Experiencing China ... in Chicago
The Windy City has a vibrant and fun Chinatown neighborhood just south of Downtown, but there are other ways to experience Chinese culture in Chicago, too.
Here are some ways visitors of all ages can celebrate Chinese culture in Chicago.
While it can't rival New York's or San Francisco's in terms of size, Chicago's Chinatown is one of the most vibrant and lively Chinatowns in the country. The traditional portion is on Wentworth, south of Cermak, but shops and restaurants spread westward on Cermak, too.
Be sure to check out the gorgeous Pui Tak Center, built in the 1920s for a cultural and mutual aid society, with its flamboyant facade of beautiful terra cotta tiles. You can go inside too, except on Sundays.
Take the water taxi from the northwest corner of Michigan Avenue for the best view getting to Chinatown. You'll arrive at Ping Tom Park, named in honor of a neighborhood businessman and leader. There's a lovely Chinese-style pagoda and a great playground where the kids can burn off a little energy.
From there, it's a five-minute walk to China Place, a pedestrian mall full of shops and restaurants that, if it were a little more crowded (and there were more street vendors), could convince you that you're in Beijing. Here you can get some great dim sum – morning, noon and late night – as well as find Kit-Kats in a wide variety of unexpected flavors, including sweet potato and green tea.
Just across the street is the Jaslin Hotel, which just opened in May. Located right on Cermak, a block west of Wentworth, the Jaslin is surely the best-situated hotel for Chinatown exploration.
Our room practically looked straight down into China Place and had great views of the Downtown skyline. Rooms facing south could see the home of the White Sox. We also found the Jaslin to be a great jumping off point for The Field Museum, which is just a stop north on the red line (which has a station a block from the hotel, and the red line goes into Downtown, past the Water Tower and straight up to Wrigleyville, too).
There's free breakfast included, too, which should hold you until you head out for dim sum (folks argue over which is better: Ming Hin or Phoenix, both just across the street). But the hotel staff recommended Moon Palace, a Shanghai-focused restaurant just east on Cermak, which was really good and served what my kids described as "the best egg roll ever."
Chinese-American Museum of Chicago
My kids and I loved this small museum, tucked away on a side street off Wentworth, most of all. An interesting and informative video brings life to the neighborhood's history and people, as do a series of exhibits with old photographs and memorabilia, as well as a detailed look at wedding traditions. Afterward, a museum staffer not only told us about three traditional Chinese children's games, he taught us how to play them and then we all played them together. Beautiful.
Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute
(PHOTO: Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute Facebook)
Located within the China Place strip, the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute hosts a wide variety of events, like the China Cultural Festival, and programs, including walking tours of Chinatown, as well as corporate services for companies and professionals who work with (or are hoping to work with) Chinese businesses.
The Field Museum hosts an engaging and informative temporary exhibit on the Terracotta Warriors created for the tomb of the first emperor Qin Shihuang, through Jan. 8, 2017, and it is well worth a visit.
But expect to spend a long time at the expansive Field, even if you plan to focus solely on China. There's a Hall of Jades, a dedicated Tibetan room and the large Cyrus Tang Hall of China with textiles, ceramics, bronzes and more. This one, like the Terracotta Warriors show, requires a separate ticket.
Also on view at the moment, and really cool, is "City Windows," a small exhibition of paper cuts of Beijing and Chicago created by Chinese artist Professor Qiao Xiaoguang for a project for O'Hare Airport. The works show famous landmarks from each city. Watch the video showing how he works; it's pretty amazing.
The Mysteries of China 3D film is also on tap at the moment (it, too, costs extra).
Art Institute of Chicago
Any trip to Chicago should include a visit to the incredible Art Institute of Chicago, where the Asian rooms are full of Chinese objects of all kinds, from sculpture to scrolled landscape paintings to metal work and more.
Be sure to head to the lower level to check out the astonishing Thorne Miniature Rooms, which recreate a wide variety of living spaces from around the globe, including this one showing a Chinese room.
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