We park the car in downtown Portland and step out to the buzz of traffic. Car horns, bicyclists whizzing by, conversations of the people around us. It’s a chaotic symphony of noises. The Portland Lan Su Chinese Garden sits nestled amongst the tall buildings and cacophony of Portland, Oregon’s China Town.
And yet, once we enter the graceful white canvas walls of the gardens, the outside world quickly fades from existence. We are greeted by two intricate stone lions, and a line of poetry on the entry gate.
All nature’s splendors captured in this gourd-heaven.Overhead inscription on entry gate
The Portland Lan Su Chinese Garden is one of the most detailed and beautiful works of art I have seen. In addition to landscaping, it incorporates sculpture, painting, wood carving, architecture, and even poetry. And with all of that, I’m sure I’ve still missed some mode of art they’ve managed to include. It offers a truly holistic experience.
Most cherished in this mundane world is a place without traffic; truly in the midst of a city there can be mountain and forest.Portion of illustrated panel, Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain
Portland’s sister city Suzhou lies on the eastern coast of China in the Jiangsu province, and they declared themselves sister cities in 1988. I can immediately see why, as both are cities known for their bridges and waterways.
In an exchange of sisterhood, Portland and Suzhou built each other gardens. First, the Suzhou Rose Garden opened in 1994, and then the Portland Lan Su Chinese Garden opened in 2000.
The Lan Su Chinese garden occupies a full city block. It was built by 65 Suzhou artisans and modeled after a traditional Chinese home from the Ming dynasty. Lan Su translates to “Awakening Orchids,” so it is known as the “Garden of Awakening Orchids.”
Lan Su Chinese Garden Guided Tours
During previous visits, guided tours of the Lan Su Chinese Garden were offered by volunteers. And I am always amazed at how knowledgeable the volunteers are; I learn something new every time, without fail. Here are some of the things I’ve learned from previous visits for example.
An Optical Illusion
Every where you look in the gardens, there is something nestled just beyond it, giving the illusion that the gardens are larger than they actually are. During a time when land meant wealth, and the more land you had, the richer you were, it’s easy to see why this technique was adopted.
Each Window is Like a Snowflake – Completely Unique
To be truly authentic, the white wall surrounding the Lan Su Chinese Garden ideally would not have had windows. However, Portland city code required them. But that didn’t dampen the Suzhou artisans’ creativity one bit. When you visit, pay attention to the windows, and you will notice that each window is completely unique.
A Painter’s Canvas
A traditional Chinese garden is a work of art, a masterpiece. And no detail is over looked. A tree, bush, or rock stands as an artist’s painting, while the white walls surrounding the garden act as the canvas upon which the artist paints. As you explore the gardens, keep this in mind as you and you’ll see them with new eyes.
Straight from China
Many of the ornamental rocks throughout the gardens were flown in all the way from Tai Lake in China. These Tai Hu rocks take their name and shape from the lake they originate from. Underwater erosion created their intriguing appearance.
Beneath Your Feet
When you visit the gardens, pay attention to the earth beneath you. Let yourself be grounded in the present experience. Can you imagine walking through the Lan Su Chinese Garden barefoot? The beautiful stone mosaics would act as a peaceful massage for your feet.
Now notice how the mosaics under foot differ from one space to the next. Each pattern has its own name, for example, Plum Blossoms on Cracked Ice, a line of poetry in its own rite.
The flowing stream reflects its shadow; The seasonal birds bring it beautiful songs. When flowers blossom along its railings, The willow bows low.Portion of illustrated panel, Flowers Bathing in Spring Rain
When is the best time of year to visit the Lan Su Chinese Garden?
The Chinese gardens are beautiful any time of the year, regardless of the weather. However, my favorite time to visit may be on a cool day with a light drizzle. The rain creating ripples on the small lake within the garden is soothing. And nothing is more satisfying than stopping by the tea house before leaving, to warm up over tea and cookies. So don’t let the weather deter you!
What to Expect When Visiting Lan Su Chinese Garden during COVID
Yes, the Lan Su Chinese Garden is open during COVID! And yes, it is 100% worth the visit, even with current restrictions. That being said, it helps to be prepared and to know what to expect once you get there. So here’s a few tips before you go.
1.Book your tickets online in advance to be sure there is an available time slot.
2. Admission will be timed entry, with an hour window to explore, in order to observe capacity limits.
3. Be sure to show up on time. If you are more than 15 minutes late, you will have to wait for the next available time slot, if one is available that day.
4. Follow the arrows for one direction traffic. A couple of loops are built in to the flow of traffic so you won’t miss anything!
5. Don’t forget to bring a face mask.
6. Audio guides will be offered from the website or with a QR code instead of an in-person tour guide. So be sure to bring a smartphone!
7. Play one of the scavenger hunts in addition to the audio tour! (Smart phone required.)
8. The tea house was open for take out only when we visited. Be sure to check with Multnomah county dining restrictions before your visit.
