Creative Director Ned Shaw loves to share stories about his adventures, and China is no exception! This is the first in a series of posts where staff share the incredible details from their trips to China—all in preparation for the museum's transformation into an immersive Chinese experience in May 2014.
Ah China! The land of ancient traditions and a marvel of modern development.
Pandas and pagodas. Buddhist monks and rock star punks. Mini vans and mini skirts. Fast mopeds and fried fish heads. Surprising foods and miles and miles of roads (not to mention millions of cars).
China is being transformed daily, racing to bring to bear the increasingly entrepreneurial population to solve its formidable challenges. The world is watching this transformation, and so is The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis.
The museum has sent several groups of staff, board members, and donors over the years to see for ourselves how China is changing itself, and the world, forever. I was fortunate enough to be included in the most recent adventure, and charged with bringing back some of the photographic assets needed to complete next year’s exhibits, Take Me There®: China
and Terra Cotta Warriors: The Emperor’s Painted Army
. The first is all about modern China, complete with stores, shops, and streets. The second is the story of the vast archaeological discovery of thousands of clay soldiers found guarding an emperor’s tomb. We had to see it up close to bring our visitors the most extraordinary experience possible.
As you would expect from an outfit like ours, it was go, go, go from the moment we touched down in China! Beijing was as advertised...huge, sprawling, bustling, congested, smoggy…modern, slick, and shiny one minute, old, moldy, and crumbling the next!
But a quick bus ride took us out of town to the Great Wall, stretching literally as far as the eye can see in both directions, high up on the side of mountains. Pictures don’t really do it justice…we kept asking “How did they get all these rocks up here? We can barely climb the steps! And was this project approved by the Occupational Hazard Oversight Committee of the Emperor? Because it looks like it was a rather dangerous worksite!”
Then off to the Forbidden City (which is an odd name because we strolled right in…I guess it isn’t very forbidden anymore!) It went on forever, giant pagodas that housed thousands of people at one time, all in service to the emperor. Truly amazing architecture. Those of us who are fans of the old Chinese action movies, especially the historical ones with lots of yelling, sword fights, torchlit chases and sneaky guys all in black prowling the rooftops, have seen many scenes shot in this complex of palaces. It was really astounding to be there in person! You could almost hear the giant gong announcing the approach of the emperor! Quick! On your knees, head on the pavement!
Then onward… the hits kept coming! The circular tower called the Temple of Heaven, every inch carved and painted, 6 stories tall! Awesome! The Summer Palace of the Emperor, with giant gates of carved wood, long walkways with painted murals on the beams and ceiling, even a huge stone boat commissioned by the only female empress of China. Yes, I said stone boat. I believe she was sending a message to her people…no more long sea voyages! Such are the wondrous riddles of the city of Beijing.
We had a great dinner at the Summer Palace with the chief restorer of Chinese architecture, who told us that he was having difficulty finding enough talented artists to assist him in his mission to preserve the old buildings and temples. Seems that the younger generation is more interested in designing, and playing, video games…hmmm…sound familiar?
We just could not get enough Chinese food, history, sights, and sounds. Every where we looked was a feast for the eyes…if not the nose!
…more in my next installment: towering cliffs with giant carved Buddhas, turtle soup with a side of silkworms, and more!
(Third Photo: Staff visit the Temple of Heaven. From left to right: Chris Carron, Director of Collections, Ned Shaw, Creative Director, David Donaldson, Chief Technology Officer, Dr. Jeff Patchen, President and CEO.)