Thursday, September 15, 2016

A Chinese Garden in Portland

I took the 8 am Amtrak into Portland one day last week for my "city" fix.  But what did I do there?  I toured a garden.  I have to laugh at myself.  I did this last time I went into Portland, too.  I spent the day at the Rose Garden.  It seems like I can't get enough GREEN in my life.  It is wild and unpredictable outside my home.  Random seeds dropped by birds or flown in by the wind grow into massive pine trees or unwanted foreign plants.  So perhaps that is why I seek out these urban gardens.  They are controlled.  Every plant and every stone is placed with care.  There is beauty, yes, but there is also logic.  And Oriental gardens take this concept to a philosophical level.

Urban gardens are outdoor museums.  The Lan Su Chinese Garden in downtown Portland, Oregon, is a study in Chinese culture.  There is so much to see and to contemplate in this small one acre treasure, that my three hours there went by without my even being aware of its passage.
I spent the first hour walking the garden's paths and taking pictures.  But what was I looking at?  What did those designs mean?  When was this garden built?  So I backtracked to the entrance and waited for the next docent tour.  And even though there were twenty of us gawking, geeky tourists all walking shoulder to shoulder through the place, it was worth the discomfort.

The garden was inspired by the UNESCO World Heritage site gardens in Suzhou, which is a sister city of Portland.  It is considered the most authentic Suzhou-style garden outside China.  And indeed, most of the building materials came from there as well as the artisans who assembled the structures and planted the garden's specimens.

The docent explained that all five senses are engaged as you walk through the courtyards and the pavilions.  Pebbles can be felt through your feet as you walk.  Gardenias and other flowering plants fill the air with fragrance.  Waterfalls and chimes provide sound.  And taste?  There's a delightful teahouse to indulge this one!  The entire garden, of course, is a visual feast for the eyes.

Scholarship and reflection are also a big part of Lan Su Gardens.  Poetry is etched in stone.  Scrolls, paintings and photography are hung on the walls of the buildings.  An intellectual harmony is apparent around every corner and with each step you take.  Such peace is so important in our chaotic lives, and this is why such gardens are essential in large urban cities.

I remember having a panic attack in Chongqing, China, when I was there in 2005.  The tall buildings, neon lights, blaring traffic and millions upon millions of people caused my head to spin and my heart to beat so fast that I nearly fainted.  My travel buddy helped me back to the hotel where a dark air-conditioned room and a scotch on the rocks calmed my nerves.

Even in Portland, small in comparison to Chongqing, as soon as I stepped out of this serene oasis, I was bombarded with traffic and unease.  I had to walk through a homeless camp.  A young woman, obviously high on drugs, hissed at me and then shouted, "I'm going to destroy you."

It made me rethink my need to visit a city.  As I rode the Amtrak home that evening and left Portland behind, it suddenly occurred to me that I no longer enjoy these forays into urban chaos.  It seems a bit contradictory to visit a huge metropolitan area only to seek out a quiet garden.  Do I still need a yang to balance a yin?


1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this post! This garden is perhaps the most beautiful I've visited - it just took my breath away! I took my parent there when they visited back in 2012-2013, and we were in awe. I enjoyed learning more about it from you!

    I think I am similar to you when it comes to city. It sometimes seems tempting when I see it in movies. The reality is rather tiring. I am more of a small town girl. And nature. :)