Sunday, August 18, 2013
Gardening on a Sunday? How Bazaar!
Today was as good a day as any to do the tourist thing, so the three of us spent the morning and much of the afternoon checking out the Yù Gardens 豫园. The gardens were first laid out in the 16th century by a high-ranking court official, and have continued more or less intact into the modern age, even managing to survive the Cultural Revolution 文化大革命 because an anti-imperialist group used them as its headquarters during the colossally bloody and destructive Tàipíng Rebellion 太平天国. Foreign visitors looking for that unsullied-by-Western-influences, superficial "real China" within the city limits of Shànghăi 上海 would do well to pay the Yu Gardens a visit. In fact, many seemed to have done just that today, as I heard tour groups being conducted in German and Spanish, among other languages. But the gardens also appear to be high on the itinerary for domestic tourists as well, and it was no surprise that the place was busy - I was constantly having to step around people taking pictures. Nevertheless, except for minor annoyances such as the lack of maps on the grounds to indicate where particular buildings could be found, a visit to Yu Gardens and the classic Chinese architecture and landscaping within, should be high on anyone's list of places to see in Shanghai.
I apologize for the lack of clarity and quality of the photographs below. In my defense, today was overcast (and humid, though that had nothing to do with the poor colors):
Almost as soon as you enter the gardens, the first hall directly in front of you leads to an impressive view of a rockery. Be prepared to be patient while waiting for a good spot to view the scene to become available.
Looking back toward that first hall
Numerous ponds filled with goldfish and turtles were placed throughout the gardens, giving the center of Shanghai that classical Chinese touch.
The inside of one of the few halls the name of which I was able to take note of. The Hall of Heralding Spring 点春堂 was the headquarters for the Small Swords Society 小刀会, a revolutionary group that controlled Shanghai during the aforementioned Taiping Rebellion, much to the admiration of the Red Guards 红卫兵 in the 1960's.
This stage sitting directly across the Hall of Heralding Spring dates from 1888
I took this shot of the above-mentioned hall (L) and stage (R) because in the background could be glimpsed a view of the Shanghai Tower 上海中心大厦. When completed next year, the building will stand 632 meters (2073 feet) tall and will be the second-highest in the world.
Despite the Sunday hordes, it wasn't difficult to admire the beauty of the landscaping
Another minor quibble I had with Yu Gardens was over the number of so-called "exhibitions" that turned out to be plain old souvenir shops. At least one gallery, however, turned out to be the genuine article.
I've never been able to understand why the Chinese love to put sculptures like this one in the middle of rooms. Pamela couldn't explain it, either.
This impressive stage was the centerpiece of a large courtyard
One final shot before exiting the Yu Gardens. Surrounding them is an area known as Yùyuán Bazaar 豫园商城, filled with souvenir shops, restaurants, touts...and people.
The mammoth buildings of the Yuyuan Bazaar look stereotypically Chinese, but they're all modern structures, giving the area a Disneyesque air. The one above was filled with four floors of souvenirs. Welcome to Socialism with Chinese Characteristics.
Pictured above is the Húxīn Tíng Teahouse 湖心亭茶馆, Shanghai's No. 1 teahouse, at least according to the yellow banner hanging from the side of the building. Queen Elizabeth and Bill Clinton are among the foreign dignitaries who have relaxed for a cuppa here, which explains why we had to fight through the throngs to get across the zigzagging bridge.
Another view of the Huxin Ting Teahouse, taken from the second floor of the restaurant where had lunch. This gives you a better idea of the crowd.
Our lunch. Because we chose not to eat at one of the "famous" dumpling restaurants, we didn't need to wait in a ridiculously long line to get inside.
"People mountain, people sea" 人山人海
Yuyuan Bazaar was filled with the kind of businesses guaranteed to annoy the crap out of those Western tourists seeking an "authentic Asian (or Chinese, in this case) experience" - Dairy Queen, KFC, McDonald's and Starbucks all have outlets there. My Taiwan-based and Taiwanese friends and acquaintances might be surprised to note the presence of Kobayashi 小林, which sells "bell-shaped Japanese pancakes", as one blog puts it.
When in Rome, do as the Romans. When in Yuyuan Bazaar, buy souvenirs. I purchased a name chop with my Chinese name engraved on it, while the girls picked up a couple of decorative fans with which to keep themselves cool.
Oh, the humanity
Break time. This "Taiwan Special Snack" started off well, but soon became too oily to finish. At least the milk tea went down without any problems.
Just the small matter of finding your way out and back to the Metro station before you can declare this day successfully closed.