I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this previously, but touring the gardens of Suzhou has lost some of its luster. I’ve visited some here as well as in Shanghai and although doubtless in their beauty I’ve become complacent in their familiarity. I read the brief translated descriptions whenever they’re available, and I try to appreciate the pavilions, ponds, and round doorways, but I inevitably I reach a point where it all looks the same; which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy it. It has just become more of a task to see these famous gardens than it ever should be.
That is until this weekend.
On Tuesday I went back to Suzhou University to get my weekly sports fix. I met my newly acquired friends who were about the only ones there since the weather wasn’t particularly nice. We played some small sided games and made plans for Wednesday. We decided to meet around 9:00 to go to Tiger Hill. This is a location I was excited to see before I came to Suzhou, but has since been left for the back burner. Now, I had my new friends to accompany me and hopefully teach me a thing or two. We met the next morning, took a short bus ride, got lost, got found, and arrived at Tiger Hill. It turns out that none of my friends new anything about Tiger Hill, at least until the night before. One of them had stayed up late to study, and gave me a very detailed tour of most of the significant aspects of the Garden. As I listened I became excited to share these legends and information with you. I realize now, with my long winded tendencies, this could be a mistake I’ll do my best to be succinct and interesting.
Above you see the gate marking the entrance to the Garden. The characters say something about the Wu State. The town/city of Suzhou originated around 500 BC when He Lv, King of the Wu State had Helv built, later called Suzhou. During the Spring and Autumn period Suzhou was the capital of Wu State. The gold characters say: Surging Sea. Tiger Hill is actually a man made landmark. Before coming to be, the whole area was surrounded by water and called Surging Sea.
The first building we saw marked the entrance to the hill:
Some say it resembles a tiger with the two small eyes, the door as the mouth and the Pagoda in the background as the tail. I guess I can see it . . . if I close my eyes and imagine something that looks like that. The importance of this building is inside. Upon building it there was not enough wood for a solid center beam at the top. It was cut into two parts and arches were created to support the weight of the roof. Apparently it was a big design breakthrough for the time. (Yellow walls represent a temple. The whole garden is technically a temple).
Up the path from the building is the Well:
Years ago there was no well. An old monk came upon Tiger Hill and the residents at the time took pity on him and welcomed him into their house. His duties included bringing water from the closest water sources. He was an old frail man making the trek difficult which was then compounded by the fact that his cataracts made him nearly blind. One day he (fell asleep?) on some moss and when he woke up he knew he could dig and find a spring; and so dig he did. When he was finished there was a new water source closer to the house. A source with the healing power to cure cataracts!
Back in the day of the Wu State there was a ruthless leader who loved his swords. It just so happened that the man living at Tiger Hill was one of the worlds most renowned sword forgers. The ruler gave this man, Ganjiang, 100 days to forge the worlds greatest sword. Ganjiang and his wife Moye worked tirelessly for three months to no avail. The sword kept breaking on the stone. Finally, knowing “poop creek” had become a raging river, Moye jumped into the fire with the sword. This sacrifice created the perfect conditions to not create one, but two swords. The male and female. When the ruler came Ganjiang gave him his male swords while concealing his own. The sword was tested on the above rock. Realizing the true power of the sword the ruler turned on the maker. Ganjiang predicted this rather predictable turn of events and revealed his wife’s sword. The sword transformed into a dragon who took him safely into the sky. (I think that was the end. It’s an interesting legend, and I live off of Ganjiang road and cloes to Moya Street)
So there was a beautiful virtuous girl who fled the North and the war ravishing the land. She came to Suzhou but was forced to live in a house of a less virtuous nature. She however, kept her virtuousness. One day a man living at Tiger Hill saw this virtuosity and decided he must have her. He made a deal with the unvirtuous proprietor and the girl was sold. She knew she had no options so rather than going to the man she took her life and kept her virtuousness to her self. The man, realizing what he had driven her to do was stricken with guilt. He constructed this Tomb/Monument in her honor. That’s apparently a true story.
This area and the Sword Pond behind it.
This was definitely my favorite area of the entire park. After walking up the path from the afore mentioned sites, the area opens up to the sight above. It was beautiful and open. Art students were sketching, school groups were being led on tours, the birds were singing, and I was at ease. You can see the outcropping of rocks at random points in this space. Legend has it that the awful tyrant ruler had an area under/around/I don’t know here made for his tomb. When they were finished with the construction he killed them all and the rocks are red stained with their blood. Across the way in that little pavilion two immortals played chess. I’m assuming they would have been killed if they weren’t immortals; And I can not confirm that those two events were happening at the same time as it might suggest. There are also some who believe their are ancient treasures and swords buried under the pond that resembles a sword.
The most impressive view of the day came at the number one sight in the Garden. The leaning pagoda; that is not the technical name. From the bottom pictures I don’t think you can see the lean but one your up close it can’t help but be noticed.
The Yunyan Pagoda was finished in 961 AD and weighs more than 15,000,000 lbs. In 1957 the soil beneath the structure was pumped with concrete for reinforcement. While preparing for this process Buddhists scriptures were found revealing the exact date construction was completed. (I just looked that up because I thought my friend was mistaken in how old it was. Thats really old)
I couldn’t help but wonder what this area looked like back then. Did it really resemble what I was looking at, or had it been reconstructed and renovated. Either way I loved hearing the stories and history behind Tiger Hill. I also realized how little I know about the history of where I grew up. Yes, I still use “Brownstone comes from Portland” but there must be so much more. Basically, what I’m saying is I need someone follow me around to tell me cool stuff. I’m willing to pay in smiles and sincere appreciation. I can tell you jokes too.
So if you made it to the end congratulations. I wanted this to be interesting, but I have literally start over around 5 times over the past 4 days due to computer problems. I also apologize for the formatting. It’s horrendous and annoying me beyond belief. I might be going to Suzhou Museum tomorrow in which case another post should be on its way.