Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Drawer # 4.7: Bonsai by Another Name

Sometimes the streets of Shanghai can feel all wall.

It took me not a few walking tours to understand that the secret of delight in this city is to pass thru those walls, whether by gate or by lane or by [sp]iPhone… 

Like here, just down from us at #18, secreted behind the gate at #25: a front courtyard entirely filled with penjing. (See also Drawer #5.3) All for the benefit of a renovated lane house in which no one seems to have lived, ever: the windows stand ajar today exactly as they were left when the house was completed nearly two years ago…A quick spy yesterday showed evidence of an ayi (housekeeper) in the form of a plastic broom by the door but the goldfish (oh surprise) are (no doubt, long) gone...

Stash of ceramic penjing accoutrements at the cricket market.

Look to your right just as you enter Shanghai’s classical Chinese Garden, Yu Yuan, into the corner where the garden’s surrounding walls should meet, and you will see a tall pile of seemingly randomly dumped rocks. If you walk towards that pile, officially known as a "rockery", you will discover that its arrangement is not random at all but has, in fact, a structure, created by an interior passageway. Follow the passageway and, to your surprise, you will find an opening in the garden's enclosing wall. Step thru that opening & the vista expands vastly outward, onto a large, shadowy pond, a covered bridge, pavilions of various sizes, walkways over waterways, all beneath dozens of towering pine trees whose limbs start nearly out of sight above your head. It’s magical, a sleight of hand, the shift from the contained architectural space of your first encounter with the garden to this soaring forested watery space. 

I love that opening in the wall beyond everything: I linger there in that liminal space, in the line with the wall, teetering between the two spaces, like Alice jumping in and out of the looking glass, savoring the reality shift.
Drawer #4.7: From top 1. Ceramic temple for penjing 2. Cardboard structure based on  temporary pre-fab housing for migrant workers. The numbers are scraps of stickers found all over the city advertising services, particularly ones for obtaining various kinds of residency permits (more on this in a future post...) 3. & 4.  Various small ceramic objects based on tradition Chinese architecture, some monumental like the pagoda, others pedestrian like the row of humble single story houses. In the Ming Dynasty, only nobility were permitted to build a two story house. Top right in number #3 is a  lead pagoda with a crane perched atop. Photo credits: Full drawer: Bruno David; all others are mine.

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