Suzhou is known for its elaborate gardens. These spaces were never intended for the crowds that pass through these days but were instead the private courtyards, usually of scholars, living as long ago as 1000 AD. Those scholars wanted to do their calligraphy in peace, and so the landscape architects of the time accomplished amazing feats with strategically placed trees, water, and stone. Stepping into these gardens today is like donning noise-canceling headphones. Suddenly, the peal of bus brakes and lost tourists gives way to the sounds of a waterfall, a flock of song birds, or the wind, and all you can hear is whatever was meant to be heard.

We visited a number of gardens, each with its own unique aesthetic and ingenious design, but a favorite was Canglang Ting, 沧浪亭, the Great Wave Pavilion, for its 108 windows, no two of which are alike. This garden was also of special interest to my dad, who had read a poem about it as a boy, and seventy years later got to see it.


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