All Posts by Kathy Gibler

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Director of the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden in Vancouver from 2006 to 2016, Kathy Gibler Kathy believes the Chinese Garden is a vital cultural connector between Asian and other cultures and has spearheaded a vibrant program of horticultural exhibitions, concerts, education, festivals, interactive theatre and recently developed the first Master Gardener Course about Classical Chinese Gardens.

Things To Do in Chinatown: A Moon Festival Itinerary

By Kathy Gibler | Garden News

Chinatown Millennium Gate on Pender Street

A Moon Festival Itinerary – Things To Do at the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival

The Mid-Autumn Moon Festival presents a wonderful opportunity for family fun. Gardens BC has put together a list of ‘things to do’ to assist in making your choice. The actual festival date is September 24; most of the events take place on the previous week-end, September 21 and September 22. If you are lucky, you may be able to fit two events into your fun schedule.

If you are in Vancouver/Lower Mainland, there are several choices. 

Friday

The Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden celebrates Music Under the Moon on Friday evening, September 21 from 5:30 — 9:30pm. In addition to musical performances,enjoy a Music Under the Moon contest where you will vote for the winner, tea tasting, mooncake making and more. Be sure to visit the Chinese Musical Instrument Petting Zoo from 6:30–7:00 pm. Ticketed.

There are numerous restaurants and shops in and near Chinatown for a bite to eat before the event.

Join the Vancouver Learning City at Oakridge for a Chinese Harp Music concert  Friday Sept 21 from 6:00 to 7:00pm. Free

Saturday

Moon Cake Demonstration: Coquitlam Heritage Centre,  Ages 12+

Learn about the history and traditions of Mid-Autumn Moon festival, how to make ice mooncakes and the how to make baked mooncakes.  Sampling included!  Spaces is limited. 10:30am to 12:00pm. Reservations and ticketed

If you are on Vancouver Island:

Saturday 

 Saanich Moon Lantern Festival 5:00pm -8:00pm.

A family friendly event that welcomes people of all ages and cultures. Enjoy traditional Asian dance and musical performances by community groups; lantern making for children and a sampling of mooncakes and traditional green teas. The event culminates with outdoor lantern installations, an illuminated community lantern procession through the park followed by an outdoor musical performance.   Free.

Light Up the Hills Lantern Festival   7:30 – 9:30pm, Westhills community in Langford.

The festival features illuminated artworks that create an intriguing glowing effect. Participants will stroll along a path passing performances and artworks.  Get ready for the evening by attending one of several lantern-making workshops on different dates.

Event: free.  Lantern-making workshops: registration fee.

Portland Oregon

A major Mid-Autumn Moon Festival is held at the LanSu Chinese Garden in Portland Oregon. If you will be in Portland on Sept 22, be sure to visit; their impressive list of events includes performances, games, tea, crafts, story-telling and more. 

Where to buy mooncakes:

Vancouver /Lower Mainland:

Buy mooncakes in Vancouver.  Most Chinese bakeries features mooncakes in the lead up to the festival. Other mooncake bakeries of note are Saint Germain Bakery with stores through Lower Mainland. If you’re looking for mooncakes with an exciting fusion flair, visit Soirette Bakery for flavours such as Pineapple Marmalade & Kaffir Lime Leaf and Black Sesame & Yuzu

Victoria area 

You’ll find mooncakes at Fairway Markets. It’s also worth a peek in other Chinese bakeries and where Chinese food is sold..

Prince George

If you are wondering if you can buy mooncakes in Prince George. You’re in luck.

If you are unable to visit any of the celebrations, you don’t have to miss out on the stories, legends and traditions of Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. The British Council’s Schools Online offers a Mid-Autumn Moon educational kit to do with the family.

Whatever you choose to do for the event, keep your friends and family in your thoughts. Pass this Moon Festival Itinerary to friends and look for updates to it next year. Looking for a different itinerary, try our Single Day Cultural Garden Experience Trip in Vancouver.

Download a pdf of the Moon Festival Itinerary

Mid-Autumn Moon Festival: Moon Gladness

By Kathy Gibler | Garden News

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver

Not-To-Be-Missed! Mid-Autumn Moon Festival 中秋节 Zhōngqiū Jié:  Moon Gladness

It happens every year and every year it seems to take us by surprise as we begin the move away from the yang sun and the heat of summer toward the yin moon and the months ruled by the cool and dark of the night sky. We wake up one day and it’s autumn in the garden. “What happened?”

Autumn is kind to gardeners – there is still some warmth and sun, in patches, and the crisp and cool feels invigorating. Gardens are still producing almost more than we can eat and the winter veggies are sprouted, which is rewarding.

Autumn slides in; the first hint is when the quality of the light seems to change. It always happens as a ‘ooh’ moment. It’s hard to describe what the change is, but the word that always comes to mind is poignant. A whispering harbinger of the season changing. Night changes too; think of autumn’s largest moon, golden, with its ‘faces’ most visible. 

