China’s residence: Sharing a culture with Canada

| January 4, 2016 | 0 Comments
Before the Chinese government bought this Rockcliffe Park residence for its ambassadors to live in, they lived in the sprawling embassy on St. Patrick Street. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Before the Chinese government bought this Rockcliffe Park residence for its ambassadors to live in, they lived in the sprawling embassy on St. Patrick Street. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

If you ask Ambassador Luo Zhaohui about his spacious Rockcliffe residence, he’ll tell you with a big smile that it has all the elements of good feng shui, the Chinese philosophical system for harmonizing with the surrounding environment.
His house is sort of halfway up a hill, between water — the backyard swimming pool and McKay Lake — and plenty of green trees.
“Besides,” he says, “it’s comfortable, bright and in a nice neighbourhood.”
The more than 5,000-square-foot two-storey home on Cloverdale Road is decorated to take advantage of its façade, which runs from east to west and faces south. The towering glass windows, positioned in the centre of the house, rise up two storeys. Built by a local family in 1995, it was purchased by the Chinese government in 2001 as a home for its ambassadors. Until then, the diplomats lived in the St. Patrick Street embassy, a former convent.

The grand reception room features simple furniture and huge windows that show off the fine art. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

The grand reception room features simple furniture and huge windows that show off the fine art. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

The house is simply furnished and takes advantage of the light to show off Chinese works of art. From the bright white marbled front hall, with its distinctive and colourful Chinese ceiling fixture, you enter straight into the grand reception room. White walls and white furniture play off the towering windows and the view of the backyard patio, garden, swimming pool and attractive pool house.
Near the entrance is a piano, waiting for its moment to entertain at a concert, sometimes accompanied by traditional Chinese instruments. Ivy grows up the walls at the entrance end of the room and two large blue Chinese vases mark the garden side.
The artworks are a particular joy for Luo and he shows off the two traditional-style Chinese paintings that dominate the room. One is a landscape called Jinggang Mountains Zhushachong Lookout, “a part political, part traditional piece,” he says. Broad brush strokes create the mountain scene, revered as the birthplace of the Chinese Red Army, the predecessor of the People’s Liberation Army. The area is known as “the cradle of the Chinese Revolution.”
On the opposite wall is a charming portrayal of ancient Chinese horsemen playing polo.
The reception room opens onto a small dining room with a round table, perfect for small dinners. Jiang Yili, the ambassador’s wife and a former consul at the Chinese embassy in Washington, says the couple entertains once or twice a week, turning out sumptuous meals from two kitchens.

Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui and his wife, Jiang Yili. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui and his wife, Jiang Yili. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

A modern kitchen is attached to a bright family room facing the garden, which Jiang admits is her favourite place in the house, a place for the family, including their teenage daughter, to relax. This kitchen is used mainly for desserts and tea, while across the hall and down a set of stairs, there is a smaller, simpler kitchen where the food is prepared. Commanding that space is a young chef from China, a recent arrival in Canada from the kitchen of the prestigious Grand Hotel Beijing.
“We always serve Chinese food to company,” Jiang says, “and we change the menu regularly so that people who have been here before don’t eat the same thing.”
“We serve the best Chinese food in Ottawa,” Luo adds.
Known for reaching out to the community, the couple was preparing to host a fundraising dinner for the Rockcliffe Park Foundation. In the past, ambassadors have opened the house for a garden party to benefit the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra.
Lining the walls of the long hall leading from the reception room to the banquet hall is a wonderful collection of historical photographs showing the development of the two tiny houses and garden belonging to the Order of Our Lady of Charity in the 19th Century, which grew and grew on the banks of the Rideau River into the large, 400-room convent at 515 St. Patrick St., now the home of the Chinese embassy. The building has a large staff and every day they gather for lunch, prepared by another talented chef from China. When there is a big reception at the residence, the couple can call upon the staff at the embassy to help the three staff members who serve at the house.

The dining room features a round table with 16 chairs. It can easily be converted to a banquet hall for sizable buffet dinners. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

The dining room features a round table with 16 chairs. It can easily be converted to a banquet hall for sizable buffet dinners. (Photo: Dyanne Wilson)

The large banquet hall, which also opens out onto the patio, features a round table with 16 chairs covered in scarlet red brocade. The room can be easily converted into a space suitable for sizable buffet dinners. Four colourful paintings representing “spring scenery, Chinese wisteria, harvest season and longevity,” are the works of famous painter Lou Shibai. They are among the couple’s favourite items in the house. Also on their list are several delicate jade sculptures, a large ceramic horse painted in the style of the Tang dynasty and the most treasured piece of all, a large calligraphic poem written by contemporary calligrapher Sheng Pen, who wrote it specially for the embassy when he visited Canada in 2000.
Less formal are the ambassador’s study and a staff bedroom on the main floor. Upstairs, there are three other bedrooms.
The ambassador, who held the same position in Pakistan, is proud of his country’s cultural heritage and is an enthusiastic teacher of its history. The first words he most commonly says to his guests are, “Have you been to China?” If the answer is “no,” there will be many wonderful things to be learned during a visit to his home away from home.

Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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Margo Roston is Diplomat’s culture editor.

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