The Yuyuan Garden

By Lauren Morita | July 2, 2012

The Yuyuan Garden

The week we spent in Beijing was spent looking at traditional Chinese places, with their ornate buildings, bright colors, and many visitors. When we were told that we were going to the Yuyuan Garden, I was expecting it to look exactly like the others. In a way, the Yuyuan Garden did have ornate buildings, bright colors, and many visitors, but pasted on these features were signs of stores and even some American brands. I was surprised to see that we not only arrived at a Chinese garden, but also arrived at a traditional area that was converted into a shopping mall. At the Yuyuan Garden, the old mixed with the new.

To enter Yuyuan Garden, we entered through the ornate entry and had to push our way through the many people. Even though there were many shop signs scattered about the walls, the beauty of the buildings were not diminished. The vibrant red of the buildings were enhanced by the contrasting green vegetation planted around the garden. We walked further into the shopping mall through narrow paths packed with people. The air was filled with the smell of food; it was sometimes good, like chestnuts, and sometimes bad, like the infamous “stinky tofu” (臭豆腐). We arrived at a plaza in the center of the garden and saw traditional buildings hovering above green water which housed turtles and fish. On that smoggy day, we could see the faint outline of the Shanghai World Financial Center rising above the buildings of the Yuyuan Garden. While we were taking in these sights, it was agreed that it was also time for a snack.

We split into smaller groups, some people got in long, winding line for the famous Shanghai xiaolongbao (小笼包), a steamed dumpling with meat filling, and some adventurous people went for the “stinky tofu,” a form of fermented tofu. Still, others picked the safe, American favorite – Starbucks coffee. When we got back together, people started passing their lunches along to others so they could taste. The xiaolongbao was enjoyed by most and was eaten quickly. However, the reactions were all different for the stinky tofu. People either loved, or hated the deep-fried snack. Faces were made varying from complete disgust to instant love. While I did not eat the xiaolongbao, I was one of those who enjoyed the stinky tofu. It definitely tasted better than the pungent odor. We finished with our snacks and started moving across the green waters over a zigzagged bridge. There were many people crammed on the bridge and many were taking pictures in front of the beautiful buildings. It was time to go, but I was able to enjoy the mixing of the many worlds of China.

The garden was a great representation of China and its culture. There was the old parts acting as a base with the present parts layering on top. The new was on top of the old, but never covered it up completely. Like the buildings of the garden, the traditional ways play a large part in China’s culture, but the Chinese are always striving towards the future in the distance. There were many different types of people in the garden all crammed in a small space, just like the large cities in China. The shops in the garden signified the industries of China and the discrepancies between the rich and the poor. The shopkeepers trying to make a living by selling cheap souvenirs and the rich bargaining for the cheapest price. The variety of shops also showed the proportions that can be found in China’s market. There was a large amount of small Chinese shops with few large American corporations wedged between them. It was interesting to see how such a small place could be such an accurate representation of China as a whole.

I enjoyed the trip to the Yuyuan Garden because of its array of things to see in such a small space. The food was delicious and the sights were beautiful. However, what I liked about the garden the most was the meeting of the worlds – the new and the traditional; the local and the foreign. Often we hear about the two fighting each other for control, but at the garden their differences do not disappear, but rather make them stand out in their own ways.

For more information on the Summer Program in China (BUSI 193) visit:


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