Saturday, 2 June 2012

The Chinese and Japanese Gardens of Singapore

May 22, 2012

The next day only one destination was in mind; the Chinese and Japanese Gardens of Singapore. A gift from the Chinese government built in 1975 and designed by Prof. Yuen-chen Yu, an architect from Taiwan.  Julian had visited the gardens in 2000 en route to New Zealand and they had made such an impression on him he had promised to show them to me when we first began discussing this journey back in 2009. Finally, some three years later, we approached the gardens. 

The one thing that stands out immediately is a seven story pagoda situated on on a small hill that towers above the grounds.  The pagoda, originally a simple tower located beside a temple, was used as a mausoleum by Buddhists. Later incorporated with the traditional art of building, the pagoda with its now familiar curved roof lines has developed into a structure of striking architectural beauty.  The red roof with hints of gold, accents the white walls beautifully.  Here we had a choice to venture into either the Chinese or Japanese side;  the Chinese garden more visually striking in its architecture, the Japanese Garden intended to evoke emotion more through formal planting. Marble-chip paths lead your footsteps and allow you to meditate on the sound as you meander through one of the most peaceful city parks on the planet.

We strolled towards the Japanese Gardens first allowing the random choices at junctions to dictate our course and came first to the Garden of Abundance, still on the Chinese side. A 100 year old pomegranate tree alongside a statue park dedicated to the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac.  The Tiger,  the Rabbit, the Dragon, the Snake and so on. A little white bridge with red chinese characters crossed a small stream towards four, open sided, ornate roofed gazebos in front of a mature trees with trunks that reassembled thick roots intertwined, weaving their way upwards to a thick canopy of dark green leaves. Beyond lay a white walled, many arched arched bridge crossing the lake which surrounds the gardens and leading to the Japanese side. Here we paused to recreate a photo of Julians' from 12 years past and to cool off a little in the waters before continuing to the gardens beyond.

The gardens whilst flowing seamlessly from one part to another, are punctuated by various buildings which appear to define the nature of the designs around them. First is a structure that appears to be a family home, a simple one story "dwelling" of classic Japanese design with a balcony of sorts overlooking the water garden at the rear. The pond is teeming with small fish and and arched wooden bridge leads to a meticulous island rock garden. Another small stream leads you away from the house and winds its way through a shady portion, the path following the water course which trickled around stepping stones surrounded with Japanese art such as miniature stone houses and stone lamps lining the banks along with exotic flowers, perfectly manicured grass and shrubs before opening out once more into a much bigger body of water, this time covered with lilies, some of which were in flower.  Turtles and brightly coloured fish resided here and on the opposite bank another building, this time a large pavilion, open on three sides, a public space. Following the path around we crossed more red painted arched bridges spanning the lake and lost track of which of the waterways were flowing and which were still. A crane fished from an island 200m away and as we navigated the farthest extremes of the garden we turned back towards where we came. A stone archway stood in solitude amongst the lilies as I sat upon a rock, overcome with feelings of peace and well-being.

The hours passed unnoticed as we wandered into the Chinese Gardens; the main characteristic is the integration of splendid architectural features with the natural environment.  Impressive structures housed in a walled bonsai garden and a tea house were unfortunately closed by the time we got there as the sun was setting.  A statue of the philosopher Confucius (551–479 BC) overlooked a small lake and a stone boat structure based on Peking design.  

We strolled beneath a circular whitewashed, red capped arch-way connecting three metre high walls, dividing these individual sections much as the thicker planting vegetation had done on the Japanese side. Beyond lay a complex of buildings housing the turtle collection and a cloistered area around a Koy carp pond. Through these areas lay another white walled bridge similar to the one we had found earlier, this time leading to the main entrance of the 

We had apparently entered through the "back gate" and made our way now through to the front. We turned and admired the gorgeous entrance house before following the path to our left to the waters edge towards the twin pagodas overlooking the surrounding lake, separating us from the rest of the city. Here on the grass I slipped off my shoes and into a peaceful meditation into the mindful solitude of my yoga practice as the sun set across the water.

With darkness approaching as it does at such speed this near the equator, we explored the entrance buildings more thoroughly under the thoughtfully set lighting and made our way slowly back across the park towards the pagoda, Julian pausing to punctuate the stillness of the evening with an all too frequent "click" of his camera shutter. Truly, these gardens should be on everybody's "must see" list whilst in Singapore. A Feng Shui gem in a modern metropolis.

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