Our first stop of the day was at the Humble Administrator’s Garden, Suzhou’s largest and purportedly most elegant.

The garden is so named as it belonged to one Wang Xianchen who acquired it for use following his retirement from his official duties as a government bureaucrat. He designed the garden and began its construction in 1509. Not much of the original remains, it having changed many times during its long life. But today it remains a very beautiful place.

Unfortunately for us, it was wildly crowded and times we were reduced to taking shuffling steps while encase in an unyielding cocoon of people. Many, many tour groups were there, each with their own unique baseball caps and flag waving handlers. I won’t say that it detracted from the beauty, but it makes it difficult to stop and ponder the beauty. And the place was quite beautiful.

The buildings were arrayed around a lake with small streams running between them. One lake and its associated pavilion formed a foreground for the great Northern Pagoda off in the distance. In a hall, a woman was performing classical Chinese opera, her voice provided by a high-pitched string instrument. Her make-up was astounding, so thick and precisely applied that it seemed more like a ceramic mask. Birds sang from cages and petals from the trees drifted down to the surface of the lake.

It would be nice to return to this and the other gardens in Suzhou at a time when they were not overflowing with people. A grand thing would be to just sit in the various nooks and watch the little things happen. I suppose this was precisely what Wang Xianchen had in mind.