travel junkie goes back to stop & smell the blossoms at Yuyuan Garden

4:53 AM

I’ve decided the night before that Friday morning, my last in Shanghai, would be a lazy one.  After all the walking I’ve done the past two days, I deserved to wallow in languor while going about my morning ablutions and the inevitable packing.

I took my time in the shower, or the longest possible one given the chilly weather. Yes, there was hot water, scalding even if I’m honest, in the hostel shower room. But the moment I turn that knob to off, the cold air would immediately jump into my bones and would get me shaking my teeth off.

I packed quietly since Cristina and Isabella were still sleeping due to another late night. But the wooden floors, wooden beds, and wooden lockers didn’t exactly make it such an easy task. Every movement caused a thump. Though barefoot, every step caused the floor to creak.  I had to slowly take down my 18 kg luggage from an upper locker as to not drop it with a loud thug. It took me about half an hour to pack everything – dresses, tights, toiletries, back into my luggage. And at 11:00, I handed over my keys and left my luggage at the front desk for the rest of the day.  

I’ve read somewhere that if you miss Yuyuan Garden on your trip to Shanghai, it’s like missing the great wall when you visit Beijing. Not one to miss on something as iconic as that, I headed off to the city’s old district.

As the Captain hostel was basically right off the bund and quite near the old district, I decided on taking the picturesque route and walked. (Making it the third day I've been on the promenade. And I absolutely didn't mind.)

the bund at mid-day

Again, again. Where's the toilet?

And you know what I’ve realized as I reached the corner of Fuzhou road? I don't think I could ever get tired of the bund.  It could be because there's always this sense of awe in its entirety. The timeless beauty of the masonry buildings was sheer delight. The busy river in between made me long for a functional Pasig river back at home. And the gleaming glass and steel skyscrapers across in Pudong kept reminding me of how money (and an ambitious urban planning) could create a financial district out of farmland. 

The Yuyuan Garden was a bit tricky to find. From the bund, I had to navigate through a seeming labyrinth of parks and alleys. I followed the map to the exact quadrant and yet, I found myself standing in front of a temple and a colossal Chinese building. From what I could deduce from the many souvenir shops in front, it was a shopping complex of some sort.

an Old Town alley seems to have popped right out of a movie

a rare site:  an almost deserted alleyway in old town district

Across was another shopping arcade, modern in its architecture, and featured stores such as H&M, Zara, and other familiar labels. And since I was on holiday, why not stray a bit from my quest and do some window shopping? (Yes, I am sick that way. I can go inside a clothes store and not buy anything. This makes me sometimes wonder if I’m missing an X chromosome.) 

After about two hours of window shopping, I finally got back on my search for the elusive Yuyuan Garden.  I asked a policeman, standing sentinel in front of the big Chinese building, where the Yuyuan Garden was.  He directed me to the next corner where another strip of shops started. The next policeman and the policeman after him kept on directing me towards the right, or the next corner until I finally found myself standing on the spot where I started.

Mercifully, an English-speaking policeman directed me to the hideous shopping complex that was apparently the Yuyuan Bazaar.  As it happens, inside the maze of souvenir shops was that jewel of a garden. 

Here’s a brief background on the Yuyuan Garden from Lonely Planet city guide: Shanghai, 

“The Yuyuan Gardens were found by the Pan family, who were rich Ming dynasty officials. The gardens took 18 years (from 1559 to 1577) to be nurtured into existence, only to be ransacked during the opium war in 1842, when British officers were barracked here, and again during the Taiping Rebellion, this time by the French reprisal for attacks on their nearby gardens.”

The garden was, well, a Chinese garden.  It was beautiful, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just that it felt quite familiar, if you know what I mean.  Perhaps blame it on the countless Chinese paintings since childhood or the Chinese gardens tended everywhere. Then again, I am no Chinese landscape expert so I probably overlooked a lot of important concepts and details. 

I finally found the elusive Yuyuan Garden!


Rocks and Plants right next to the Yuyuan Garden entrance.

Yuyuan Garden: ponds, rocks, and blossoms

Yuyuan Garden: a quaint spot to laze away the afternoon

Flowers just begun to blossom, a sign that spring was just around the corner.

I have to say, the place indeed felt old. (Don’t be a wise ass. I know it’s really old, almost as old as the rediscovery of the Philippines by Ferdinand Magellan.)  There was this inescapable sense of age and if I am honest, darkness.  There was this eeriness to it. To me, the walls, paths, structures, and even plants felt … weary. Yes, they looked and felt weary. They've witnessed a lot of things; they have their secrets; and they’re not going to tell anyone any of them. They even seem to be saying to us, camera-armed tourists, ‘enough already! Leave us be!  We just want to be left alone.’ How odd.

Yuyuan Bazaar: the zigzag causeway designed so to prevent spirits from following you

Yuyuan Bazaar: Mid-Lake Pavillion Teahouse was once visited by Queen Elizabeth II and Bill clinton

A partial glimpse of the Yuyuan Bazaar

 *My recent posts were noticeably long so I'm cutting this one short. Come back on Thursday, April 7, to know what happened during the rest of the afternoon.

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