Our Coast Magazine 2018:OC18
Chinese in Astoria
Suenn Ho gives a tour of the Garden of Surging Waves.
Crossing the threshold To properly enter the Garden of Surging Waves, you must pass through the Moon Gate. An ancient element of Chinese design, it serves as both the physical and spiritual portal to the park — a connection between two worlds, and a fitting marker for the experience of Chinese immigrants passing from one culture into the next. Inset into its rusted steel frame, handhammered bronze panels depict idyllic scenes of village life as the eye meanders over streams, across mountains, and into the heavens. At the base, a pair of sentinel lions stand watch. Considered the mightiest of guardians in Chinese lore, lions possess mythical powers to protect the people and structures they defend and are highly meaningful icons — especially here, in a space where every step is suffused with symbol. 72 • Our Coast 2018 • discoverourcoast.com
Laid out on a nine-square grid — the template of good fortune in Chinese design — the park is a mix of open space and quiet nooks, with stunning art at every turn. From the backside of the Story Screen, words from the experiences of a new world float above three bronze scrolls, permanently unfurled to reveal their ancient wisdom. Across the way, supporting a traditional Chinese pavilion, eight hand-carved granite columns swirl with majestic dragons encircled by wave and cloud motifs. In Chinese mythology, dragons control water and rainfall, ruling over ocean and sky. Symbols of power and strength, they harbor good luck for those who are worthy. Outside the pavilion, past a trio of coveted Scholar’s Rocks, another dragon — for a total of nine — marks the Platform of Heritage. Cast
in bronze, with a monkey sitting astride, it is an enlarged replica of an incense burner dating back to 200 B.C. — a reminder to the Chinese of their long and vigorous lineage. But mixed in with all the auspicious Old World fundamentals, new symbols, representing a new experience, also begin to emerge. Underfoot, elongated concrete pavers mimic the wood-planked floors of Astoria’s canneries, where Chinese immigrants worked 15-hour days processing the fish that launched the region into fame. Across them, two pairs of railroad tracks slice through the park, a fixed memorial to previously unrecognized public labor contributions, including work on every train line in and out of Astoria, as well as the building of roads, the city sewer system, and the jetties that still tame the mouth of the river today.