September 28th, 2010 First Meeting and Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens

September 28th,2010 Review
Written by: Samantha Knopp

Stepping off the #019 bus near the corner of Carrall and Pender Streets, twenty students from City School at King George Secondary eager to abandon the confines of the classroom embarked on their first session of Walking Home Carrall (WH Carrall Street). Accompanied by their teacher, Gary Davis, the participants were welcomed by Walking Home Projects Director Catherine Pulkinghorn and the WH Carrall staff: Laurie Dawson (Project and Audio Co-ordinator); Gina Hetland (Media Co-ordinator); Kathy Zhang (Education Mentor); and Sam Knopp (Education Researcher and Administrative Assistant).

As they stood along bustling Pender Street in Vancouver’s Chinatown district, the students were given a quick description of the program, the production team and their roles and responsibilities as participants. Catherine explained that WH Carrall is the second in a series of experiential educational projects that takes advantage of the impact that tangible interactions with places and people can have on learning experiences. For this project, the students will focus on Vancouver’s first street, Carrall Street, with the help of local architects, artists, educators and historians.

Meeting for the first time! (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

With the introductions out of the way, it was time to actually begin walking! The group headed towards the main entrance of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden and Park. As we entered Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park, Catherine explained that this area is under Vancouver Parks Board jurisdiction, which like all city parks, is free to visit. The park is intended to complement the connected Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, a Non-Profit Organization (NPO) that requires a small admission fee. The park incorporates elements of traditional Chinese architecture and design, but unlike the garden, was not made using Chinese building materials and craftsmen, which we all later learned is a crucial component of the authentic Chinese Garden. Most of the participants had never visited the park before, but upon entering there was an immediate sense of peace and tranquility that we all shared. The noise and bustle of the city seemed to disappear behind the white walls, and the only trace of Vancouver left in this foreign enclave was the towering glass high-rises seen in the distance. But the feeling didn’t last; we were immediately brought back to the reality of the city when the group exited the east park entrance onto Columbia Street for a walk around the park wall. Turning onto Keefer Street, Gary Davis pointed out Andy Livingstone Park, which with its synthetic turf sports field and concrete skate park, standing in almost absurd contrast to the neighbouring beacon of Chinese culture.

As the group came back to Carrall Street and entered the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, we were introduced to our guide, Claudette Martin, the Garden’s Head of Education, Programs and Tours. Claudette explained that the Garden, which opened in 1986 as part of Expo ’86, was the first full-size Chinese garden built outside of China. The Garden is named after Sun Yat-Sen who is commonly referred to as the “father of modern China” for his role in bringing democratic rule to China and acting as its first president. This attribution is inspired by Sun’s mandate of change, something that the Garden, the first of its kind outside of China, also embodies. But bringing this change was no simple task; construction for the garden required fifty-two master craftsmen and over ninety-five crates of materials to be brought to Vancouver all the way from China!

Claudette giving us an engaging and involved tour (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

As we marvelled at the rare Chinese wood, foreign plants and traditional craftsmanship, Claudette surprised us with another interesting fact: what we had assumed was merely a garden, was actually an imitation of the home of a Ming scholar. Scholars during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) were the educated, cultured, and wealthy elite who worked for the emperor as government officials. To help the group learn more about the life of these scholars and their garden homes, Claudette had a few students role-play as we walked through spaces typical of this type of residence. Claudette stressed the role Taoist philosophy – especially the notions of yin and yang – played in the construction of the Garden. Everything in the space was placed purposefully to create balance and harmony between the female (yin) and male (yang) energies, which in the Taoist tradition are understood to exist in everything. Claudette showed the group this collage of opposites by pointing out the various pairs within the Garden, from the white walls and black roofs to the smooth and jagged stoned floors. The group also quickly became aware that nothing in the Garden is meaningless. Every individual element of the Garden, from the type of plant to the colour of the water, has symbolic meaning that is rooted in Chinese traditions. What may have first seemed like a simplistic space suddenly became a lot more intricate. For most of the group, it seemed as though there was an abundance of secrets hidden throughout the Garden just waiting to be discovered! But that part of the experience had as much to do with the observers as with the Garden. Those more familiar with these Chinese traditions would have no doubt experienced the Garden quite differently.

Enjoying the serenity and natural beauty (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

As the tour wrapped up, the group had some time to reflect on this unique space and the culture that informed it before heading to New Town Bakery, where their stomachs also got an opportunity to reflect! The New Town Bakery on Pender Street specializes in Chinese and Filipino goodies and has been a fixture in the neighbourhood for 30 years. Some of the participants were treated to familiar favourites, while others found themselves having a culinary adventure as they bit into their first steamed bun or egg tart. With both minds and now bellies full of new experience and knowledge, the group made its way back to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park entrance to wrap up the day. Many participants shared their amazement of the Garden, and spoke about the peaceful nature of their experiences. One of the last comments seemed especially poignant: we must not be “no” people; rather, it is important to keep an open mind and actively try to better understand and appreciate the world around us.

Sam Knopp

The Map of Where We Went – Oct 26, 2010:

Youth Reviews

Rebekah D.                                                                                                      September 28 , 2010
Dr. Sun Yet-Sen Park and Classical Chinese Garden
Today was the first day of our walking tours and what a great start it was! I had been looking forward to the walks, building up an idea of what we would do during the 3 hours that Catherine and the team of Walking Home Projects had planned for us. It was great to start off at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park and Classical Chinese Garden because of the location in the heart of Chinatown, on Carrall Street where our walks are centered.

