One of the most wonderful things about living in Vancouver is the proximity to the various Downtown green spaces that a person can retreat to at any time of the day, in any season of the year, should they feel the need for a little respite from the hustle-bustle of this world-class city that surrounds them. Much as I am addicted to moving around this city, and flitting from here to there for so many hours every day, the truth is, a person with my background and history will often encounter times when I just need to step back for a few minutes and gather myself, restoring my sense of calm, in preparation for another burst of rather frenetic energy release. It may be a system that sounds a little strange to some, but for myself at least, it’s a system that works to keep me sane, as well as able to accomplish a fair amount for somewhat prolonged periods of time. And that’s the way I’ve always worked best.
In keeping with those thoughts, one of my favorite places to visit, a place actually very close to my home, in the heart of Chinatown, is the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, whose motto is “Refreshment for the Heart”. Located at 578 Carrall St., there is a paid portion of the facility, as well as a free area, and for those such as myself who frequent the area quite often, it is usually the free garden area that you will find me walking in. The $12.00 adult admission is certainly fine once or twice in order to check out the features inside the buildings, to enjoy the complete tour, and to walk around the cordoned-off part of the outdoor area a time or two, but for frequently-returning visitors, the free garden portion with its multiple walkways, pools, architecture, bamboo stands, and rock displays are more than enough to enjoy without having to pay again and again.
If you should choose to enjoy the complete experience, however, and everyone should at least once, you are in for a real treat. It was back in March of 1985 that construction of the Garden began, under the direction of a team of 53 experts from Suzhou city in Eastern China. (Suzhou is situated on the lower reaches of the Yangtze River and the shores of Lake Tai.) These experts worked with Vancouver architect Joe Wai and landscape architect Don Vaughan, and the project took 13 months to complete. Most of the architectural components, such as the hand-fired roof tiles, the carved woodwork, the lattice windows, the limestone rocks, and even the courtyard pebbles, were shipped from China and were almost identical to those used centuries ago in the private classical gardens of Suzhou to be found during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The project ended up costing $5.3 million and was officially opened in 1986. This garden is the first classical garden constructed outside of China. A new wing was added by Joe Wai Architects in June of 2004, that featured the “Hall of One Hundred Rivers”.
In addition to those already mentioned, some of the other highlights that you might check out if you should ever find yourself down this way, are the various “Penjing”, or “Landscapes in a tray”. From May-October these “silent poems” feature 125+ year-old miniature trees scattered throughout the garden, and in the greenhouse. Or you can admire the “Leak Windows”, each individually patterned, and designed to “leak” in various amounts of light, or air, or even views, to different parts of the garden. Perhaps you, or your children, would like to help feed the fish (11:45am daily) and help to find Madonna, the garden’s oldest Koi, wherever she may be in one of the garden pond areas. There is all of that, and plenty more to keep everyone occupied. And above all else, there is the peacefulness and beauty that simply permeates the entire complex. I can assure you from personal experience, if your day is attempting to drive you to distraction, or if your mind has so many things vying for its attention that you can’t focus on any of them, then half an hour spent wandering the paths of these gardens is almost guaranteed to get you right back to where you can once again take on the whole world, and solve a Rubik’s Cube in each hand while you’re doing it. At least, IMHO. But you try it for yourself if you get the chance, and in the meantime, and for those who just can’t get here in person, here’s a little gallery of some pictures I shot at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen’s the last time I was there.
For the really brave and loyal who came all the way down here, a great little tune by Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band.