Chun King’s Chow Mein was the first taste of Asian culture many of us ever experienced. At my childhood home, this concoction of vegetables + goo was dished over a bed of crispy noodles and served approximately 4 times per year. The look on my father’s face was always one of wonderment mixed with angst. (I am still not sure if he found this culinary experience delicious or not…) At the same time, I thought it was “oh-so-cool” to be getting a taste of such a faraway place. Those crispy noodles were especially yummy.
Globalization has shrank the world. Today’s marketplace provides easy access to many such experiences. However, from time-to-time, an event occurs which provides us an additional glimpse of other cultures.
Arriving just as the gates opened, I was allowed the opportunity to discover the gardens in the gloaming of the day. It was quite magical, indeed. Vegetation was very lush. Being late in the growing season, the gardens were at their peak and beginning to take on the aura of a fading beauty queen. The inclusion of architecture within the garden not only organized the experience but gave one the sensation of a treasure hunt. I was excited to see what the next turn might descry.
Easily spotted in the garden was the classical conservatory. This glass house is home to a collection of orchids and exotic plants. One journey around its winding path and you feel like you have been on a jungle safari. The array of blooming orchids provide an abundance of color, shape, and texture.
Like the fading light of a waning candle, sunlight soon diminished. The lanterns instantly began to set the garden aglow. To support this cultural immersion, speakers were hidden among the foliage, providing an orchestration of string instruments all strumming Asian melodies. A sense of wonderment prevailed among the guests---from the quite young to the well-seasoned.
“WOW” was heard everywhere!
These were not the typical onion-shaped “Chinese Lanterns” of brightly colored silk and tassels …..Instead, these were illuminated sculptures. Each being a wire form covered in luminous textiles. Every figure was internally lit, giving it the essence of a lantern. The attention to design detail made them simply stunning!
The theme of this year’s festival was, “The Wild”. The sculptural lanterns were all members of the animal kingdom from around the world. The garden had been appropriately segmented to feature animals native to each continent. While North America’s bears, moose, and alligators were in one area, Africa’s elephants, zebras, and lions were in another. Also among the lot were various fish, fowl, and dinosaurs.
The glowing lanterns quickly became the “jewels” of this garden. In addition to this visual feast, there were presentations of Kung Fu and shadow arts. The interest of the attending crowd seemed to be held captive at each event.
While the experience was one of entertainment, it was also one of learning. --- Learning how cultures are different, and perhaps, the same. One thing for certain, I will always remember how lovely these lanterns were the next time I have those crispy noodles.