The 400-year-old Yu Gardens, (Yu being a word of devotion to parents), was my very first taste of oriental architecture in Shanghai; what I’d expected to see in China, although not as colourful. The buildings were of plain, dark wood and the green of the foliage was fairly uniform. What was quite lovely were the ponds, filled with koi and basking turtles, camouflaged against the slate, grey rocks. These ponds were the main focus of the gardens, reached by winding stone pavements.
Grey stone featured strongly, decorating the garden as well as offering protection from curious outsiders. A large, standing stone made up a barrier between the gate and the house, blocking a view into the interior, not that one could see inside, it being so dark. The only hint of real colour was the red lanterns hanging at intervals about the ceiling.
The grey stone also made up a magnificent rockery, dwarfing hydrangea, but not a 400 year old Ginkgo tree, nor its companion, a Magnolia tree, both standing proud, overshadowing the house.
Stone lions, a male on the left, a female on the right guarded several of the gates. The male and female grinned at each other, him fiercely guarding a ball with his paw, her protecting a cub. Not what the western eye may consider aesthetically pleasing, but all the same quite formidable.
The most fascinating aspect of the garden was the Dragon Wall. The head of the dragon rearing up over a doorway, its endless tail reaching out above the walls like a serpent. The dragon did not breathe out fire, but water, which sounded lame, until I realised the tail of the mythological creature gliding through the darkness of water would be quite terrifying, not to mention potentially deadly.
The men and women were once separated when walking through the gardens. Women were given access to the walkways on the right, men on the left, women commanding the domestic setting and availing of a better view of the scenery, not of the men!
I roamed around for some time, becoming lost within the maze of walkways and despite the mounting crowds, still found the area quite serene and tranquil, a sharp contrast to the hustle and bustle of modern Shanghai, the streets outside lined with market stalls selling souvenirs and useless knick-knacks to throngs of tourists. Needless to say, I bought absolutely nothing.