thousand Flower Tower, Hall of Observing in Quietness, Tower of Happiness and watched a pink silk clad all girl orchestra on the balcony of one of the pavillions playing traditional blue and white china, string and percussion instruments.

We ducked through asymetrical doorways (an important Feng Shui principle) of various shapes guarded by Ming stone lions, followed paths over arched bridges and past pagodas their roofs inhabited by tiny protective mythical stone creatures and old Chinese men with long moustaches and thin beards and hung with red tasseled lanterns. The vistas have been carefully created to invoke a feeling of peace and stillness which the garden retains even as a major (read: heavily populated by clumps of flag led tour groups) tourist attraction.

Looking for the famed Nine Cornered Zig Zag bridge we ended up back at the beginning and realised that the bridge was actually outside the walls of the garden in the middle of the melaee of Old Street mall.

Not far away is Chengxian Ge Temple a Buddhist nunnery built in 1600 and another oasis in the middle of Shanghai's tourist district.

Like YuYuan Garden, Chengxian was built by Pan Yunduan, this time to honour his mother and it too was all but destroyed during the cultural revolution even housing a factory for a time. In 1989 restoration began and it is now not only one of Shnaghai's many temple tourist attractions but an important functioning nunnery.

Next was a Daiost Temple, The White Cloud Temple or Xuanmiaoguan, near the former western gate of Shnghai's old city wall. The two story complex is built in a square around a wide square courtyard, rooms facing inwards edged with carved balconies.

This golden god was at the front door complete with a gesture I'm guessing doesn't mean the same in China as it does to a Kiwi (look at his left hand).

Daoism is more a philosophy than a religion. The concept of 'dao', generally defined as the right or morally correct way to behave, is common in many Eastern religions. In Daoism the concept is more broad, complex and inclusive and the dao becomes a force on it's own. Life and death are viewed as stages of 'Absolute Dao', in a cycle similar to that of Buddhism and Hinduism, in a way of life that seeks to bring followers closer to conformity with nature and natural order. It's 'laws' and community order come from Confucianism. When blended with Buddhism Daoism becomes Zen which wasn't surprising because the whole temple complex was simple, open, uncluttered and calm.

We spent a while wandering the balconies and sitting in the sun in the courtyard as the blue clad monks went quietly about their business around us.

And then it was time to brave the crowds again in search of some sustenance to get us through the afternoon.

1 comment:

Shalini said...

Oh I'd love to wander here for a while.