Suzhou felt like stepping back in time. A hidden jewel just 40
minutes by bullet train from
Shanghai, Suzhou was always on my must-see site list.
As I floated gently down the canals of Suzhou I felt transported back in time. Lining the canals were beautifully constructed historic tea houses and the old residencies of generations of Chinese high society. As I drifted down the ancient waterways, my guide recounted the mystic folklore of Suzhou; tales of white tigers and the King of Wu. Stereotypical red Chinese lanterns were hanging from the houses and bridges, creating a beautiful mosaic in the cloudy waterways. Truly breath-taking views are always at sunrise or sunset down the canals when the soft light diffuses the hard lines of the architecture. I remember Suzhou's main street, Shantang street, dating back 1200 years, running down both sides of the canal in Suzhou's old town. Shantang street was the perfect place to visit local shops and taste some of Suzhou's traditional dishes (don't worry there is probably now a Starbucks, if they aren't for you!). I loved going back after dark when the street was completely transformed. Hundreds of illuminated lanterns create a charming atmosphere which infuses with the intoxicating aromas of street food.
However, nothing could compare to the hidden gardens of Suzhou. Behind the elegant houses of Chinese high society lie tiny gardens that were, and I am sure still are, meticulously curated. They were beautiful illustrations of classic Chinese gardens, some of which date back 1,000 years. While there was a large selection of gardens to visit, I think the five most beautiful were the Humble Administrator's Garden (biggest), Lingering Garden (architecture), Master of Nets Garden (smallest), Lion Grove Garden (rock formations), and Canglang Pavilion (oldest). Canglang Pavilion, was often known as the Dark Blue Wave Garden, and it was there that I was inspired to create my Star Anise design.
The intricate lattice windows of the garden created a dappling light that swam around the myriad of green. As I wandered around the gardens, soft pink scented peonies were billowing in the light breeze, lilac wisteria cascaded down to the water pools, and I was struck by the bold silhouettes of the patterns in the lattice windows. I remember I started to sketch and slowly the Star Anise design appeared on the page. The rounded and pointed shapes leading one into another like a garland. I see now how my design really captured the beauty of simplicity which was so perfectly exemplified in those lattice windows. The gardens reminded me then as they do now in my memories, that beautiful design so often incorporates its surroundings within it. Whether that be the greenery in Canglang Pavilion that day or simply the light and space in a golden bracelet around a wrist.