Feature: Toronto museum beckons Chinese New Year with heritage show

2013-02-03 02:54:51 GMT2013-02-03 10:54:51(Beijing Time)  Xinhua English

By Phoebe Ho

TORONTO, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) -- One of the most prominent museums in the Canadian city of Toronto was transformed into a galore of Chinese artistry on Saturday, presenting a live snake display, an ethnic costume display and a diverse array of Chinese-themed performances on Saturday.

With the Chinese Lunary New Year just around the corner, the Royal Museum of Ontario (ROM) partnered with the Chinese community to usher in the Year of the Snake with their first annual Chinese Cultural Heritage Day.

The eventful day was not only meant to give families a day of fun through hands-on activities, but also for them to gain an appreciation of the Chinese culture through experiencing various aspects of their heritage.

ROM's CEO Janet Carding believes it's the best way for Canadians of all backgrounds to bridge the cultural gap in a fun and informal setting.

"There are all kinds of things happening so that people coming into Toronto to visit the museum for the day can understand about the Chinese contributions to Ontario," she said. "It's a way of history meeting the future, it's a way of different communities meeting each other, and it's a way of a whole group of people having a lot of fun."

Chinese Consul General Fang Li, along with a number of government officials, attended the opening ceremony to kick off the festivities. Hundreds of Canadians were treated to a number of special performances such as the traditional Chinese lion dance, a Tai Chi demonstration and musical performances.

The ROM has been holding its own Chinese New Year events every year, but this year, it renamed them the Chinese Cultural Heritage Day. Carding said it's a way to widen the scope and engage people in a deeper conversation about the Chinese culture.

"It's allowed us to take the next step to have a bigger and deeper relationship," she said. "So alongside the celebrations of the new year, which we've had in the past years, there is just a great deal more that's actually happening."

Some of the things on display included a Chinese Ethnic Costume exhibit that showcased dozens of vibrant traditional clothing. People also got to sample some Chinese tea and learn all about China's national treasure through a collection of photos at Xinhua News Agency's panda photo gallery.

The more adventurous and hands-on guests had the opportunity to pet some live snakes that were brought in as a symbol of the Year of the Snake. They could touch and feel the snake and Komodo dragon skins on display, or otherwise engage in some paper cutting and other crafts with their children.

But besides all the things to see and do, museum-goers also got to talk to Chinese artists who were showcasing their work at the event.

Ken Chui, a Chinese calligrapher, said it's a perfect opportunity for him to spread the craft and get more people interested in the Chinese culture.

"We want to show foreigners our culture. Calligraphy is an integral part of our culture, I hope they can learn more about our culture this way," he said. "Calligraphy is a very healthy form of art. When we write, our body is relaxed, it's very comfortable."

Besides having a variety of exhibits and performances, Carding believes the best way to pique people's interest is by encouraging discussion and conversation.

"The ROM is all about people, our collections are wonderful in their own right, they're wonderful and delightful to look at, but they really come to life when people can tell their story," she said.

"And so what we're seeing in the ROM today are families coming in, looking at our Chinese collections, taking part in the programs, the dance, the ceremony, and it's giving them a whole different perspective on what it is to perhaps have a Chinese heritage."

While there were many Chinese guests in attendance, the event also attracted a number of Canadians who had stumbled into the event coincidentally. Jeff Cutler initially brought his family to the ROM to see the dinosaur exhibit, but was drawn in by all the performances onstage.

"It's been really fun, we're going to watch some dancing and we know there's some music," he said. "It's very interesting to see something new, and I know they have a Chinese portion of the museum, and that we find really interesting, so for us, it was just all new, we're just taking it in as it goes."

And for others, it was a chance for them to instill some Chinese culture in the younger generation. To help his two half-Chinese children understand their culture, Jesse Elve brought his kids to watch some Kung-fu movies and see the live snake display to pique their interests and get them excited about their heritage.

"They're half-Chinese, so we're always trying to teach them about being Chinese," said Elve.

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