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.
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.
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.