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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- 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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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!