08 September 2007

The Time Machine

I've done my share of complaining about my time spent here in Dayville, and it's true that I've had to come to terms with being something of an urban snob who doesn't deal well with rural life. Still, for all my whining, this region is really not as remote as all that, nor is it a cultural wasteland. In fact, I spent this afternoon perusing one of the more unique and fascinating museums I've ever seen: the Kam Wah Chung store in John Day, which one served the region's Chinese community as a general store/apothecary/doctor's office/letter-writing service/post office/temple/restaurant/social club/bunkhouse/opium den. It's run by the state park service now, and to step through its door (made of reinforced metal to protect the patrons and inhabitants from the bullets - stray or otherwise - of drunken cowboys) is to take a trip to a different era. The time machine effect is a happy accident of fate: the family that ran the store deeded the building to the town, which literally did not bother to look inside. Because of this, the original contents of the store were preserved intact for the better part of three decades. These contents run the gamut from the personal possessions and furniture of the owners to boxes of products from China (as well as from closer to home, such as "extra standard" canned steelhead from Portland) to medicinal herbs and animal parts. My favorite item was the dried body of a flying gecko; not sure it's something I'd want to take as medicine, but it looked really cool. The walls are covered in sheets of Chinese characters, both ads and devotional texts. Years of smoke from candles, the kitchen, and opium pipes have left their mark as well, coloring all the permanent fixtures in the building black. All of this really does make it feel like you've stepped into an exotic corner of the Wild West. Perhaps because I plan to make a career of studying things that have been dead for millions of years, I have a predilection for any experience that makes you feel as though you've travelled to the past. All too often, though, such experiences are over-marketed and artificial. It's always refreshing to come across a more authentic "time machine" such as Kam Wah Chung. If nothing else, it proves that I underestimated the cultural bounty of the John Day Country...

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