Planning Your Visit to Lan Su Chinese Garden
Before you plan your visit, be sure to check their website for special events. Over the years, I have seen art exhibits, bonsai displays, yoga sessions, and Lunar New Year celebrations, all offered within the peaceful walls of Lan Su Chinese Garden.
With all the the special events through out the year, it’s well worth considering a membership if you live nearby. Or maybe even if you just visit Portland frequently!
Available amenities: ADA accessible, bathrooms, gift shop, tea shop.
Lunar New Year
My most recent visit to the Lan Su Chinese Garden was during the Lunar New Year celebration. The entire garden was decorated with festive, bright red lanterns. It was beautiful.
The Lunar New Year starts with the first new moon between the end of January and the end of February and continues for 15 days until the next full moon. It is called the Lunar New Year as opposed to the Chinese New Year, as it is an important celebration in many Asian cultures.
Each Asian culture celebrating the Lunar New Year has its own traditions. But I really love the Chinese traditions surrounding this holiday.
To begin the celebration, the Chinese do a thorough deep-clean of their homes to chase away any bad luck that may have culminated over the past year. That’s a tradition I may have to adopt—I love the idea of starting the New Year with a clean slate! New clothes, long noodles for longevity and fish for abundance. And it all ends with a lion and dragon dance!
The Lion Dance
The Lion Dance is a tradition that started over 2,000 years ago and is based off a Chinese legend. As the legend goes, a small village in southern China found itself tormented by a great beast that ate all their crops each year. Then one year, the villagers decided to take action. They created their own beast. They created a lion.
The next time the dangerous beast visited the village, it met loud drums, firecrackers, and a great and colorful lion. The villagers’ lion scared off the beast for good. Today, the lion dance represents the warding off of evil and spreading of good fortune.
Don’t listen to what they say. Go see.
I could go on and on about the topic of the Lan Su Chinese Garden, but I want to leave some thing for you to discover on your own! And trust me, there’s so much more to see experience there. Have you been there before already? What was your favorite part?
For more vacation ideas in Oregon, check out my post 10 Reasons You Have to Visit Seaside, Oregon.
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The year 2020 was certainly apocalyptic in nature. And unfortunately, the world did not magically reset itself at 00:00, January 1st, 2021. So continuing in this apocalyptic vein, does any one else worry about the amount of plastic waste we create as much as I do?! Well, if you do, and maybe even more so if you don’t, you need to check out the Washed Ashore Art Exhibit at the Oregon Zoo.
One of the things I love about the Oregon Zoo is that I know, as an institution, they care deeply about our planet. It’s reflected in their actions. They work ceaselessly to expand and improve the animals’ habitats. And many of their children’s engagement activities encourage and teach about protecting the environment. The Oregon Zoo’s dedication to the environment is evident through their hosting the Washed Ashore Exhibit.
Washed Ashore Art Exhibit
A Harrowing Message in a Plastic Bottle
Is that really a keyboard I see there? <Shudder> Angela Haseltine Pozzi is the founder and director of Washed Ashore. She up-cycles plastic ocean waste collected along the Oregon coast to communicate an important message, and in doing so, she’s really mastered the art of making lemons into lemonade.
Here’s the gist of what I took from Pozzi’s message. We, the human race, produce about 300 million pounds of plastic around the world, each year. But we’re only recycling maybe 10% of what we’re producing. And sadly, a lot of that leftover 90% ends up in the ocean. Yikes.
Notice the animals she’s creating in her Washed Ashore project are many of the animals suffering most from plastic waste in our oceans. But we are all truly connected in this world. And what affects one eco-system affects us all.
Pozzi works with a handful of staff and a whole lot of volunteers to create her stop-and-make-you-think artwork. Since 2010, when she began this project, she’s up-cycled an amazing 18 tons of plastic to communicate her message.
We got to view the Washed Ashore Art Exhibit at the Oregon Zoo over this past summer. And I highly recommend taking the time to stop by, take a look, and reflect. But the Washed Ashore Exhibit will only be there through the end of January. So be sure to book your zoo tickets before the exhibit moves on!
Tip: The Washed Ashore Exhibit is included in the price of your regular zoo admission.
A Zoo in the Time of COVID
I’ve loved seeing how creatively we as humanity have adapted through out the course of this pandemic. Our resiliency is truly beautiful.
Fewer travel options means we have to get creative with our vacations as well. It’s provided an opportunity to become tourists in our own home states, to explore our surroundings in a way we maybe never have, or to revisit old stomping grounds.
We visited the Oregon Zoo over the summer for the first time in a long while. It was a little surreal, going out in public after having spent months at home. But I was very pleased with the zoo’s response to COVID.
What you need to know about visiting the Oregon Zoo during COVID:
- Book your admission online well in advance. Tickets are limited and sell out quickly.
- Bring your face mask. <Pro tip: If you’re using a disposable mask, be sure to break the ear loops before throwing it in the trash so small animals cannot get caught in them.>
- Not all attractions and restaurants will be open.
