Yackety-Yak Jack, Steaming Buns & Ming Dynasty Landscaping

To begin our last week in British Columbia, we invented the hitherto unknown athletic discipline of the Urban-One-Third-Marathon, which consists of walking for a minimum of 14 kilometers, within city limits, within a twelve hour time period. Refreshment breaks are encouraged. 

At 06:30h we started our inaugural UOTM with an early morning walk, followed by an excursion to explore the ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Gastown’ neighborhoods in Vancouver. We concluded the event by arriving at the finish line, otherwise known as home, at 17:45h. Completing the concourse forty-five minutes early earned us a few urban bonus points … otherwise known as dessert.
 
The day began with our usual walking jog or jogging walk, if you will, on the seawall toward, and partially around Stanley Park. No matter how often we walk there, the scenery is always different in subtle ways, yet has become a much appreciated familiar environment. Thus we began the UOTM with nine kilometers of brisk exercise in the company of seabirds and rock sculptures.
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Afterward, we rested a while, enjoying breakfast on the balcony overlooking False Creek, before starting out for the next event segment. A short walk brought us to David Lam Park, where we caught an aquabus for a delightfully wobbly, four-stop boat ride to the Plaza of Nations dock. Let me assure you, we did not count this ride into the marathon distance!!
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Our youthful and competent captain in her crocheted shorts and Indiana Jones hat perfectly demonstrates the funky, casual attitude in this delightful city. 

                                        

Barry’s personal jardinero has been a little lazy lately, it seems 🙂 There’s a lot of unruly growth to be mowed!
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After a quick journey past the Olympic Village and the World of Science orb, our captain delivered us safely at the dock, where we began the hike toward Chinatown, first passing both the BC Lions football stadium and the Vancouver Canucks hockey arena (which I can’t show you, because it might offend Bruin’s fan’s sensibilities).


Our first destination was the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden. An oasis of tranquility in the middle of a vast metropolis.
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This exceptional garden was designed as a classical Ming Dynasty scholar’s garden and built & landscaped by Chinese craftsmen with Chinese materials and plants. It took much dedication and patience by everyone involved to create this living testament to a bygone culture.

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Double-sided silk embroidery of peonies and 100 butterflies [about 1950]

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As beautiful as the compound is, much of the promised tranquility was disturbed, even on a Monday, by fellow tourists touring the garden all around us in boisterous groups. The organization provides docent lead guided tours and I joint one of these tours when we first arrived. The docent’s approach to Ming Dynasty culture was quite humorous, but it was a little too simplified, even dumbed down, I felt, so we soon set out on our own.

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The courtyard above is an extension of a scholar’s study. It is the very heart of the ‘Scholar’s Garden’. Sadly, we didn’t get more than a brief glimpse of the garden’s centerpiece and core. While we were trying to visit, both garden & study had been hijacked by a circle of meditating and tai-chi-ing Westerners, who recorded their activities with professional looking devices. This was awkward because I felt obliged to tiptoe around them, neither lingering nor recording my own pictures, lest I disturb their focus.

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I was miffed with myself for having yielded so politely, yet resenting the high entrance fee, when I couldn’t see and enjoy the entirety of the garden. Especially since we found out that immediately adjacent to the high-end private ‘garden’ is a Ming Dynasty style public ‘park’, which actually overlooks the garden in part.
As always, instead of addressing my perceived grievance with management, I fumed quietly. I suppose, despite my advanced age, I still haven’t mastered neither equilibrium to allay my anger nor the ability to express said anger in the proper fashion to the parties concerned. I am, however, an expert at muttering under my breath!
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We saw several types of wood most commonly used in Ming dynasty (imperial) architecture, among them camphor wood for it’s prized insecticidal properties. In the foreground in the picture above is a column of nan wood, a cedar renown for its incredible hardness and durability.

[During my Internet searches into nan wood I came upon the astounding fact that the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC installed a Ming Dynasty Garden, utilizing the very same Chinese artisans and resources in 1979, as the Vancouver group did in the eighties. If you’re interested in more of the fascinating details, this is a link to a MET publication ‘A Chinese Garden Court: The Astor Court at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’. The book is out of print, so scrolling through this e-version is the only way to read it at the moment.]

On the console table in front of the window, Chinese scholar rocks or scholar stones or viewing stones are on display. Wiki has a stub with several links and this interesting paragraph on the evaluation of stone properties:

The evaluation of a scholar’s rock identifies subtlety of color, shape, markings, surface, and sound. The overall array of qualities which are prized include

  • awkwardness or overhanging asymmetry
  • resonance or ringing when struck
  • representation or resemblance to landscape or figure
  • texture
  • moistness or glossy surface

Stepping back outside into the brilliant sunshine of the garden, I noticed this turtle making its way across a lily pond. Actually, what I really saw was lily movement, it took me a while to locate and identify the critter.

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I appreciate the irony of the word ‘West’ appearing on a building just beyond the Eastern garden
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Contemplating something …
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The ancient embracing the contemporary

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Leaving the garden, we discussed the possibilities of getting some dim sum for lunch, despite the fact that it was after 2 PM and Monday to boot when many restaurants are closed. Just then we encountered the young man, who had issued us our garden tickets and who was returning to the ticket booth from his own lunch break. He gave us three possible restaurant options located practically around the corner from the museum, right here on Pender Street, and we set out happily for some food.

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By the way, have you ever seen a business called the “Peking Lounge” and it turned out to be an interior design studio, rather than a bar? Crazy! Do you think the signage hasn’t been updated since 1926?

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On the way to the restaurant, we came across another interesting interior design studio, which no-one would ever mistake for a bar. It had barely opened yet and its premises were so captivating, I asked permission to take some pictures.

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Their studio is in one of the old, end-of-19th-century houses in Chinatown and the owners discovered these terrific wood-clad walls when they stripped a couple of centuries of wallpaper and paint off the walls.
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You can see impressions of past building subdivisions, additions and former staircases. They cleaned up some of the artifacts they found during their renovations. Oh, yes, their merchandise is pretty interesting, too!
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However, we were pressing on for a long overdue lunch, as a matter of fact, after taking my pictures, I had to run out of the studio and hurry up the street to catch up with Barry.
Our first choice of restaurant was just closing for the afternoon when we got there, so we decided on the New Town Bakery & Restaurant just across the street, which was also one of Mr. Ticket’s recommendations. Great choice! A hustling and bustling super busy place, even at almost three in the afternoon. The front portion is a bakery with glass fronted display cases filled with winter melon buns and lotus seed dumplings, in the rear, you find tables and booth filled with hungry humans and their waitresses, who were rushing about with pots of tea, child seats, and laden trays. We enjoyed spring rolls with plum sauce, my beloved potstickers, shrimp dumplings and a humongous BBQ pork steamed bun. You can check the extensive menu in the Vancouver location website.
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The kitchen was located in the very rear of the building, so trolleys with steam baskets stacked four or five high were shuttled past our table on their way to the bakery counter in front.

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No idea what this huge steamed egg-cake might be

 

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Leaving Chinatown behind, our final afternoon destination was Gastown, a neighborhood near the waterfront, which presents as a very crowded mix of public houses, boutiques, restaurants, and assorted tourist attractions, like a steam-powered clock (you read that correctly). Between all of this touristy quagmire and the actual waterfront, run several railroad tracks leading to the commercial harbor with its container docks to the East. Toward the western end of Gastown are the cruise ship docks – so there’s no shortage of toing and froing!

 

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from front to rear:
modern cobblestone street – people – several freight trains – a cruise ship on Burrard Inlet – coastal mountains on the far side of the inlet

 

I have to admit, we didn’t linger for long in Gastown. Too many people, too much noise, too much glare of the hot afternoon sun. So we hightailed it to an inviting coffee shop in a quieter street to enjoy dessert and an espresso to revive the spirit, and, more importantly, our feet for the track home to False Creek. Thus it came to pass that I had my very first Nanaimo bar. My Canadian friend in Atenas, painter Diana Miskell Turlock is a Nanaimo bar fiend – she made several dozens last Christmas for a bake exchange – and she couldn’t believe, I had never tasted one. This one was for you, Diana!

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