A Chinese Cart Worth Discovering

Paper lanterns, some made of red lucky envelopes (laisee or hong bao), enliven the latticework of the new Chinese Garden Discovery Cart.

Paper lanterns, some made of red lucky envelopes (laisee or hong bao), enliven the latticework of the new Chinese Garden Discovery Cart.

You’re walking in the Chinese Garden. First you hear wheels crunching over gravel, and then you see a curious red-and-cream box approach. The intricate lattice design of the cart invites you to peek inside, but the bright fiery red sides shield its contents. What is this contraption? A food cart with Asian-inspired treats? Guess again. When you open this peculiar box, you get a glimpse into the complex culture of China.

The Chinese Garden Discovery Cart is the newest incarnation of a long-standing Huntington tradition—mobile interactive exhibits that focus on the theme of a particular garden. The activities on the cart include making Beijing opera masks, playing Chinese musical instruments, and exploring a Chinese apothecary box. What, you may ask, inspired these activities? To answer that question, let’s go back in time.

A Beijing opera mask adds drama to the cart.

A Beijing opera mask adds drama to the cart.

In the summer of 2011, I helped revitalize the Discovery Carts program by creating a new Chinese Garden cart. Having been a high-school volunteer at The Huntington, I had heard of Discovery Carts but never seen one because they were out of commission at the time. My task was to come up with possible activities for a brand-new Chinese cart.

For inspiration, I looked to my upbringing as the daughter of a Chinese herb specialist. My childhood visits to fascinating herbal emporiums gave me the idea of creating an apothecary box. What better way to showcase the garden’s plants than with an apothecary box focused on Chinese botany? Dried and gnarly, the medicinal plant samples in the box pique your curiosity and fill your mind with wonder.

An apothecary box containing: (3) dried Chinese dates, also known as jujube; (8) dried longan; and (9) snow fungus.

An apothecary box containing: (3) dried Chinese dates, also known as jujube; (8) dried longan; and (9) snow fungus.

Other activities came about more pragmatically. The lantern activity resulted from trying to find a way to repurpose years of accumulated red lucky envelopes from past Lunar New Years. The outcome was brilliant but, unfortunately, too time-consuming for the average visitor to recreate. In its place, a simplified version of the activity was used, complete with some intriguing legends about lanterns.

The new Chinese Garden cart heralds the renaissance of the Discovery Cart program; new carts for other gardens will be created during the coming year. Be sure to visit the Chinese Garden cart during The Huntington’s Chinese New Year Festival, Feb. 21–22. The cart will be stationed in the garden’s north courtyard from 12:30–4 p.m. A table at the garden’s eastern entrance will provide additional activities.

For more information regarding Discovery Carts, click here.

Christine Quach is a web editor at The Huntington.

2 thoughts on “A Chinese Cart Worth Discovering

  1. I loved this article! Even though it’s now Feb. 27 and the article says that the cart will be on view Feb. 21 and 22, I hope it will still be there when I next visit.

    • Hi, Margo. Glad you enjoyed this post! The Discovery Carts are scheduled to be open on Saturdays and Sundays from 12:30–3:30 p.m. You can find out more about them here.

      Best,
      Kate Lain
      New Media Developer

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *