What would it be like to travel back in time 400 years and visit a Chinese garden court? Dominga, age 12, visited The Astor Chinese Garden Court to find out. While there, she wrote a poem and learned that Chinese scholars liked writing poetry in garden courts, too! Join Dominga and David Bowles, assistant educator for School and Educator Programs, on their visit.
David Bowles: I love the idea of a poetry party. I guess if you're a Ming dynasty Chinese scholar that makes perfect sense.
Dominga: Yeah, we learned the definition of dynasty. It's like a powerful family.
David Bowles: Yeah, a dynasty is the name when one family is sort of ruling an entire country.
Dominga: Why was the pavilion designed with a curved roof?
David Bowles: It's actually got a cool reason. The Chinese people at the time thought evil spirits, like demons that could cause trouble for you, could only move in straight lines.
Dominga: Well, then they can't come in because it's curved.
David Bowles: If you believed in evil spirits, then you might believe that those curved lines could actually help them keep the demons away. So yeah, all of those curved lines up there are also meant to make demons sort of bounce off.
Dominga: They're kind of the same, like on the top of the roof.
David Bowles: I also think it has to do with rain, too. Don't you think? Like if the rain was falling on these buildings?
Dominga: Oh yeah, because then it won't fall straight.
David Bowles: I bet it curves the rain. Do you see these funny little triangles? They're actually meant to gather the rain as it falls. And they could . . .
Dominga: Fall into an interesting pattern.
Dominga: Are there certain types of plants in the Astor Court that make the place more refreshing and quiet?
David Bowles: Chinese garden designers want you to feel like you are looking at a landscape. So they choose plants that make you think that they might be really big trees, even though they are kind of small. They'll usually choose little bushes, but if you just switch your scale around and imagine someone three inches tall, you could imagine that being a whole forest.
Dominga: Did they put limestone rocks in the Astor Court so that when people went there, it would help them be calm and relaxed?
David Bowles: Yeah, the limestone rock is called a scholar stone. "Scholar" is a fancy way of saying somebody is a really, really knowledgeable teacher. Like, think about your teachers at school.
Dominga: Yeah, a scholar.
David Bowles: A scholar is somebody who spends all their time studying ideas and teaching about ideas and teaching other people about what they've studied.
Dominga: We've been learning about rocks for a cycle of a project, and we learned about limestone and how, like, some have large holes in them like that one.
David Bowles: Limestone to me is a really interesting rock because it is actually made of life forms.
Dominga: It is?
David Bowles: Yeah, limestone is made out of . . .
David Bowles: Limestone is made out of old sea creatures that lived in the ocean millions and millions of years ago. When they died, all of their bodies fell down to the bottom of the ocean and over millions of years, layers and layers of that sediment piled on top of them.
Dominga: Just like a sedimentary rock.
David Bowles: Yeah, and eventually you get this strange rock form like this. And one of the cool things is that because it's made of many small things, it's really easy to have these cool shapes because it breaks apart really easily. So scholars in China really like these rocks because they feel that if you look at them, they could help you get cool new ideas.
Dominga: I think that looks like a really big chair.
David Bowles: You know how sometimes people look up at the clouds and see different shapes? It's the same idea here. It's like with the scholars' rocks: you are supposed to look at it, think about it, imagine what it looks like, and see what kind of new ideas it gives you—especially for poetry. People in ancient China loved poetry, and gardens like this would be a place that you would come to try to write a poem about nature or life.
Dominga: In class we do creative writing. I like mostly to write about nature, because there are always different sounds that are in different places.