For all the tea in China …

China CafeEvery so often, I get asked to visit a store or a build that the owner (or creator) thinks might interest me. From my rl, I have an interest in education, so when Gospel Voom asked me to take a look at his build for the China Cafe, I was more than willing.

The Cafe is located on Info Island International which is, in its own right, a fascinating place. It’s one among a collection of largely educationally slanted sims (Stanford University, for example, is a relatively close neighbour, as are several of the library sims), and offers a wealth of information in a wide variety of languages, and on a wide range of issues, starting at the Info hub and continuing not just in the different builds, but on the way to the builds too. Strolling across the bridge to the China cafe, for example, you find a series of pose balls, each with a question concerning international issues. And clicking on them will find you an answer.

The China Cafe itself is operated by gsm0002 Aabye, a teacher in Shanghai, China and Elaine Tulip, Area Library Coordinator from Chicago Public Schools Department of Libraries & Information Services. (You can see her blog at http://blogs.cuip.net/dlis) The cafe’s primary purpose is to provide English language instruction to the Chinese community, to share information about Chinese culture with an international audience, and to promote opportunities for conversational English using voice features in Second Life.

China Cafe seen from the Reference DeskFinding the Cafe once you land at the Info Island Info hub is not hard (although fighting the lag may be – it was hit very hard yesterday). Just swing slowly round, and you’ll see the characteristic pagoda shape rising above the surrounding buildings. Gospel Voom says, “The relatively small plot meant that I had to build up in order to fulfill all requirements so a multi-tiered pagoda was the obvious choice.”

Another striking aspect, even from a distance, is the lack of interior walls. Again Gospel explains: “An aspect of Second Life that can cause many fine builds to fail is accessible cam space. So with this in mind I decided to omit walls from the main building. The sight lines are good and new members with poor camera controls won’t feel disenfranchised here.”

He was eager to develop the right ambience for the build too. Attention to detail and build accuracy were of paramount importance in order to authentically illustrate aspects of Chinese culture; both traditional and modern. The garden was inspired by the world famous Suzhou Gardens in Jiangsu Province, and the main gate is a reproduction of the Gate of Heaven from the Forbidden City, Beijing, while the roof design reflects the modernism of the spectacular new Opera House in Shanghai.

InteriorAs you draw closer, you see that there are clearly designated areas on all levels. To the left you can see the main floor of the China Cafe, which is the Dragon Garden, an area that features three different kinds of authentic Chinese tea and relaxed areas for conversation. The first floor above is the Deer Park, a classroom with seating for about twenty students. The second floor is the Crane Hall, a library and exhibition area. On the third floor is the Unicorn Palace, a small meeting and commerce area and on the roof is Phoenix Landing, an area for tai chi exercise and mediation.

Gospel says, “The most enjoyable part of the project was creating all manner of objects to dress the scene and instill the right kind of ambience. The teleporters masquerading as Chinese lanterns were great fun to do. Though creating over 40 unique textures for the sculpted cushions was a true labour of love but necessary for demonstrating that distinctly Chinese relationship with colour and patterns – without crowding the scene.”

The Cafe is now up and running, and there has been a series of lectures (on the 11th and 18th of November) in a program called China Tea Culture where students are learning about tea drinking, tea tasting (a different activity), about the spirit of tea, and tea in the world. You can find out more by visiting the Cafe for yourselves, or by reading the China Cafe blog. More pictures are available at Elaine Tulip’s Flickr photostream.

All in all, it’s a fascinating and beautiful build – and it is also a thoroughly interesting place to visit too!

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