What’s not to love about Portland? Nothing, I mused as I made my way towards the Lan Su Chinese Garden. It was another wet day in the city and I, clutching a borrowed umbrella, snuggled within a borrowed raincoat, walked into what promised to be one of my best experiences in a garden.
I recalled how excited I’d felt about the Japanese Tea Garden in San Francisco, before realising it is less impressive than I expected. And so I was, at first, skeptical about visiting the Chinese Garden. I’m glad I did though. Upon entering, I received a booklet with a map of the garden. When I opened it, I saw that it’d guide me through the garden with interesting snippets about each part and each structure in the garden.
The garden itself exuded a calm beauty that progressed within me. The moment I entered the cavern of trees, bushes, and beautiful architecture, I felt as if I’d walked into serenity itself. Every step I took, took me further in to nature’s welcoming arms.
The garden swarmed with tourists, Chinese and others alike, although, unlike in San Francisco’s Japanese Garden, the folks here weren’t crazy about taking pictures. Observing the displays of culture meant more than selfies with Chinese plants. It indicated, again, how Portlanders are more intellectual than flippant.
Segmented into various parts, each part of the garden has a long history and purposeful structure. The Painted Boat in Misty Rain, for instance, appears as a boat anchored on shore, so as to give the impression of small waves rocking it. All these and more, I learnt from the map cum booklet that I received as I entered the garden. I must admit, though, that handout made experiencing the garden even more splendour.
Unable to resist myself, I stopped a while looking at the Chinese Fortune Sticks in the Painted Boat. Following the instructions on the poster and on my booklet, I tried my hand at some ancient fortune-telling. I ended up predicting that my wish for the day would come true. Although I don’t recall if that happened, it was still fun reading my own fortune. I was travelling alone, and at that moment, I felt in complete control of my life. It was liberating to stand on a rocking boat predicting my own future without having to depend on another person. It was one of those moments during my trip when I appreciated solo travel to its full extent.
The entire garden seemed built over a lake that housed hundreds of fish. Looking into the fresh water I saw yin and yang complementing each other—an example of perfect balance in the body and mind. Inexplicable, but there was a spiritual aura about the garden that infected every one present. And as I walked around the garden unwilling to leave, I spent a few additional moments observing the inscriptions on many of the constructions. Even though every one of them was in Chinese, my booklet contained translations.
At the end of the day, however, my visit to the Chinese Garden was wonderful. It was so not only because of the magnificent vistas, but also because of the handout I received. That was my gateway into the garden and into the traditional value of the garden. As a tourist, I’m grateful for the design of the booklet and the wealth of information it contained. To me it seemed as if the garden authorities wanted to educate the visitor, and not just to entertain. Therein lies the beauty of the Chinese Garden. It isn’t about building beautiful structures and compiling unique plants—appreciating culture is about watching to learn and learning to understand.