Reflections from the Garden
“Enter the Wonderland” says the inscription above the entrance into the Lan Su Yuan Chinese Garden, but of course this is in Chinese.
In my recent visit to the garden, I found that that was it’s way: it held a mysterious beauty that required further inspection to fully appreciate what lay before you.
My friend and I went to the garden because I hadn’t been a while and had a free ticket. It was a cold rainy day, and we wandered around aimlessly, admiring the beauty we saw around us, but not really sure what it meant. We were on the verge of leaving within an hour of being there until I inquired about a tour. There was one at two, just a few minutes away. Why not stay and see what the docent had to tell us about it?
The tour focused on the poetry of the garden, and the docent told us about the Chinese character inscriptions all around, like the one above the garden entrance. We learned the garden was typical of the Ming dynasty, representative of what a retired scholar would create for himself and his family in the big city. It was like his backyard, so to speak, an oasis of tranquility. And as is well-known in Chinese cultural tradition, no feature in this garden is without artistic effect and symbolic importance. Thus the poetic inscriptions all around. “Inscribed on rocks, doorways, buildings, and pavilions, poetry allows for a conversation across time and place between poets and gardens.
My favorite was the courtyard of “Plums on cracked ice” in which hearty winter plants are cultivated, like the fragrant wintersweets. This courtyard symbolizes perseverance even in the midst of hardship and adversity.ays, buildings, and pavilions, poetry allows for a conversation across time and place between poets and gardens” (The Oregon Encyclopedia).
I learned all this on the tour, and am so glad my friend and I stuck around to learn and be inspired. What really struck me though was how serene this garden was. I could see myself making this place a regular haunt for journaling and reflection. If I hadn’t known that just over the wall was a whole city, I would thought we were in some quiet country retreat. It truly is a mysterious wonderland.
Yet there is also an air of anticipation and excitement as the garden gears up for the upcoming Chinese New Year. Kicking off on Friday, January 31, there will be a 2 week celebration with lion dances, glowing lanterns and cultural activities. And hostel guests and community members have a chance to make the garden shine by volunteering to prep the Lan Su Yuan Chinese Garden for the occasion, whether cleaning outside or making lanterns, on Sunday, January 19. This is in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 20.
Volunteers will be gain free admittance into the museum that day as well as a stir-fry dinner at the NW Hostel. More details are available here for interested parties.
Just as I would have missed out on unlocking more of the beauty of the Lan Su Yuan Chinese Garden if I hadn’t of stayed for the tour, don’t miss out on an opportunity to see and be part of making this place a magical wonderland.