Why visit the zoo now? One of the biggest perks of sight seeing during COVID is the lower capacities. Lower capacity equals less crowding and better views.
Hope in the Future
I know I started this post out a bit dramatic. But before you start thinking I’m all doom and gloom, I really do have a lot of hope in what our future holds for 2021. However, hope can be kind of like faith. Without works, they are both dead.
So what does that even mean? What is hope with works? It means if we hope for a better tomorrow, we have to work together to create it.
Now, more than ever, where we choose to spend our time and money is a vote for which businesses and organizations we want to continue seeing in our communities. So when you’re feeling that hometown pride, what places can you not help but boast about? When new visitors ask what they can’t miss in your hometown, what do you tell them?
Start the New Year off by putting your hope to work, whatever that may look like for you. Maybe you take the time to revisit your favorite hometown locale and show them your support. Or maybe you take a note from the Washed Ashore Exhibit and go that extra step to recycle that plastic bottle. And then come back and tell me what hope in 2021 looks like for you!
While we’re talking about the ocean, check out my post 10 Reasons You Have to Visit Seaside, Oregon.
Disclosure: As an Amazon Affiliate, I may earn from qualifying purchases at no extra cost to you.
Christmas is just around the corner, and I’ve got the perfect list of travel gift ideas for her – your sister, your mother, your best friend, your lover – just in time for Black Friday and Cyber Monday! Ok, now some of these products I’ve tried myself and swear by. Others, I haven’t tried yet, but I want to!
1.Scratch Off Map of the World
This is such a epic gift. We have one of these framed and hanging on our wall, and it’s such a fun way to document our travels together.
2. Travel Planner
3. Bucket List Journal
4. The Rainbow Atlas
5. Pack This! Packing List Notepad
6. Adventure Awaits Canvas Tote
7. Pop Fashion Infinity Scarf
9. Wanderlust Wall Art
10. “I haven’t been everywhere, but it’s on my list” Women’s T-Shirt
Last big vacation, I brought three pairs of shoes with me. Two pairs of tennis shoes and my birks. I don’t think I put the tennis shoes on even once – my birks were so comfy! I swear I won’t leave home without them again.
12. Travel Rucksack
13. Packing Cubes
14. Laundry Bag
15. Wanderlust Compass Necklace
17. Travel Cosmetic Bag
18. Hair Towel Wrap
Another one of my all-time favs. Typically, if I have a tool that can serve multiple purposes, I call that good enough. I don’t like to have a gadget for everything. It’s too much clutter.
But my husband is the king of all gift givers. He seems to know what I’m going to love better than I know myself. He got this hair wrap for me one year and now I can’t live without it!
And here’s why I can’t live without it. My hair dries faster. The towel sits far more secure than a normal towel and is far less awkward or bulky. This is a must-have item, especially for anyone with long hair.
19. Sephora Cleansing and Exfoliating Wipes
Again, this is another item I thought I could live without. Until I tried it. It’s so refreshing first thing in the morning, and gives me an extra little pep in my step. This ones going in my carry on bag next time to use as a post-flight pick-me-up!
20. Drunk Elephant Travel Size Skin Care Essentials
21. Love Beauty and Planet Shampoo Bar
I tried this shampoo bar out of curiosity, and it worked just like normal shampoo – lathered up great and everything. And it lasts far longer than the small travel size bottles of shampoo, without the plastic waste, which is a win-win for me!
22. Love Beauty and Planet Dry Shampoo
Again, another must-have item for those early mornings when you don’t have time for a full hair wash and style.
23. Travel Yoga Mat
24. Portable Travel Size USB Essential Oil Diffuser
It can be difficult to sleep well away from home. Plus, invariably, someone always ends up under the weather when we travel. We found having a travel essential oil diffuser was indispensable. We’ve diffused peppermint for nausea, eucalyptus for better breathing, and lavender for better sleep.
25. Portable Charger
Don’t leave home without this! When you’re out on the go from dawn to dusk, there’s not always time to sit and charge your phone. This allows me to stay in touch with my travel buddies and take photos all day long, without a pause.
26. Pop Socket
27. Travel Outlet Adapter
28. Stainless Steel Travel Utensils
29. Adventure is Calling Coffee Mug
30. LifeStraw Water Filter Bottle
If you’ve tried one of these gift ideas, I’d love to hear your honest opinion. Love it? Hate it? Tell me about it! If you have more travel gift ideas for her that you swear by, tell me about that too. And when all the holiday shopping is done, I hope you have yourself a merry little Christmas!
In the mean time, if you’re looking for more travel inspiration, check out Clarice’s Travel Bucket List.
A compilation of travel quotes feels equivalent to a collection of fantasies and day dreams right about now. But I suppose that’s rather appropriate for this year, as I’ve had plenty of time to day dream while practicing social isolation. And those memes about filling …