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Flowers bloom near Slim West Lake, an icon of Yangzhou. Hu Zhenling

Gu ren xi ci huang he lou, Yan hua san yue xia yang zhou. (An old friend left Huanghe Tower, To visit Yangzhou in the lovely spring.)

These lines were penned by the poet Li Bai in the 7th century. Fourteen centuries later, they capture the allure of Yangzhou's refined beauty. Its elegant landscape and the aesthetic lifestyle have made the ancient eastern city a perfect testament to how crafty the art of enjoying life can be.

I arrived in Yangzhou in early February, just as the weather was getting warmer after weeks of heavy snow. Steady drops of water glistened in the morning sun as the melting snow dripped down the centuries-old pavilion-style eaves curling to the skies.

I was born in this town of Jiangsu province. Although I never spent much time here, I've always felt connected with it in indefinable ways, and I usually spend the holidays with my relatives here. Before the Chinese New Year festivities kicked into gear, I found some time to revisit the gardens where I'd roamed as a child.

I started with Slim West Lake (Shou Xihu) park, an icon of the city's southern beauty.

The park is the epitome of a Chinese garden, and mentioning its name to Yangzhou locals invokes images such as sunlight sifting through weeping willows, a hidden corner of a rock garden, and a secret cave view of the moon.

I rented a boat and paddled under five-pavilion bridge and along the narrow waterway (hence the "slim"). It is said the bridge was designed so that five reflections of the moon can be seen under the five arches when the moon is full.

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