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in Vancouver at night

Moon-wise, 2018 is an unusual year. There will be 13 full moons, none of which were in February and two of which are blue moons (January and March). In current terms, a blue moon happens when there is a second full moon in a month. They happen once every 2.7 years, which gives a definitive number to the phrase ‘once in a blue moon.’

Full moons are often named to correspond what is happening in the natural world:

Chinese Moon names - moon festival

People around the world celebrate seasons; harvest festivals feature prominently. The second most important Chinese lunar festival, Mid-Autumn Moon Festival 中秋节, falls on the 15th day of the 8th month in the Chinese lunar calendar, September 24 this year, the night of the full moon. The day has been

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden - moon cakescelebrated in China since the Shang Dynasty (c. 1600-1046 BCE).  It’s a harvest festival celebrating the abundance of summer and the importance of family. A time to gather; some call it the Festival of Reunion. The event is increasingly celebrated in and by gardens, such as Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden (  中山公园 Zhong Shan Gong Yuan) and Portland’s Lansu Garden)

Like all festivals, there are traditions associated with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival; where you celebrate, what you eat, what stories you tell and how you decorate. The full moon is a metaphor for a family reunion, a never-ending circle. For centuries, a feature of the evening has been gazing at the moon, admiring its beauty, knowing that family and friends not with you were doing the same, the moon connecting everyone.

It’s a family celebration, traditionally at home, but more often now a family gathering in a restaurant.  Each family has its own tradition of what dishes are a ‘must’ for the meal, but everyone includes mooncakes.  

Mooncakes 月饼

Traditional mooncakes have a thin, tender pastry skin enveloping a sweet dense filling, usually red bean or lotus, and may contain one or more whole salted duck egg yolks to symbolize the full moon. They are made in special molds that form the shape and leave an imprint on the top and are eaten in small wedges with tea.  Traditional Moon Cakes

If you are ambitious, try making your own mooncakes, here’s a recipe for traditional lotus seed mooncakes.  Yum.  When googling for the recipe; it was immediately apparent that there are many to choose from. Molds and other things you need can be found on Amazon or in culinary shops. Ming Wo’s in Vancouver, just across the street from Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden, comes to mind. One exciting discovery was that mooncake flavours have expanded beyond the traditional into almost every flavour imaginable. Fun.  Here’s a list of 10 favourite mooncakes in China: Five Kernel and Port, Red Bean Paste, Lotus Seed Paste, Snow-Skin, Fruit and Vegetable, Chocolate, Green Tea, Ice Cream, Cream Cheese and Seafood.  Buying is also an option; every Chinese bakery has a selection and they almost always come in great packaging.

Hairy crabs 大闸蟹

Besides mooncakes, another autumn delicacy that dominates Chinese Moon Festival menus is steamed hairy crabs along with a plate of ginger and vinegar. Hairy crabs are also known as Chinese mitten crabs because of their furry claws. They spend most of their lives in fresh water and return to the sea to breed.

Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden in downtown Vancouver

Poetry 诗歌

Chinese literature has many well-known Mid-Autumn Moon Festival poems. In earlier days, they were sung/recited and formed part of the evening’s entertainment.  ‘Thoughts in the Silent Night’ by Li Bai is one such poem. He used four lines of five characters to express his homesickness at the Moon (Mid-Autumn) Festival.

Li Bai Poem - MoonsStory-Telling

One of the most famous Mid-Autumn Moon Festival stories, The Legend of Chang er,  is an enduring love story that tells of the characters involved in solving the problem of ten suns in the sky and what happened to them afterward.Mid Autumn Moon Festival at Sun Yat Sen Chinese Garden

Flowers

The Osmanthus is the flower most associated with the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. It’s prized for its sweet-smelling and edible flowers which bloom at festival time.

If you want to celebrate the festival outside your home, there are a number of great options to choose from.  Watch this space in a few days for “where to go’ ideas, including Vancouver’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden which celebrates their Mid-Autumn Festival on Friday, September 21.

If you enjoyed this article, take a looks at our single day cultural garden trip itinerary within the City of Vancouver.

Chinese New Year: Four Thousand Years and Counting

By Kathy Gibler | Garden News

Chinese New Year 2018

新年好 Xīnnián hǎo – Happy New Year!

People have been celebrating Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival (节), for over four millennia and its reach is growing.   First celebrated in China, people around the world now observe the holiday.  Almost everyone finds a good party irresistible.  Visit Vancouver’s Chinatown on Sunday, February 18 to mingle with the crowds, see a parade and visit the Temple Fair at the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden.

Traditionally, at Chinese New Year, people were happily distracted from their daily lives for almost a month.  Family preparations took more than a week, with activities prescribed for every day, including cleaning, shopping for food and flowers full of symbolism and new clothing for the whole family.  All debts had to be paid before the New Year.  One day was reserved for sending off the kitchen god to report to the Jade Emperor on the family’s conduct that year.  The god’s picture hung in the kitchen where, from this central location, he could watch what was going on.  To ensure a good report, a sticky cake, Nian Gao (年糕 trans.‘every year is better’), was smeared on the picture’s mouth before he was sent off.   A good report was essential to secure abundant blessings for the coming year; the theory being that it’s hard to report bad things with a mouth full of sweets.

