Saturday, October 21, 2006

Gods of Chinatown.

In today's New York Times:
Tucked between a bodega and a fish market on Broome Street sits Fulai Temple, one of Chinatown's many storefront temples displaying large golden buddhas shrouded in mysterious chants and clouds of incense. Unknown to most people are the dreams and desires in these buildings, along with the gold statues, golden paper and rainbow colors.

Looking for love, marriage, happiness? Fertility? Those precious things are promised in large red Chinese characters over traditional imperial yellow on plastic awnings, much like those over the front of a deli or a cellphone store. Open to the public, the temples provide a gateway to answers, but negotiating the terrain can be difficult.

That is why Isabel Chang, 31, a Web designer, decided to demystify the experience. Ms. Chang spent the last year studying these places of worship, intent on showing how they place ancient Chinese beliefs in the contemporary landscape.

Her work has been turned into a public Web project that was opened yesterday on the Web (, sponsored by the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, where Ms. Chang is the digital artist in residence.

Her project, called Gods of Chinatown, consists of a map and visual tour of the temples. Ms. Chang, who lives in an apartment building on Essex Street with two storefront temples, sees them as "windows of insight into the hopes, dreams and longings of immigrant lives."
To learn more about Ms. Chang's project, read the rest of the NYT article or check out the Gods of Chinatown website. Though I had some difficulty navigating Ms. Chang's site - the left-to-right scrolling feature on the temple profiles is a bit tricky - I was impressed with what I found. As an exercise in sociological fieldwork produced by a cultural insider, Gods of Chinatown illuminates a facet of neighborhood life that remains hidden to most visitors. Ms. Chang's project is worth a look, especially if you - like me - enjoy exploring immigrant enclaves like New York's Chinatown. AMDG.


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