By Mimi Kmet The first time I visited Shanghai, I was amazed at how quickly this bustling metropolis was growing, with an emerging skyline punctuated by the landmark Oriental Pearl Tower. It was — and still is — a veritable hot pot of old and new: Ancient Chinese art and artifacts are on exhibit at the contemporary Shanghai Museum. High-end, designer boutiques mingle with traditional specialty shops along Nanjing Road. But when I visited Yuyuan Garden, I stepped into a past that was, for the most part, not blended with the contemporary. Located in Shanghai’s Old City, a few blocks from the Bund, this classical, walled garden looked fairly inconspicuous from the street. After walking through one of its narrow corridors to reach the inside, though, I found myself in a different world.
The garden (which had gone through a couple of restorations over the years) was first completed in 1577. Covering about five acres, it’s a playground for history buffs and culture diggers like me, with courtyards, flower walls, rockeries, ornamental ponds, streams and foot bridges, including the Zig-Zag (or Nine Turn) Bridge. There are also curio shops selling local, handmade goods like jewelry and pottery, as well as tea houses and food shops offering homemade, local delicacies like Chinese dumplings — sort of like street food, only better. For a glimpse of what life was like during the Ming Dynasty, I peered into the windows and doorways of the old architecture, which houses the former living quarters of the parents of the officer who built Yuyuan Garden for them, complete with antique furniture. Despite the name’s translation (“yu” means peaceful in Chinese), Yuyuan Garden is just as bustling as the city itself, with tourists from China and rest of the world mixing with locals. But because it has so many nooks and crannies, it was easy for me to find a quiet place within its walls. Discover Yuyuan Garden and many other treasures of Shanghai during a luxury cruise on Voyage 5207: Hong Kong to Beijing – China In Depth (departing March 22) and on Voyage 5208: Beijing to Hong Kong – A Connoisseur’s China (beginning March 29).