In busy downtown Portland, step into a 16th century China family home and garden. Kids can explore halls and pavilions, with names such as “Hall of Brocade Clouds,” or “Painted Boat in Misty Rain,” look for dragonfish, bats of happiness, guardian lions, and learn about Chinese traditions and culture.
The garden re-creates natural landscapes and offers an experience of nature, as it changes from morning to night, and in different seasons. Rocks brought from Lake Tai in China are like miniature mountains, plum trees thrive and blossom in cold winter months, the sound of water tumbling over rocks calms and soothes, koi swirl in colorful patterns, “listen to the fragrance” of blossoming lotus flowers.
Tip: Before going into the garden, at the ticket kiosk, ask for a copy of the Family Discovery Guide, with different things to look for in each season.
Here’s our favorite pavilions and courtyards, and special things to look for as kids wander through Lan Su Garden. There’s no set path, see where things take you.
Painted Boat in Misty Rain
This pavilion with a boat shaped roof is designed to “float” next to the lake, providing a sensation of being on a boat.
At the entrance to the pavilion is this poem:
Mist and willow fade into my sweet dreams.
On the painted boat I listen to the night rain;
Inside the pavilion, find out about Chinese inventions, such as noodles, paper, porcelain, fireworks, read children’s picture books (especially fun on a rainy, misty day), check out shadow puppets from Chinese opera – female and male clowns, warrior god, and villain.
Kids will also want to toss Chinese fortune sticks, read the number on the stick, open numbered drawers in the cabinet, read their fortune on a piece of paper.
Scholar’s Study and Courtyard
The Scholar’s Study was for men in the family, where they studied to prepare for examinations, and practiced calligraphy, poetry, painting.
The poem in Chinese characters on the columns is:
Braving the snow, myriad flowers comes into blossom;
Leading the world, a single tree heralds the spring.
Kids can practice calligraphy, using a brush to make characters for tiger, rabbit, dragon, monkey, snake, good fortune and more.
Also in the study are examples of Suzhou silk embroidery art – bright colored red fish and landscape scenes.
Outside in the Scholar’s Courtyard are plum trees, and plum tree motifs in the white stone mosaic on the walkway.
Lake Tai Rocks
Throughout the garden, look at all the curvy, pouchy limestone rocks. Brought from China, these rocks form under the water in Lake Tai, taking on unusual shapes and forms, like miniature versions of mountain pinnacles.
Lotus flowers are highly prized in Chinese culture, symbol of the Buddha (who arises from a lotus flower), and is associated with beauty, fragrance, purity, love, devotion. When we visited in August, pink lotus flowers bloomed in profusion in the lake.
Bats of happiness
Bats are not feared as bloodsucking creatures in China. Quite the opposite – the word for bat in Chinese sounds just like “happiness” or “good fortune.” And bats are associated with five blessings – health, fortune, long life, virtue, painless passing.
Find the five bats in two locations – Scholar’s Courtyard and Painted Boat in Misty Rain pavilion.
In the Scholar’s Courtyard, the bats appear on the black tiles along the roof (the bats look like little bows) in the courtyard.
Inside the Painted Boat in Misty Rain pavilion find a carved wooden panel (shown above) – the Chinese character in the center is the symbol for longevity, surrounded by three bats on top, two on the bottom.
In the Courtyard of Tranquility, look up at the roof. On the corners are two “chiwen” – dragonfish. The creature has a dragon head (mouth wide open), and scaly fish body. The dragonfish protects the house from fire, and gobbles up all evil.
Below the dragon is a peach, symbol of immortality.
In China, statues of guardian lions, often in pairs, traditionally stand at the entrance to imperial palaces, temples, wealthy households. The lions (male and female) protect the building and people who live there, and are associated with security and happiness.
Here at Lan Su, outside on the street, before going in, look for two guardian lion stone statues. The female lion (on the left) stands over a little lion cub under her paw, the male lion statue (on the right) is holding a ball.
Inside the garden, find brown carved wooden lions near the bridge over the lake.
Monkey in the tree
When we visited, it was the year of the monkey. A charming monkey dangled in the trees, revolving gently in the breeze.