Final thoughts on Beijing
Jan 10, 2008
|Some final thoughts on our time in China...
Naming things - chinese style (Nick writing)
There seem to be tons of things that the Chinese did first, that later moved over to western cultures. Paper. Gunpowder. General Tso's Chicken (note: not actually a dish in China, from what I saw). One of those things that never seemed to have made it to western culture is the Art of Naming Places. We visited a number of Palaces and Temples throughout Beijing, and everywhere were fantastic names.
Some of the names from the Forbidden City: The Gate of Supreme Harmony; Palace of Earthly Purity; Palace of Tranquil Longevity; and the Hall of Mental Cultivation. Some names from the Summer Palace: Cloud-Dispelling Hall; Garden of Nutured Harmony; and Strolling Through a Picture Scroll.
What do we get in the Western world? The Hall of Mirrors. The Oval Office. The Grand Ballroom. Where's the creativity? Where's the fun?
I picture French architects pouring over the plans late at night, knowing that Louis may have them flogged in the morning. "What'll we call it?" "I don't know... it's got mirrors, right? How about the Hall of Mirrors." Any Chinese emperors worth his name would have had them sent to the farthest reaches of the Empire to draw up plans for pig hovels after that one.
So we've decided to start naming the rooms in our house when we get back. The office will be the "Hall of Mental Cultivation". The bathroom will be the "Hall of Tranquil Meditation". The bedroom "Palace of Heavenly Pleasures." We'll get little name tags above each room, maybe in Chinese characters, and possibly hand out maps to visitors. When we return, you should definitely come and visit, maybe even stay for a few days in the guestroom, or the "Hall of Keeping Things Neat and Not Mucking About with the Settings on the Computer".
The Echo Wall (Nick writing)
Related to names of things at temples ... we went to the Temple of Heaven and walked around one cold afternoon. It was a great space - lots of parks, lots of Temples dedicated to good harvests, and this one temple surrounded by a perfectly circular, 10 foot high wall. The wall was called the Echo Wall, because if one person stands at one side of the entrance, and talks quietly, the sound travels all the way around to the other side, where someone can stand and have a quiet conversation with them.
Cool! I was excited to try it. A similar wall exists behind the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, but on a much smaller scale. And this wall is a huge circle, so it would be way cooler. Until we actually showed up, and learned a few things about our fellow travellers.
Number one: Other people don't understand how echos work. and
Number two: When in doubt about something, many travellers just yell loudly.
Here's what was happening. People would show up, send their friend off to the other side of the courtyard, and turn directly into the wall, and scream "Can you hear me, Steve!" as loud as they could. Of course they can F$#@%ing hear you, moron - they're only 50 feet away, and you're screaming! No one else seemed to know that they had to turn their head to the side to get the sound waves travelling along the whole wall, and that they could talk normally, which was infinitely more interesting than finding out that people could hear screams from 50 feet away.
However, everyone who tried this (and there were many) walked away satisfied. Steve could hear their bellowings. Which makes me think - if people completely miss the point of something, and yet are impressed anyway, should I feel so superior and smug?
I do think, though, that they should commune with the spirit of one of the long-dead emperors to find out if they can change the name of the courtyard from the "Echo Wall" to the "Courtyard of Lack of Knowledge about Physics".