Thursday, December 29, 2011


This might have been the most fun I have ever had in a museum.

Today I took the effort to crawl out of bed early, and show up at the Met for opening. I have been there three years ago and spent 8 hours in awe; I went back again this Monday to see the Storytelling in Japanese art exhibition (excellent exhibition! And great publication too!). But going back for a few hours just made me realize I have not seen nearly enough of the museum's collections; I decided it deserved another day - six, eight hours maybe. And, because this was the first time my friend Kata was not coming with me, I made up a little game to make it more interesting.

It's called dragonspotting.

The difference between dragonspotting and dragonhunting is, as you can probably guess, that in the former the dragon itself is not harmed. Which is just as good, because no one wants to get kicked out of the Met for smashing five hundred years old Chinese porcelaine.

The game is simple: you only need a camera (and possibly a museum map)

The mission: find as many dragons as you can, and document them.

The rules: there are only two.
1. If it is called a dragon, it is a dragon. Even if it does not look like a dragon. Even if it looks like the love child of a rabbit and a spoon.

2. If it looks like a dragon, it is a dragon, unless specified otherwise. "Zoomorphic symbols" are fair game.

I ended up spending 6 and a half hours in the Met. I covered most of the collections, except for photography (not many chances there) and modern art (gotta leave something for next time; also, it was horribly crowded).

The results:
I have documented 126 artifacts with dragons on them. Because many of those artifacts have multiple dragons, I would estimate the dragon population of the Metropolitan around 200 or more. That is a decent number for any museum.

The good things about dragonspotting?

1. It is a lot of fun. Every new dragon you find bring a sense of achievement. And there is ample space for leveling up. Ha-ha.

2. It keep you focused. One thing about the Met: you get lost and confused very easily, and there is an overload of information one needs to process. Going through the collections with a specific purpose makes you look at everything, but filters out the objects you are looking for.

3. I quickly developed a sixth sense for spotting dragons and dragon-like shapes. You'd be surprised.

4. It teaches you a lot about different cultures. I expected a stray dragon or two in the Ancient Near East, but I was surprised by the numbers. There was a decent number of them in the Medieval section, but not as many as I expected. I had to use an educated guess to seek them out at Greeks and Romans - where the is Jason, there shall be a dragon (it was quite a skinny one though). The Asian Art gallery was no surprise - dragons great and small, blue, read, green and yellow, prancing around on every possible surface. But no matter where I went, I could always find at least one of the critters, if I looked hard enough. Sometimes only the label told me it was one; other times I was certain, but the label only said "bronze object" or something of the sort. In those cases, I used my authority as a storyteller to declare them dragons.

Until you start looking for them, you never realize how many dragons lurk around in an art museum. The Metropolitan Museum is overrun by them. Japanese dragons, Greek dragons, French dragons, Italian dragons, Central Asian dragons, Chinese dragons, Korean dragons, Persian dragons, Scythian dragons, English dragons. Dragons on banners, on arrowheads, on swords, on plates, cups, bowls, vases, bottles, carpets, hangings, boxes, chests, tapestries, axes, rings, bracelets, belts, armors, helmets, gemmae, sigils, walls, ceilings, spoons, roofs, tiles, flags, shields, illuminated pages. Crouching dragons, hidden dragons, coiling dragons, stretching dragons, biting dragons, roaring dragons, dragons spitting fire; sleeping dragons, eating dragons, playing dragons, marching dragons, flying dragons, swimming dragons, and dragons hopelessly tangled. Dragons on samurai blades, dragons on Buddhist temples, dragons on the banner of King Uther Pendragon; dragons embriodered onto cloaks, perching on helmets, disguised as handles on a vase or a pitcher, hiding in the Chinese zodiac, under and over saints and gods, decorating all kinds of deadly weaponry and fragile pottery, and of course, dragons galore in the gift shop.

Here. Be. Dragons.
(Sorry, I had to.)

Of course, every once in a while you run into some other fantastic monster that is distinctly not a dragon, but you add them to the collection anyway.
But that will be the topic of another post.

Happy dragonspotting, everyone!
Oh. Right. Pictures.


  1. "In those cases, I used my authority as a storyteller to declare them dragons."

    We, more than anyone else, are dragon authorities. I may have to use this line sometime.

    Susan McC

  2. Why do I think that you loved the Dragonlance chronicles? :)