Saturday, May 9, 2009

The Humble Administrator?

Ok now, who ever heard of a “humble” administrator? Most of the administrators I had to work with were anything but “humble”. Now of course I'm not talking about School based administrators like principals and vice-principal, because they have no choice but to be humble, stuck between demanding teachers and demanding administrators. I guess it must be different here in China, because one of their most recommended attractions in Suzhou is this Humble Administrator's Garden. After visiting and enjoying Tiger Hill, I decided to go visit this garden while my daughter Alisha was here visiting me from Japan. She is a talented amateur photographer (Taught her all she knows), and I thought this might be a chance to go picture-taking with her.

The gardens of Suzhou vary in admission prices, and this one at 70 RMB is one of the most expensive, so you would expect it to be one of the best, and it lives up to all the expectations. We were even given a usable map with English as well as Chinese, making it much easier to find your way around. There are also signs throughout the garden telling you where you are, although I can't quite figure out why the red dots that locate your present position on the map were all rubbed out. Why do people have to actually touch the dot? It doesn't mean you are actually on the dot; you do not have to touch it to be there.

It is actually difficult to explore most of the Chinese gardens in any systematic fashion. I usually try to walk around the perimeter first to get an overall view and then explore the central areas, but as you walk around there are so many photographic opportunities that you are pulled in many directions. There is a lot packed into a small area in most of the gardens, as the original designers were careful to make the most of the space they had, carefully designing pleasurable retreats and vistas from what was there. Carefully placed pavilions, towers and halls provide restful places to contemplate and enjoy the ponds, trees and flowers on the garden. The focal point of the Humble Administrator's Garden is a central lake with many little islands, now connected by bridges and paths. There are a number of raised areas, usually occupied by “towers” to increase the viewing pleasure out across the garden.

The Humble Administrator was certain busy naming all of the building throughout the garden. You have the “House of Sweet-smelling rice”, the “Far away looking Pavilion”, the “Hall of Distant Fragrance”, the “Listening to the Sound of Rain Pavilion” and the “good for Both Families Pavilion”. Oh, and under the “Hall of 36 Pair of Mandarin Ducks” there really are ducks, but I didn't count to see if all 36 were in attendance that day. There are over 30 beautiful buildings each with fanciful names like this around the garden, and most are open to the public at least to view. In many of them you can sit and think about why they were named as they were – most are pretty obvious.

There is a lot to see in the Humble Administrator's Garden. Alisha and I spent the better part of a morning there, and we could have spent longer but we only had a day and a half to explore Suzhou, so we kept moving. Many people do exactly the opposite; they come here to sit and relax in the incredibly peaceful and serene surroundings. That was probably why the Administrator built the garden; as a retreat from the bureaucratic rat race of the Ming Dynasty 500 years ago. No wonder he was humble with this to come home to after a busy day at the office.

A week after visiting this garden I met a young man from London England who only had two days in Suzhou and he asked my advice about what to see in only a day, and I suggested that this garden was probably the one attraction he should not miss. It is very well maintained and a beautiful place to spend a day just slowly wandering around. My advice is to take your time, stop and sit, smell the sweet rice, and enjoy the distant fragrances. This is a tourist attraction that is best viewed at a leisurely pace. Alisha and I were constantly finding things to take pictures of, and we enjoyed talking about different views and perspectives on things in the garden. It always amazes me how many times we both decide to take a picture of the same thing. The really interesting thing is to watch the other tourists then try to figure out what on earth we both found so interesting in that roof-line or the shadows created by something. They see us both taking a picture of something they figure it must be significant, but they look and look without seeing what we saw.

After spending a day in The Humble Administrator's Garden, I can highly recommend it. In fact All senior administrators should have a garden like this to come home to. I don't know if they would all be “humble”, but being able to sit and relax in a place like this couldn't help but make them better Administrators. What a place to sit and contemplate the problems of your school, your city or your country.

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