“Nowhere can man find a quietor or more untroubled retreat than in his soul.” Marcus Aurelius “There is a fellowship more quiet even than solitude, and which, rightly understood, is solitude made perfect.” Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894)
PART I: SOLITUDE
It was a snow day of sorts, or one of those rare occasions when the white stuff blankets Vancouver – meaning that as a landscaper, I had some free time on my hands. So I got up early, grabbed my camera and drove down to Chinatown, hoping to be the first person in line when the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden opened at 9 am. I arrived with twenty minutes to spare and the attendant was kind enough to let me in early, so I had the place to myself for about a half an hour. For those of you who have never been here before, I should start with some sort of description; It’s almost as if they placed an entire 15th century Ming-dynasty garden in a time machine and brought it 500 years into the future, dropping it right in the middle of downtown Vancouver. Truth be told, it’s not that far from what really happened (except for the time machine) as the entire garden (except for plants) was shipped here in 950 crates from China, containing everything from Tai Hu rocks (corroded limestone from Lake Tai, near Suzhou), clay roof tiles, hand carved wooden screens, paving stones and pebbles – all coming in at just under 2000 tons. Then landscape architect Wang Zu-Xin and his crew of 52 Chinese artisans designed and constructed this cultural masterpiece using traditional methods, with no power tools or modern fasteners. When they were done, in 1986, they had erected the first classical Chinese scholar’s garden outside of China, all on a mere .3 acres or o.12 ha of land. Every detail of this garden was created with the Taoist sense of equilibrium, Yin and Yang, where opposites are kept in balance in order to create harmony. This design philosophy permeates all that the eye encounters, from the ever-changing mosaic pathways to the intricately carved moon gate screen of the Jade Water Pavilion. In short, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is a world onto itself and while I was only alone here for all of thirty minutes, it felt like I had been on a week-long retreat – and with no one around to distract me, I was able to see this garden for what it really is – a beautiful and ancient solitude in the midst of a modern metropolis.
PART II: FELLOWSHIP
Another adventure in Vancouver’s Chinatown; this time during summer and in the company of my eldest daughters, Nicole and Rochelle. We usually visit two to three times a year, mostly to peruse the green grocers (the variety of fresh fruit and vegetables is absolutely amazing), enjoy the smell of Peking Duck and have lunch at one of the many authentic Chinese restaurants (where forks aren’t available and the girls get free entertainment watching me try to eat my meal with chopsticks). We arrived early morning when the often scarce parking is still plentiful and made our way to the garden, where I hoped to do a little photography. After a quick shot with one of the Guardian Lions that mark the entrance to the public park, we made our way inside. There, through a veil of weeping willow foliage was a quintessential Chinatown vista; five elderly gentlemen nestled in a traditional pavilion, enjoying the morning sun in the midst of jade-coloured waters and restless Koi – the right time, the right place, the right company – a perfect Sun Yat-Sen moment.