Over the weekend, I decided to venture into Portland. I’d looked online for places to see around the city and the ones that most piqued my interest were the Lan Su Chinese Garden, The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, The Grotto and the Japanese Garden.
First on the list was Lan Su. One first encounters the enormous Fu temple dogs before walking through a marble courtyard to a small shop where you purchase tickets to actually enter the Garden. It’s $9.50 to get in. I purchased a ticket then walked over to the main entrance, encountering a woman that was very effusive about my newly dyed rainbow dreadlocks. I have to say that I’m always happy to receive compliments about my hair. It’s a fair chore to keep up with, but well worth it. I talked with her a little bit and found out that she was a fairly recent transplant to Oregon, and she stated that the main impetus to move here were the gardens themselves. She’d fallen in love with them.
40,000 square feet of beautifully appointed and maintained gardens exist within the borders of the tall walls, within the Old Town Chinatown neighborhood of downtown Portland. It’s a place of serenity that’s only mildly jarring when you look up to see the enormous glass buildings just outside the walls. Previously called the Portland Classical Chinese Garden and the Garden of Awakening Orchids, Kuang Zhen Yan’s design features a large lake, Lake Zither, at the center of it, as well as a tea house across the way as you first walk to the edge of the lake. Wonderfully tranquil, the garden provides a wide variety of plants, flowers and enormous rocks imported from China.
There are several buildings throughout that exhibit silk embroidery, calligraphy and other artistic pieces. The tea house has both an upper and lower level, and other than a child that didn’t really have an ‘inside voice’ who kept yelling for his family, the entire place was very mellow and relaxing. I sat for a while, looking out one of the upper windows while sipping on some
White Earl Grey tea, when an older lady came over to me with a huge smile and told me that, between my tattoos and hair, I was a work of art. We spoke a little about the nature of enlightenment and I told her about the trip I was on, and she and her companion wished me well on my journey. After that my dumplings arrived and I took care to enjoy them for a while before heading out for my next destination.
Simply known as The Grotto to some, or as The National Sanctuary of Our Sorrowful Mother, this Catholic Shrine is cared for and administered by the Order of Friars Servants of Mary, USA Province. A vision of spiritual inspiriation and meditative space, it’s 62 acres of botanical gardens with various interpretive scenes from the bible surrounded by rock and ferns, as well as shrines to some of the more popular saints. The most magnificent part of this place is Our Lady’s Grotto, located on the lower level; an enormous rock cave inset into a 110 foot cliff. The scene is breathtaking.
You have to purchase a $4 token to take the elevator up to the upper level, but it’s WELL worth it. Here you’ll come across various shrines to saints, interpretive images of Jesus’ life either carved in wood or marble as well as a small red church that looks like it’s been taken right out of a Grimms’ Fairytale book when seen through the enormous trees to the side of it. The church has visions of Mary from many faiths along the walls. The Meditation Chapel, your first left as you step off the elevator, provides a spectacular panoramic view of Mount Saint Helens, the Cascade mountain range and the Columbia River Valley.
There’s also a labyrinth on the grounds of the upper level as well. It’s apparently a replica of the medieval labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France. I did a meditative walk around it, pondering a personal spiritual issue that I’ve been working on for some time, and received an answer that was most beneficial as I reached the center. I do so love labyrinths.
At some point along my walk through the grounds, I heard an eagle crying out. It circled a few times, then headed off into the distance with its partner. I’d like to think that was a positive sign. The entire experience of this place was fantastic, and a great addition to the Lan Su visit.
I then made the mistake of venturing back into the heart of the city to eat. I’d really been wanting Shawarma lately, and my Google Maps app found one – one that conveniently disappeared from the map once I arrived at my destination and tried to find walking directions. I couldn’t get it to come back up either. This after a city curb literally tried to eat my tire. I think I’m going to have to replace it soon. Did I mention how much I dislike the city at this point? There’s WAY too much activity going on to try to keep track of it after I’ve been in so many rural places. It’s VERY disorienting.
Anyway, I go over to Habibi, this Lebanese restaurant across the street. I’d had Lebanese before with my good friend Samir back in Washington DC, and was hoping that this place was fairly decent. The salad was fantastic, but the shawarma was VERY disappointing. Full of gristle and not really flavorful at all. Beige food, actually. The hummus didn’t really have much of a taste either. Garlic anybody? It surely wasn’t in ANY of the meal. The service wasn’t really that good either. Thus thwarted in my search for shawarma as good as I’d encountered back in Denver (Man, I miss the Jerusalem restaurant), I decided to head out for what would be my last destination in Portland of the evening – the Japanese Garden.
First off, I should begin by saying that one of my favorite games of all time is Fatal Frame. It’s a brilliant series of games where you end up wandering through abandoned, and haunted, Japanese houses and temples. Ghosts attack you, and your only weapon against the supernatural assaults is a device called the Camera Obscura. You have to take pictures of the ghosts to exorcise/kill them. HUGELY creepy and heart poundy. It doesn’t help [or DOES, as the case may be], that the controller vibrates in your hand and the sound of a heartbeat increases whenever a ghost comes near.
As I walked around within the gardens snapping pictures of everything, images of the haunted village from Fatal Frame II: Crimson Butterfly, kept cycling through my head and the creepy little bell jingling that always accompanied the games kept ringing out. It was fantastic. Mom would have loved it. (vid of Fatal Frame II gameplay for reference)
Entrance to the gardens themselves is $9.50, and although the Chinese gardens seemed to be overflowing with plants that almost reached out to touch you; almost like a jungle of sorts at times, the Japanese garden was meticulously manicured with large, lush patches of moss growing beneath wide, thick Japanese maples and bonsai pines.
The first building inside is a large pavilion that houses the current exhibit, the Behind the Shoji art and craft show. The building sits at the edge of a large Zen garden that looks almost like a lake, with moss for shoreline. There’s a wonderfully creepy, and beautiful, old well next to what looks like the recreation of a small Japanese homestead. To the left of that, there’s a walkway that takes you out to a bridge of sorts, less than a foot above a pond with a waterfall flowing into it. The boards run along at 90 degree angles over the water, providing good vantage points for both places to meditate, as well as good photo shots.
The lake to the right of the building has an arc bridge over the section that turns into a flowing stream, and there are multiple stone lanterns throughout the area. I kept finding myself wondering what this place would look like at night, lit only by candlelight in various places. It must be amazing.
After the long hike through Silver Falls friday night, my legs were finally done with walking and it was time to head home.