This morning I got up early because I wanted to spend more time in Tongli. It took about 40 minutes to get there. May and the driver took me to my hotel. It was a little guesthouse located near the famous three bridges of Tongli. Once I dropped off my stuff we went to explore the village. I love this place.
The ticket to the village covers all of the gardens and mansions in the village and its only 80 kuai. We first started by strolling along the canals. The village has as many canals as it does roads. No cars are allowed into the village making it very peaceful and quiet. The best part of the village is that all of the tourist busses leave in the early afternoon and all of the tourists leave with them. All of the tourist shops close and the regular shops open. Little gondolas glide through the canals and people can rent one and travel through the village. If begged, the gondoliers will sing local songs.
The ancient buildings and people of the village are what draw me to it. They are both equally wonderful. The village is filled with elderly people and they are quick to smile at visitors. I love just sitting in Tongli. I like to sit next to a canal with my feet in the water, or sit in a teahouse watching the gondolas pass by. It is a really great place to sit. Tongli has several gardens also and when the tourists leave they are deserted and very magical. Visiting them makes one feel like they are the owner of the garden. I like to buy a small bag of fish food and find a small secluded spot to feed the fish.
The first garden I went to was the Garden of Seclusion and Meditation. It is one of the two largest gardens in Tongli. The garden is very nice. Visitors enter the area in the living areas. It must be remembered that these gardens were somebody's house. The garden is centered around a large pond filled with fish. Each building is built so that it offers its own unique view of the surrounding area. The gardens in Tongli also have musicians in them performing music. One pavilion had a man playing a flute, while another had a woman playing the Guzheng and another had two girls wearing qipaos playing a duet.
The gardens are very beautiful. After I left I saw an old man playing the Erhu. He had a long white beard, long hair pulled up into a traditional Chinese bun, and was wearing traditional clothing. He had the cutest smile. He was fun to watch. He played so lively and smiled so largely. After watching him for a while I went to the Pearl Pagoda Garden. It is the largest garden in Tongli and also my favorite. Each traditional Chinese garden is unique and I never get bored visiting them. This huge garden seems very intimate and personal. It is accomplished by its design.
Each area is surrounded by walls and walkways. None of them are straight or have ninety degree angles so that new scenes are constantly unfolding before you. There are many small hidden courtyards with a small room, water and rockery in each. It is very easy to feel like you are the only person in the entire garden even if it has hundreds of visitors. I spent several hours there wandering and enjoying myself. I then decided I would visit some of Tongli's mansions that are open to the public. The first one I visited was Chongben Hall. It was a very nice place. It is a large two storey house without a garden. It is fully furnished with antique furniture and is beautifully designed.
There are carvings everywhere and it feels very opulent. I then visited the Gengle Hall. The house was not as large as the previous one, but it did have a fairly large garden with a large pond in the middle of it. The house was fairly simple and straightforward, but the garden's buildings were extraordinary. They were all built around the pond and each one had its own unique door and window designs. Their function was so that the owner and his guests could sit in different buildings and each enjoys their own unique view of the garden.
One of the buildings was built for the owner to paint in and another was built to store his library. It is quite obvious that he felt the garden was the most important part of his house. By this time it was getting late and the sites were closing for the night so I decided to go to dinner. For dinner I stopped at the largest teahouse in Tongli. It is named the Nanyuan Teahouse which means Southern Garden Teahouse. It is an ancient structure which is in beautiful condition. The first floor is filled with tea making paraphernalia and the second is filled with tables. There is a stage on the second floor for Kun Opera.
It is a wonderful place to sit and spend a few hours. I had a wonderful bowl of noodles, and then tried several different kinds of tea. I sat upstairs next to the window overlooking the street and just sat, drank tea, chatted with a waitress and watched people walk along the street. It was lovely. I watched it get dark and watched the traditional lanterns being lit. I then strolled around the village. At night, every shop hangs traditional lanterns along the canals and at night they are lit and reflect beautifully in the water. It is such a magical place. I dream some day of opening my own traditional teahouse in China when I am old as a place to pseudo retire and spend my remaining years relaxing, painting, and chatting with friends.
I hope that it will be in Tongli. I really love this place. The atmosphere is almost like a drug. Once you visit, you regret having to leave, and can't wait to come back. I can't explain it, it just has to be experienced. After strolling through the village I went back to my room to write this. The day went so quickly. It always does here.