Lan Yuan is the name given to Dunedin‘s Chinese garden. The garden, enclosed behind high walls in Dunedin’s central business district, is typical of the Confuscian scholarly garden made for reflection and escape from the outside world, or in this case, escape from New Zealand. It commemorates the Chinese contribution to the city as many Chinese came to Otago in the 1860s during the gold rush. The garden is actually a small portion of China transported to New Zealand. Rocks, tiles, wood, all of the materials needed to build the garden came from China. And … the tea served in the tea house also comes from China. It is the authenticity of the garden that makes it special.
It is early spring so the weeping willows are still waking, while pink blossom and snow white magnolia trees begin to re-decorate the garden. If I had arrived a week earlier the landscape would have looked bleak.
Visitors can sit in the tea house, the traditional dining room for the scholar and his friends, to drink green tea, oolong, pu-erh, flower tea or fruit tea. I order a black lychee tea while my companions order date tea and honeysuckle tea. Another visitor, a youthful Asian woman, studies her cell phone diligently while we wait for our tea to steep.
Explanation of the symbolism, the design and materials used for the garden, is displayed in informative plaques around the garden -everything has meaning.
The pavilion in the lake is to remind Chinese visitors where their cultural roots lie, while the pavilion at the highest point in the garden symbolises the Ming philosophy of ‘keeping the clouds and borrowing the moon’. The zig-zag bridge connects the heart of the lake pavilion to the rock mountain.
One of the most inspiring features in the garden is a small tree in a courtyard decorated with red ribbons and hung with poems written on cards.
Enlightenment is attained by visiting Lan Yuan rather than by reading my scant explanation here. The same applies to tea. You have to try tea rather than read about tea but I hope what you read inspires you to try something different this week. So what if you discover you will never order honeysuckle tea again!