Some day we’ll travel to Asia, but we haven’t made it there yet. We can, however, still experience Chinese culture right here in our own hometown. Portland, Oregon’s Lan Su Chinese Garden is a beautiful oasis in the center of our city, and a fabulous place to explore the culture of China. It is said to be one of the most authentic Chinese gardens outside of China and was designed by artisans from our sister city, Suzhou.
Guests at the garden have many options. One can simply wander or join a guided tour. You might stop for tea at the well known tea house, attend a lecture, or participate in a cultural activity such as learning to play mahjong.
Last year I went to the garden for the first time to see the floating lanterns at their Chinese New Year celebration. The lanterns are lit at Chinese New Year to mark the return of the light and the warmth of the sun. They had 150 red lanterns hanging throughout the garden and 250 floating lanterns on the center pool. It was a cold night, but it wasn’t raining, and the glow of the lanterns was magical. Different rooms around the garden area had art on display and activities related to the year of the horse.
Near the end of the evening, Portland’s lion dancers performed, which was exciting as well as beautiful. Everyone was thrilled to see them enter the garden and then weave their way through the crowds. It was like everyone became a child again. The lion dancing was accompanied by authentic (read: LOUD) drums and cymbals. Lion dancing is an art form that has been practiced in China for over 2,000 years. Lion dances are done at Chinese New Year and for other special events. The dance is performed to ward off evil and invite good fortune.
The Year of the Ram begins February 19, 2015! People born in the Year of the Ram are generally supposed to be sincere, persistent, and quick. Chinese New Year celebration at Lan Su runs Feb. 19 — March 5 this year. Get all the details here.
If you’d like to visit the gardens sooner, take advantage of a great budget opportunity that’s happening from January 3-11, 2015. Receive one free admission to Lan Su Chinese Garden for each non-perishable food item donated to support the Oregon Food Bank. This is a great chance to explore the gardens and support our local community.
Visiting the Chinese Garden clearly isn’t a substitute for a trip to China, but it’s a great opportunity to learn about an important part of Chinese culture in an authentic environment. Do you have suggestions for authentic ways to explore other cultures without actually traveling to them? Leave us a note in the comments, and enjoy your week or your weekend!