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Video transcript

Suzhou is located in an area of lakes, canals, and bridges. Interspersed among the tree-lined streets of the Old City are some of the most beautiful gardens in China. The first of these gardens developed about a thousand years ago as rustic retreats from city life. Over the centuries they became more elaborate, designed for entertaining friends and displaying one's mastery of design and decor. The main elements of a Suzhou garden are ponds, plants, rockeries, and buildings. Various paths, covered walkways, and courtyards link these elements together. A variety of windows and gateways help lure the visitor through the many areas of the garden by offering glimpses of what is to come. Buildings are named to evoke a sentiment or mood. Here, at The Blue Waves Garden, is a hall dedicated to a hundred famous sages, whose portraits line the walls. Another hall praises the elegant bamboo growing nearby. The gardens we see today have changed considerably from their origins. For example, The Humble Administrator's Garden was named after a government official who was dismissed at court in 1509 and wished to pursue the humble life of a gardener. Later owners, however, changed this rustic retreat into a maze of pavilions, walkways, zig-zag paths, and fanciful bridges. It became the largest private garden in Suzhou. Artificial rockeries were very popular in later Chinese gardens. The rock symbolized mountains. They formed peaks and caverns that could be explored by the occupants or guests. Individual stones were excavated from nearby Lake Tai, and admired like sculptures. The Lion Grove Garden was named after some of the rocks that resembled lions. Here at The Lingering Garden, the largest stone in Suzhou was named Cloud Capped Peak. The essence of the Chinese garden is the sense of constantly shifting viewpoints. At The Master of Fishing Nets Garden, the beauty of the garden is never revealed all at once, but gradually, through a sequence of views, as if unrolling a Chinese painting. In Suzhou today, what were once private enclosures are now places of enjoyment for all.