Chinese New Year was, and continues to be, one of the two main Chinese holidays that draw everyone home.  New Year’s Eve was for family, with eating, drinking and games.  Every dish of the reunion meal had symbolism.  Traditionally, in Suzhou China, people ate meatballs to represent the family reunion, egg dumplings that looked like ingots of gold and green vegetables with long stalks to represent longevity.

Children received red envelopes full of sweets or money by the adults.  The object of the evening was to stay awake until midnight to usher out the old year and welcome in the new one.  Firecrackers and fireworks have been set off for thousands of years to keep evil influences away and for the sheer fun of making noise.

Red and gold have always been the lucky colours of Chinese New Year.  Red lanterns, lucky sayings on red paper, red flowers, red envelopes and red clothing for children were popular.  Gold represented prosperity.

The first days of the New Year were for paying visits, exchanging new year greetings and enjoying general festivities.  It all ended on the 15th day of the new year with a Lantern Festival.

Temple Fairs were held during Chinese New Year and brought festival crowds together to see dragon and lion dances and acrobats, eat special food and shop at holiday markets.  Held at temples because they had large assembly spaces, the fairs provided a place to enjoy an outing in a renao (热闹 trans.‘hot and noisy’) atmosphere.

The festival has changed somewhat during its history; unhappily, we no longer get several weeks off work.  The kitchen god is less in evidence and more families eat at restaurants now, but families do gather. Red and gold, special flowers and red envelopes are still much loved.  Lions still dance and lanterns are hung.

If you want to immerse yourself in this happiest of all Chinese holidays, the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden will hold a Temple Fair in honour of the new Earth Dog Year.  You’ll see paper cutting demonstrations, a Chinese art book display, lion dancing and a Gongfu Cha tea demonstration.  Get a traditional couplet written just for you by the Richmond Calligraphy Club members, listen to the Chinese New Year story about the Nian (年) monster and traditional music performed by the Folk Music Group of the Senior Chinese Society of Vancouver, put a wish on the wishing tree and receive a red envelope from a community elder.

The Twenty-Four Seasons of a Year

By Kathy Gibler | Garden News

Saanich peninsula farmland through the seasons

The Twenty-Four Seasons of a Year

At this time of year people often ask: what is there to see or do in a garden in winter? British Columbia has the warmest winter climate in Canada and hundreds of public gardens open to visit. Some like to see the ‘bones’ of the garden in winter. Gardeners are of course planning what to plant soon. And of course, Victoria is getting ready for its 43rd annual Greater Victoria Flower Count. But with Chinese New Year coming us, we thought we would ask BC garden tourism expert and former director the Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Garden about the Chinese view the seasons in the garden and we have good news: spring starts on February 4th in 2018!

Gardeners have a close relationship with the earth and weather. We watch weather and work with soil. If we get it right and with a bit of luck, we’re rewarded with an abundance of flowers, vegetables, fruit; whatever we’re trying to grow. As Chinese New Year approaches, seed catalog in hand, I plan and dream of the next cycle of soul-satisfying activity. I like the movement of seasons. Soil-workers have studied the seasonal changes for millennium. The traditional Chinese calendar divides the year into twenty-four sections; recognizing the nuances in the seasons. It gave an edge to those who grow things.Chinese New Year preparations

When I lived in Beijing in the early 1990’s, before there was much heat or air conditioning available to common folks, the winters were dry and bitterly cold and the summers hot and muggy. The practical Beijing population wore six layers of clothing against the cold and slept outside, often putting cots on the sidewalk, to catch any small breeze in summer. I wasn’t used to either extreme, though fared better in winter by application of successive layers. I know when and where the term ‘hot, sweaty mess’ was coined – it was me in July and August.

Chinese New Year mandarin oranges

I was sceptical when my Beijing friends confidently predicted when the worst of the heat would begin to cool each year. They named the date long ahead of time and it happened on schedule several years in a row. How could Chinese weather be so much more predictable than western weather? I then discovered, in an old book, the twenty-four sections of the traditional Chinese year used by farmers to guide them in sowing and harvesting. The system seemed to help predict weather too.

Each of the annual twenty-four sections is fifteen days long which, when multiplied, adds up to 360 days a year. To make up the shortfall, an extra month was inserted between two months every several years. The twenty-four sections of the agricultural year start with the Chinese New Year (Spring Festival) section and are poetic in their descriptive names:

24 Season in the Chinese Calendar

While relying heavily on the twenty-four sections for when to plant, harvest and preserve, farming families also kept their own record of daily weather. A woman of the household would create a detailed painting of a tree with set number of trunk, large and mall branches. Leaves were added daily in a set order and in the colours representing if the day had been sunny, rainy or windy. The finished painting was carefully stored as a record of that growing season. Some families were able to refer to hundreds of years these paintings.

Not many of us keep detailed records anymore; we rely on the Weather Channel. But for all the scientific instruments and knowledge; I’m not completely sure we’re much farther ahead in predicting weather. Although I quibble about some of the dates in the twenty-four sections, I recognize and celebrate the pattern.

Chinese New Year preparations complete