There are two gardens at the site. One is a public garden/Park run by the City of Vancouver and it is a lovely area with a huge towering wall surrounding it, enclosing us in a secluded calm area where the energy is quiet and relaxing. The pond it is centered around is beautiful because of the reflections it shows: of the Park, the city, and the high-rises reflected back to you. As we left the Park to walk around the wall surrounding it, toward the entrance of the adjacent Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, I was reminded that the world is so close, and that we can have such a lovely relaxing garden in the middle of the bustling city.

In the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, you feel as if you’re taken back to what people’s houses were like hundreds of years ago in China. We were ushered into a room (which would have been the formal receiving room) where we were introduced to our tour guide, Claudette, who took us around the Garden telling us about the history of how Chinese people used the ideas of balance and Yin and Yang throughout the design of their houses and gardens. The contrast of rough and smooth, the square door verses the circular entrance, the round shaped windows and the square shaped windows. But the brilliant part was how with each side, the Yin and the Yang, there was a balance, and there was some of the Yin in the Yang and vice-versa.

The beauty of the gardens and layout of them was the perfect way to start our series of tours with Walking Home Projects. It was a way to show us that you need balance to your life, and it told us just a bit of the history of Carrall Street.

Enjoying steamed buns from New Town Bakery (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Taylor D.                                                                                                           September 28, 2010
Visiting the Dr Sun Yat-Sen Park and the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
I was honestly expecting the walking tour to be pretty boring. I thought we were just going to go to some random park and talk about its history for hours. But I was mistaken. As soon as I entered the Park’s gate I was completely blown away. I had only ever seen such a beautiful place on TV or in pictures. I never imagined there would be such a place right here in my very own city. Walking around through the winding paths felt magical, almost like I wasn’t even on earth. While I was there I wasn’t paying attention to anything else. I forgot about all my worries and focused only on living in the moment.

The more I learned about the Park (from Catherine) and the Garden (from Claudette), the more amazed I became. Every detail about the place was incredible down to the ground we walked on. I was amazed at how every part of the Garden had a balance of yin and yang, and how it was all hand made. The Chinese builders (who came from China to build the Garden for Expo ‘86) used no power tools or nails or screws or anything to build the Garden. What amazed me most of all was how just outside the Garden’s walls was typical Vancouver.

Exploring the park (photo credit: Gina Hetland)


Nakiah S.                                                                                                         September 28, 2010
Student at the City School, King George Secondary
Walking Home Carrall St., Reflection #1
Going to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden yesterday was eye opening, at the very least. We learned how the balance of yin and yang was incorporated into everyday life in China in the past – even in the doorframes – and that this is the only Chinese Garden outside of China. We learned how a Chinese family worked: the father would live in a large house with his wives, children, parents, his brothers and their families, and occasionally his youngest unmarried sister. One thing that came to mind when hearing this was that I couldn’t imagine living with that many people, even if the house was very large. My favorite part of the tour was learning that the hallways were so curved because ghosts supposedly can’t turn corners.

I had never been to the Garden before yesterday and it was amazing how this beautiful garden is in the busy downtown of Vancouver. It was very peaceful and surprisingly quiet. As soon as I could draw my eyes away from the Koi fish, I saw the overwhelming plant life. I felt very centered and calm when I sat down to admire the scenery. Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden is definitely a place I’ll be going back to.

Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Public Park (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Parker S-H.                                                                                                      September 28, 2010
Walking Home Carrall Street, Day 1
The trip to the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden was very surreal. I have lived in Vancouver most of my life, and even though I’ve heard of the Garden before, I had never actually been. When we first walked in it was like stepping into a new country, everything felt different and very serene. It made me feel guilty that I had never visited the Garden before.

Coming into Walking Home Carrall Street I had very few expectations and kept an open mind. I was blown away at how in-depth the tour was and how little I know about Chinese culture. Our guide, Claudette Martin, was excellent and the entire tour was interesting. On previous tours of any facility, I have found that the guides were lackluster and seemed bored by what they were trying to teach. This was not the case with Claudette as she seemed interested and excited about taking us around the Garden. I found that by the end of the day I had learned an enormous amount, and I am pretty sure that many of my classmates felt the same.

I think a program like Walking Home Carrall Street could be very beneficial to students around Vancouver because I know so many of us are interested in the city’s history but very seldom do we get a chance to learn about it in school. It made me think about my city in a different way, and wonder what other landmarks I might be missing out on. This all happened on the first day so I am excited to see what the other walks will have in store.

At the Garden (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Anna W.                                                                                                           September 28, 2010
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden
The guided tour of Vancouver’s Classical Chinese Garden was fascinating and well put together. I’ve been there at least four times before and never realized what I was seeing. Having Claudette explain the whole balance of it, and all the work that was put into the construction, made the whole place seem more beautiful.
I have always loved oriental gardens, I find them really calming to draw and read in (now I know why), but I had no idea that gardens like that would actually be somebody’s estate. If I were somehow to acquire vast sums of money when I’m older, my billionaire mansion would probably be similar to what we visited today, only with glass windows and electricity. It would still be in the middle of Vancouver, because such carefully constructed, relaxing beauty in the middle of a complex, busy city just makes it more serene.

Except for the story about the Chinese ghost-zombies hopping in corners, the whole experience was fantastic. I can’t wait for next Tuesday’s trip and guest speaker, and I hope the food is just as good.

At the Garden (photo credit: Gina Hetland)

Click on the podcast below to hear Claudette Martin, Head of Education, Programs and Tours talk about the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden: