Thursday, January 13, 2011

Portland’s Lan-Su Chinese Garden: Serenity in the City

Can’t we all use a little more serenity in our lives?

In Portland’s Chinatown near the Willamette River, Lan-Su Chinese Garden is a perfect place to unplug and contemplate the nature of beauty, harmony, or maybe even a cup of fine tea.

Historic Chinese artist and scholar Wen Zhengming couldn’t have said it better, about 500 years ago:

Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic. Truly in the midst of a city there can be mountain and forest.”

Here on the east side of the Pacific Rim, Lan-Su was built by Chinese artisans from Portland’s sister city in China, Suzhou. In fact, the name Lan-Su is derived from Portland and Suzhou. Nifty, huh?

Lan-Su claims to be the most authentic Chinese garden outside China, although to me it seems very similar to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver, B.C.

Lan-Su replicates a classic Chinese garden of a wealthy merchant or scholar from about the 16th century. Life was very different back then, of course. There was lots of contemplating going on, along with poetry, games of wit, calligraphy, meditation, storytelling, and lofty discussions.



Chinese gardens are carefully designed to engage all your senses through the use of architecture, specific plants, texture, scents, and sound. As I stroll through the garden on a chilly but clear winter morning, my eyes rest on small details, like how the edge of a roof pierces the sky, tiles with lovely Chinese characters, or the curl of intricately decorated roof tiles.



Pathways lead into courtyards that lead into covered walkways that lead into open rooms and more. Today I don’t have the time to linger as I’d like, but I absorb as much as I can on this quiet morning.



Inside the replicated scholar’s study, glowing hand-painted silk lanterns float above the room. Since there’s no heat in here, it’s actually warmer outside in the sun.

For us tea lovers, though, a real highlight of Lan-Su is the Tower of Cosmic Reflections. As I enter this light, warm two-story teahouse run by the Tao of Tea, I get a whiff of fragrant tea.




“Help yourself to a taste,” says the server. On the front counter is a pot of Taiwanese osmanthus oolong tea beside small tasting cups. This amber tea is slightly floral, smooth, and wonderful.

I can’t stay as long as I’d like today, but this teahouse is a treasure. This garden is a treasure.

Go get serene.

When You Go
Okay, so this is a place to get serene. But there’s also a lot going on at Lan-Su. Classical Chinese music is performed in the teahouse regularly. Tai chi classes are offered. A photography exhibit of images taken at the garden is on display when I visit. Click here for a list of events. Better yet, become a member and get their newsletter.

6 comments:

Barry said...

I've always wanted to visit this famous garden - and your photos provide additional inspiration!

I purchase all my tea from Tao of Tea (through their website) - great products.

Anonymous said...

This is on my must-see list next time I'm in Portland...
Kathy O.

Bob said...

Nice pictures of the Chinese garden, Jill. Im going to have to go there sometime.

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Suezy Proctor said...

Jill....looking at your photographs places me right there. It's a favorite stop when visiting Portland. Osmanthus tea....one of my favorites too...I mix mine mine with green tea, but oolong sounds good also. Too bad you couldn't stay longer, but for the amount of time you spent there, thanks for sharing it with us....beautiful anytime of year. Suezy