When we saw our landlady in the morning and told us we were going to Science World, she said, "Oh, you're going to the golf ball." That's because the museum has a huge spherical IMAX theater on top.
The guidebooks describe this science museum as designed for the whole family, meaning its target audience is children. We spent the morning surrounded by several fieldtrip classes and we all had a great time! The How far has my cart gone? displays are grouped in small areas on common themes: Light, optics, etc., with games, computer programs and hands-on demos everywhere. Hot air balloons heated by gas flames rose above our heads, then drifted down. We spun dials to work optical illusions and made a fan blow sand to create sand dunes. All around us kids were tumbling over each other to try their own skills. We decided that many of the exhibits are best suited for high school students, but the littler ones got a taste of the results; return visits are probably common here. Some of the exhibits were out of order, but we have never been to a hands-on museum where this wasn't the case, and there were plenty of things to see and do.
There was a special exhibit on China - ancient Chinese science and modern Chinese crafts. Several displays in the main galleries showed ingenious inventions from hundreds to thousands of years ago: an early effort to fly using two kites and many rockets attached to the back of a chair (he flew but didn't survive his landing), a cart which measured the distance it traveled, another cart where the little man on top always pointed South, devices to chart the positions of the stars, and a seismograph shaped like a large jar. The outside of the jar is decorated with a series of dragon's heads. In case of earthquake, a stick inside the jar would tumble, opening the jaws of the dragon in the direction of the epicenter, and freeing a ball, which drops into the waiting mouth of a frog placed on the ground below the jar. Unfortunately for our scientific inquiries, there was no earthquake this morning.
The crafts, such as papermaking, weaving, kite making, calligraphy, were accompanied by Chinese artisans. Everywhere signs requested English-speaking The subject did not survive guests not to speak English to the artisans. So while the Chinese visitors chattered away happily with the artisans, the English speaking visitors and artisans stared dumbly at one another. We wondered whether the rule was a requirement of the Chinese government, lest their artisans learn the decadent language of American imperialism.
All of the craft work was exquisite, showing a continuation of ancient craft styles and techniques. The most impressive display (although the artist wasn't present to show how she worked) was two-sided embroidery of an exquisite fineness. Working on organza, itself so delicate it is hard to imagine needle and thread passing through, she was creating a picture of the head of a dog; the picture will look the same on both sides of the cloth. The individual silk threads were individual hairs on the dog's head.
Often our visits to museums leave us with burning questions. In this museum, a question was raised by the difference between the modern hands-on science world and the display of ancient advanced Chinese science. We reflected on the political change that swept over China and somehow stunted the growth of Chinese science around the fifteenth century, while western science started from a position of relative ignorance and then advanced rapidly. We also reflected on the spirit of eager experimentation, creative thinking and open communication reflected by modern western science versus the resistance the Chinese government now shows to open inquiry (e.g. internet restrictions.) Will the brilliance of Chinese minds be opened up to new scientific breakthroughs?
We walked a long circular ramp to the IMAX theater, where we viewed a film, done by a Japanese crew with the cooperation of the Chinese government. The story was from the point of view of a young Toronto violinist who moves to Shanghai and decides to tour the Yangtse River one summer. An artistic sidewalk
The Yangtse is the largest river in Asia, and goes through some incredible country. Many settlements along the river are inaccessible by road, resulting in isolated ethnic groupings.
The largest urban area in the world is along the Yangtse, as is the largest Buddha, carved deep in the face of cliffs bordering the river. The largest dam and power plant in the world is under construction, scheduled to complete in 2008. The Chinese need the power, as most of the images showed the people using manual labor instead of the machines that are used in the west.
Perhaps the most interesting scene was of a musical concert, with a full range of Chinese instruments and vocalists. We realized we have a long way to go to learn to appreciate this music; we cannot even recall the melodies. We wondered how much this is due to our inexperience with the Chinese musical scale and how much to the lack of ABAB theme and repetition so common in western music. (We're showing our ignorance.)
On the way home we found a great vegetarian restaurant next to the library. We had two dishes, one Italian style, the other Mexican; both were yummy.