Places to Visit: The Portland Classical Chinese Garden
A Scholar's Retirement Estate
To be a scholar/administrator in Suzhou China is to live a cushy life, I thought, as I looked at the beautiful mix of living spaces amidst the garden and lake setting. What was incredible was the land that this Garden was built on used to be parking lot that took up one whole city block. You would never know it as you walk through the compound. The Portland Chinese Classical Garden is modeled after the estate of a retired mid-level Ming era scholar/administrator that lived in Suzhou, one of the oldest cities in China. The gardens of the estate was an attempt to mimic the beauty of the Chinese landscape. Many of the plants were grown in the United States from seeds imported from China.
Completed in 2000, the Portland Chinese Classical Garden is an island of tranquility in the middle of Old Town and Chinatown. In fact you can see skyscrapers looming beyond and you experience a jarring sense of ancient and modern colliding in this space.
Photos by Flightkeeper
This Was a Parking Lot?
After paying the entrance fee, you come first to the Main Hall, where guests are met. This is also where a volunteer docent will meet with you and the rest of the visitors to give you a guided tour. As you look out from the Main Hall you are rewarded with a view of the small man-made lake, gardens , pavilions and women’s living quarters where the Tea House Restaurant now resides. The Fish Pavilion is one of the best seating areas in the garden. As you look down at the fish swimming in the pond, you can also look at the graceful bridge that connects Main Hall to the Living Quarters.
Lotus Blossoms, Chinese Characters, and Good Luck
As you walk among the grounds and buildings, you notice how important words are to the Chinese. Bold Chinese characters decorate each room and over each doorway evoking good fortune, an idea or sense of history. Each tree, each rock is placed according to an optimal arrangement that will maximize good luck. Each sitting area allows you to contemplate in tranquility, whether you’re looking at lotus blossoms amid lily pads on the pond or the beautiful peach tree in the patio. Grounds are paved with textured stone that again was purposefully made and placed to evoke good fortune. One wonders what kind of bad luck the people had that they filled their living spaces with good luck symbolism.
After taking your walk, visit the Teahouse which is inside the Tower of Cosmic Reflections. of course, you will find a selection of teas, and this selection will change with the seasons. In addition, you will find traditional chinese snacks such as mooncakes, coconut tarts, and almond and pecan cookies. if you want something more substantial the Teahouse also offers steamed dumplings, steamed buns, and a noodle dish. In addition to the tea, a variety of sake is also available.
After your refreshment find a favorite spot in which to linger and enjoy the garden's beauty. The estate was built in such a way that there are numerous intimate spaces that afford privacy. There are very few places where you are not surrounded by beauty. An afternoon spent in the Chinese Classical Garden is an afternoon that encourages contemplation amidst splendor and you can only envy that retired scholar for having that luxury.
Tickets are $8.50 for adults, $7.50 for seniors, $6.50 for students and kids under five are free. Visiting hours are 10AM-6PM from April 1 to October 31 and 10AM-5PM from November 1 to March 31.
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