I am beginning to appreciate Cantonese opera and I didn’t have to leave Chicago to learn about it. I only needed to hop on the Red Line and go visit the Chicago Public Library’s Chinatown Branch.
by Kathleen Carpenter, CAC docent, class of 2006
More about the opera in a moment; first, let’s take a look at this interesting building.
The sleek, two-story library sits at the corner of Wentworth and Archer Avenues. Its shiny black glass exterior catches your eye, but what’s really intriguing is its shape. It looks round. Or is it oval? It’s actually a soft triangle. On Google Maps you can see that shape more clearly, and its green roof. Completed in 2015, the building was designed by architect Brian Lee of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.
I stood across the street from the library and something seemed odd. I realized it was the off-center placement of the entrance door. What is that all about? Had Brian Lee miscalculated? Had he given up on symmetry? Neither: He had consulted a feng shui master to determine the exact best placement of the entrance to receive positive energy.
“Energy” is the best word to describe what typically happens inside this building, which is both library and community center. Prior to COVID-19, you could go inside on any day and see children playing in its glass-enclosed community room or reading in its first-floor children’s area. Other times you would see adults gathered together, taking English or Chinese classes for beginners.
Which brings me back to Cantonese opera. When the library still had in-person offerings, a cultural appreciation program about Cantonese opera was held a couple times each week. It took a while for me to appreciate it, but I started giving myself extra time after leading the CAC’s Chinatown tour so I could sit in the community room and listen to this distinctive sound.
Once the city starts to reopen, here is my suggestion for a great summer outing: Take the water taxi from the Loop to Ping Tom Park, order and take out a tasty lunch from one of the many restaurants in Chinatown, then spend the afternoon in the park listening to Cantonese opera with headphones. And, before you return home, stop at the library and give a nod to that off-center entrance door for giving you a dose of positive energy for the rest of your day.