Every big city that I have visited has its hidden escapes. Portland, OR is no exception. One such delight is the Chinese Garden, in the heart of downtown. Surrounded by high rises and parking meters, one does not expect to be swept away to a natural sanctuary, but procure your ticket and enter the garden gate.
Everything about the Chinese Garden is intentional. It is designed to transport you from everyday life. Step into the Courtyard of Tranquility and shed the cares of the world. Fill your eyes with the wonders of rock formations and waterfalls. Breathe in the heady scents of multitudes of flowers. Let the soothing sounds of the water and the birds and the breeze melt away your anxieties. Feel the warm sun on your shoulders (okay, so the sun does, indeed, come out in Portland) and the cool tiles under your feet.
There is an order and a flow to the garden. Windows and doorways frame views, guiding the eye from one peaceful scene to the next. Enter the Hall of Brocade Clouds and admire the wealth of your hosts. Carved ginko wood panels, ornate furniture and food offerings to the ancestors fill the hall. Proceed to the Terrace and take in an overview of the garden, patterned after the city compounds of wealthy Chinese families who wanted to live with the comforts of the city, but also wanted to surround themselves with the beauty of nature.
Knowing the Fish Pavilion has lots of shade and seating for gazing at the koi which populate the lake. Many of the fascinating and unique rock formations and most of the garden’s building materials came from China. Reflections in Clear Ripples is the name of the lounge house, or game room. Visitors can try out a game of Chinese Fortune Sticks and keep their fortune. Yet another pavilion, Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain, offers sweeping views of the lake and garden.
I sat in the Scholar’s Courtyard and soaked up the sun while I ate my lunch. Inhaling deeply of the spring blossoms, I listened to the water falling gently down the rocks across the lake. I listened to birds singing and arguing. I pondered human nature as I observed 2 women, frowning and gossiping about my friend, who took a phone call from her brother inside the Scholar’s Study, discussing our trip here with their dad, my son’s 91 year old abuelo. Such is the nature of the Chinese Garden. It is a place to think deeply and also a place to let your thoughts take flight. The Scholar’s Study is interesting. Writing implements and accessories are on display along with several piles of scrolls. Buddha boards are set up with water and brushes for visitors to practice Chinese characters.
The Moon Locking Pavilion would be the place to stand on a clear, moonlit night. The reflection of the moon is said to be locked in by the pavilion’s shadow. Relax with a steaming cup of tea, served in traditional Chinese cups from delicate porcelain teapots, in The Tower of Cosmic Reflections. The Rock Mountain and Waterfall crown the tour of the Chinese garden, followed by Painted Boat in Misty Rain, the final pavilion. Inside its boat shape you are meant to feel like you’re being gently rocked on the water.
Rather than proceed out through the gate, we decided to wander leisurely back through the gardens. Stopping and enjoying each view once again and drinking in the tranquility before returning to the craziness of the city.