AT ONE WITH THE TREES

gia parun­gao em­barks on a jour­ney to 17th-cen­tury China at Aman’s newest re­sort, just 30km from the hum­ming heart of Shang­hai

Prestige Indonesia - - Indulgence -

Breathe in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out … I’m do­ing a ses­sion of qigong, an an­cient mar­tial art that fo­cuses on breath­ing con­trol, while look­ing across the tran­quil, tree-lined lake of the Amanyangyun well­ness cen­tre. The trees sway gen­tly, seem­ing to mimic my tai chi–like poses, or is it the other way round? I want to al­low the trees to move me, as they have oth­ers.

As the branches wave hyp­not­i­cally, I be­come more aware of my sur­round­ings and the qui­etude of the set­ting. You’d never guess that this newest Aman re­sort lies just 30km south­west of pul­sat­ing Shang­hai. But I’m ab­sorbed in the con­trolled move­ments of a dis­ci­pline that dates back to the time of Tao­ism. It re­quires a form of sto­icism, a trait ap­plied to my more re­cent ac­tiv­i­ties in­volv­ing the care­ful pad­ding of the pow­der for the in­cense cer­e­mony, and the scoop­ing of flowing wa­ter to place on the foot of the glo­ri­ous, thou­sand-year-old King Tree, just one of many saved by Ma Dadong.

In 2002, Ma, a self-made Jiangxi in­vest­ment and real-es­tate mogul, vis­ited his home­town only to find that the an­cient historic homes of the neigh­bour­hood in which he grew up were im­per­illed and the forests be­ing cleared to make way for a reser­voir.

This meant felling the area’s beau­ti­ful cam­phor trees, which had been around more than 2,000 years, since the time of Qin Shi­huang, the first Chi­nese em­peror and founder of the Qin Dynasty, and were be­lieved by lo­cals to have souls or spir­its liv­ing within each of them. To the villagers, th­ese trees were ma­jes­tic, full of tra­di­tion and life, and for them to be erased with­out a trace would have been a great tragedy. “It can sud­denly blow your mind,” Ma said, “to think that th­ese an­cient trees, their long lives, might dis­ap­pear in a snap of the fin­gers.” De­ci­sive ac­tion was re­quired.

Ma de­ter­mined to find a new home for the trees, and for­mu­lated a bold plan to move 10,000 of them 800 kilo­me­tres away to Shang­hai, ac­com­pa­nied by 50 Ming and Ching dynasty houses from vil­lages soon to be sub­merged un­der the reser­voir’s wa­ters. He as­sem­bled a team of ex­perts in tra­di­tional Chi­nese ar­chi­tec­ture to re­vive the an­cient houses – brick by brick, pil­lar by pil­lar, beam by beam. Botanists, tree sur­geons and bridge engi­neers were also re­cruited for the project, work­ing quickly

Amanyangyun was built to cre­ate a leafy haven of Chi­nese cul­ture and ar­bo­real iso­la­tion

to bring the trees to their next home and pre­serve their ex­is­tence. “The trees chose me,” Ma said of the se­lec­tion process.

Mean­while, Aman, known for dis­creet lux­ury and ex­clu­siv­ity, was on the hunt for its next lo­ca­tion in China, and on hear­ing of Ma’s project worked with the vi­sion­ary busi­ness­man to con­struct what is ar­guably now among its most am­bi­tious des­ti­na­tions. Sur­rounded by an­cient, re­planted cam­phor trees and in­cor­po­rat­ing some of the res­cued houses, Amanyangyun was built to cre­ate a leafy haven of Chi­nese cul­ture and ar­bo­real iso­la­tion. The house-mov­ing project had evolved into some­thing much more, as th­ese homes rep­re­sented life again – all with the help of renowned ar­chi­tect Kerry Hill – turn­ing his­tory into what will be, creat­ing a hand­ful of An­tique Vil­las and 24 ex­quis­ite Ming Court­yard

Suites, one of which I have the plea­sure to be stay­ing in.

Af­ter my fi­nal qigong po­si­tion, and in tune with the world again, I head back to my suite to get ready for lunch. Walk­ing through the bam­boo gar­den, I’m re­minded of the re­sort’s beau­ti­ful de­sign that draws on 17th-cen­tury ru­ral China. I ar­rive at the door beyond which lies the prom­ise of even deeper seren­ity. On walk­ing in, I’m greeted by an out­door fire­place and pri­vate Jacuzzi – in be­tween is my bed­room.

The next day I lunch at Lazhu, one of the re­sort’s three restau­rants. Its chefs hail from the Liao Fang reser­voir area, and they greet us with a feast pre­pared with Jiangxi spices. With dishes that range from crushed green chilli on pre­served eggs to porcine ears with chilli dress­ing to prickly sea cu­cum­ber in abalone sauce, this is not a meal for the faint of heart. As I in­dulge, seated in a space that re­sem­bles a bam­boo grove, and fas­ci­nated by the variety of the cui­sine placed be­fore me, a cool breeze passes through and my at­ten­tion shifts to the out­doors.

I’m re­minded of my ar­rival at Amanyangyun a few days ear­lier, in a leather-lined, mas­sage-seated Mercedes, gaz­ing through the driz­zle as I made my way to the prop­erty, the view slowly fill­ing with trees and grey stone. I’d looked up the re­sort just days be­fore, but what the pho­tos couldn’t con­vey was the feel­ing of wel­come as the staff, all dressed neatly in black, waved to me as they waited for my car to pull up.

But, as al­ways, it’s the beauty of the trees that cap­ti­vates me.

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