When Maggie and I first arrived in Suzhou a couple weeks back, we were eager to get out and start exploring our new home. Though the weather was threatening to cook us just for thinking of leaving our embraces with air conditioners, we dared to discover on of the city’s famous and historic residential gardens.
The Master of the Nets Garden (网师园/wang3shi1yuan2) is located in south eastern area of Suzhou’s old city. It is serviced by a number of buses or can be quickly reached by taxi for 10-15 RMB. The Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) garden apparently went through some renovations after the Taiping Rebellion (happened in the 1860s and is just radtasticly worth reading about).
To get to the main entrance you need first weave through a series of old hutongs, dodging air-drying undies or fake antique sellers (depending on which path you take). A ticket will set you back 40 RMB per person, making it more of a tourist destination than a quiet retreat from the city.
The garden itself is well preserved, and it was easy to get lost in time. While standing in what was once an office/library for the resident, it wasn’t hard to imagine taking a break from writing for a stroll around the centrepiece pond – stopping just long enough to feed the mass of coy or fill my lungs with the fresh garden air.
Like many Chinese historic buildings, actual artifacts are sparse to non-existent. However, the Master of the Nets, in its maze-like plan, gives the visitor plenty of places to wander through and look at. Additionally, there is an art gallery full of local Suzhou-themed works for browsing and purchase.
There are no shortage of other gardens for us to visit in Suzhou, but I’m glad we chose the Master of the Nets as our first. It was small enough that we could explore it intimately and not tire from it – especially with the hot August sun and stifling Suzhou humidity.