On an overcast day in July this year I made a return day trip to Suzhou, a city west of Shanghai, known for its canals, bridges and classical gardens.

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It had been six years since my last visit and at a glance not much had changed except that buying a train ticket to get there has become a major hassle (you need to find the right counter to queue at and show your passport).

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As far back as the third century Suzhou has been both a center of commerce with the silk trade and a haven for scholars, artists, and skilled craftsmen.

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In Imperial China, Suzhou was a popular destination for retired scholars and officials, many of whom built classical Chinese gardens around their homes.

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Though you can still see traces of a old lifestyles centered around the canals, the area has succumbed to the demands of mass tourism with all the tack and selfie sticks that brings.

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As we made our way through the hordes of tourists on our way to the Master of the Nets Garden (网师园) the heavens opened and threatened to ruin the mood.

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Once inside the garden complex, the cacophony of the traffic-filled streets gave way to the gentle pitter-patter of rain falling from the tiled roofs.

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Inspired by the simple and solitary life of a Chinese fisherman depicted in philosophical writings, The Master of the Nets garden was first constructed in 1140 by Shi Zhengzhi, a government civil servant.

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Just as the masses today long to escape the clutches of corporate life, Shi and his contemporaries were seeking a simpler life free of political responsibilities.

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A courtyard planted with an ancient pomegranate tree sits next to a pavilion that was used as a stage for performances.

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Named from a verse by the poet Han Yu, “The twilight brings the Autumn and the breeze sends the moon here”, the hexagonal pavilion was used for moon watching.

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Looking out from within the Peony Hall, a three-bay structure named for a Li Bai verse, “The spring breeze is stroking gently the balustrade and peony is wet with dew”.

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The Master of the Nets is particularly regarded among garden connoisseurs for its mastering the techniques of relative dimension, contrast, foil, sequence and depth, and borrowed scenery.

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