Saturday, December 22, 2007

Dong Zhi 冬至: the Rebirth of Yang

In most aspects I tend yin, really. Water, earth, and so on. But at this time of year, a little fire and air is not unwarranted. Thus, we spent the solstice evening at the Sun Yat-Sen Gardens, illuminated by an array of lighting devices and a variety of artistic impulses.

This has got to be the single most multi-cultural event I've been to in ten years. There was about an equal mixture of Chinese folks and Everyone Else. There was probably plenty of internal diversity among the Chinese people present, but I am not qualified to observe just how much. Among the non-Chinese-looking folks, there were many skin colours and languages present. I heard Spanish and Russian (lots of Russian). And I'm pretty sure we weren't the only Jewish people there: as we entered the garden walking into this eerie lantern-lit space, a soft lowing sounds drifted across the courtyard. Behind me, a child said, "Oh! They're playing the shofar!" It was not a shofar, though it did sound like one. We eventually made our way to where the fellow was playing the instrument:
That is a huge horn (the bottom of it rested on the ground) made of a single elderberry root. The mouthpiece was from a trumpet and the flare was a bamboo frame with papier mache, thoroughly varnished to withstand possible rain.
I thought it witty that a leafless tree was hung with leaf-decorated lanterns. As we walked on the winding paths we would come to an area with fish-shaped lanterns; then one with drum-shaped ones; then half-moons; and so on. There were also flower-shaped lanterns floating on the pond,
and in a side room there was a menagerie full of pigs, frogs and owls.

Another room and its courtyard had a display of art that used directed light and shadow. Some of it was made by the artist in residence, some by regular folks. I had no idea which was which. This was one of my faves: a burlap hanging which was embroidered, cutaway, and appliqued, hanging heavy and straight. The lamp focused on it spilled an enormous shadow on the sheer linen curtain behind it. When the linen curtain caught a breeze, the movement of the shadow changed your impression of the burlap original. It seemed to shimmer, even though it was standing still.
The art was arranged in such a way as to allow you to go up and touch it. Children were quite uninhibited about touching it, and not one injury was noted to either art or small fingers. Let this be a lesson to us. The stunning work below, which was about a meter square, was made out of the industrial mesh used to make shatter-proof glass and wooden toothpicks. There are thousands of toothpicks inserted into exact squares of the mesh to create this effect.
We bought tea and hot chocolate at various points to ward off the cold, and also ducked into the enclosed rooms to warm up, like one where you could have your name calligraphied. We ended up in the gift shop, watching a little Russian girl (whom we had spied earlier fingering the art) picking out a parasol. We went on to dinner at Foo's Ho Ho, one of only a few remnants of my childhood Chinatown.
Winnifred's full web album of solstice pics (you knew these were her pics, I assume) is here; her web album of the Sun Yat-Sen Gardens at other times is here.

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