Recently I was in Oregon visiting my sister-in-law. We took a day trip to Portland, where we visited Powell’s Bookstore, which claims to be the largest bookstore in the world. Covering an entire city block and having several stories, the claim may just be accurate! One thing is for sure, I spent entirely too much money there and had to ship my books back rather than carry them on the plane.
Following the bookstore, we went to the nearby Lan Su Chinese Garden, also covering an entire city block. What a lovely and inspiring place! The garden was built by craftsmen from Portland’s sister city, Suzhou in China’s Jiangsu province, famous for its gardens. Sixty-five artisans from Suzhou completed the garden in 2000, assembling materials brought from and partially constructed in China. Doorways and windows create an illusion of infinite space. Each doorway is headed by inscriptions on each side.
Everything here has a story here. One of the first stops as one tours the garden is the Knowing the Fish Pavilion. It is said that two philosophers were talking as they watched the fish in the pool. The first one noted how happy the fish are. The second one said: “You are not a fish. How can you know that the fish are happy?” The first answers: “You are not me. How do you know what I know?”
The rooflines have drip tiles shaped like bats, each decorated with five bats, representing the five blessings: long life, fortune, health, a love of virtue, and a painless passing. The Chinese character “fu” for bat is a homonym with the character for happiness.
The roof itself is adorned with two dragonfish, or chiwen, thought to swallow all evil influences and protect the building from fire.
The garden represents features of the home of a well-to-do scholar. Structures include the scholar’s study, courtyard, and home. The doorway entrance to the scholar’s courtyard is the moon gate.
The inscription pictured here is “listen to the fragrance.” Coming the other way one finds “read the painting.” Sources of meditation and symbolism abound.
No mere stone walkways lead the visitor from place to place. Rather, the walkways are adorned with detailed mosaics, each symbolizing something different. What a sight it must have been to watch the Chinese artisans sitting and carefully placing each little stone in the sand.
Throughout the garden one finds rocks from Lake Tai, all brought from China. Any size or type of rock will do, as long as it meets certain criteria. All are marked with inscriptions.
The garden boasts over 300 plant species, carefully selected to add beauty and meaning. Here is the Flying Dragon (Poncirus trifoliata). We enjoyed a delicious, light lunch at the Tower of Cosmic Reflections teahouse. Since we were there on a Tuesday, we were serenaded by a Chinese musician.