On our anniversary, we had a very quiet day. We considered going to the hot springs, but we didn’t want to do anything so involved as a day trip. David did take a day of vacation, though. He was exhausted from working long hours and the weekend for the preceding week, so we both slept in. Then we went for zao cha (dim sum, or yum cha in Cantonese). I sent SMS phone text to a couple of friends asking for recommendations about what to do for a quiet afternoon trip. At Ashley’s suggestion, we went to Baomo Garden in Panyu. It was a lovely suggestion. There is a photo album to accompany this blog entry, or perhaps this blog entry is an accompaniment to the photo album.
The brochure for Baomo Garden says that it was destroyed in the 1950’s and rebuilt in 1995. The rebuilding project lasted eight years. As stated in the brochure, "The garden now has an area of 100,000 m2, combining the culture of an upright official, gardening arts and ancient building styles in Southern China, waterside scenery in the pearl River Delta and exquisite works of arts in ancient or modern time."
The primary feature of the garden is water. There are many different kinds of pools and ponds, including an area for swimming and wading. There are pools that are literally teeming with koi. Koi are a symbol of abundance and wealth. According to the brochure, there are thirty different bridges in the garden. A Chinese garden is set up to give many different views, varieties of experience. One thing that strikes me about Chinese gardens is that, in them, nature is very controlled. This is a gross over generalization, but the natural environment is not valued necessarily as purely a natural feature, but rather as how it can be utilized for human enjoyment. Hence, one of my friends commented about "sacred graffitti" in natural areas.
There is no hesitation about altering or adorning natural environments to make them more enjoyable for human use. An example in this particular garden that was shocking to me was that in one area, huge stalagtites and stalagmites had been assembled to make fake caves, not to be entered but for appearance only. I was shocked that someone had broken off stalagtites that must have been thousands of years old and transported them to an artificial area. I once read that things like this happened in North America during the era that produced Mount Rushmore and the Hoover Dam.
Near the vicinity of the cave dioramas, there was what seemed to be some type of hall with murals devoted to Monkey, the key character in the tale "Journey to the West." I would not be surprised if the original use of the building were as a temple of some sort. Given the history of the garden, it was hard to tell what was original, versus what had been rebuilt. I’ve also read this is a hallmark of Chinese use of buildings and materials: the "old" is not worshipped as an end in itself. The Chinese don’t necessarily value the ancient use of a building or land, they ask what is its present highest and best use. In this case, the present use was as a small museum type area to show off the murals on the inside, the intricate carved work on the ceiling, and some artistic artificats including some vases that were several hundred years old. The murals were detailed and lovely.
Passing through this area, we proceeded through more water gardens and outdoor corridors to find what is billed as the longest tiled wall mural in the world. It, too, was lovely. We also found a tea house where there was a live music performance. It appears that there are performances roughly every hour. There is also a restaurant and rose garden, more water gardens.
A surprise was to find a fairly extensive display of antiquities. Unfortunately, there was no explanation of what they were or where they were discovered. I don’t read Chinese, but I coudn’t see it in English or Chinese. The explanation in the brochure states, "A large number of bronze ware, jade articles and porcelain works of art are displayed in Zhao Tai Lai hall of Art."
At the very end of the day, we paid a cartoon artist to paint a portrait likeness of ourselves for 180 RMB. This was a humorous waste of time and money, but it’s an interesting souvenir. We decided he captured what, in his mind, was the essence of our likeness: we are laowai. Foreigners. He captured the caucasian part real well, just not much else. We hope. Unless I have a beard and David just had his wisdom teeth extracted. It’s now hanging in our living room (for the time being). I’m trying to decided whether just to throw it away or whether to keep it for a souvenir.
Ah, the most important and fun thing was just spending some time together. Remembering the day, 25 years earlier, when we first got married. We asked the artist to write "25 years of happiness" on our portrait. Instead, he wrote, "married 25 years." Oh well, more of his perception not ours. We had a great time and just enjoyed the day.