Today’s title: comes from the Digible Planets single “Pacifics,” a song about how NY projects are really sweet and calm early on Sunday mornings, when you can just enjoy hip hop culture and not worry about turf or beef or cash flow too much. It’s a good song from a good band on a good album.
Today’s opening non sequitur: I do believe that De La’s “Bitties in the BK Lounge” is my new favorite song, ever, and probably the apex of new-school hip hop. The topic and tone are exactly what you think. But honestly that whole album is awesome. “Millie Pulled a Pistol on Santa” might actually be better, though. It’s about child abuse. Exactly.
Anyway, yesterday I finally put up another post, and it was all philosophy/general musing, so I thought today we’d have something cohesive about the last months’s events catching up to today.
Anyway, about three weeks ago we went to the Temple of Heaven/Tiantan/天坛, a big park in the south where the emperors used to pray for good weather and harvests, and sacrifice crops and animals toward that end. Nowadays, it’s a pretty cool park that makes a nice break when you get realize you’ve spent too much money at the Pearl Market. I still find the idea of parks you pay to get into really weird, though, even if they are historical.
Rain here doesn’t quite work the same way–it rains less, first of all, and is generally much more dry than anywhere I’ve been or lived–and when it does rain the clouds are thin and consistent. The little droplets come down slow and light and consistent, sometimes for hours, in varying, steady, light waves. No character! No drama! Nothing like rainstorms at home, all texture and pattern, thunder and flooding every third or fourth day. I miss them. It has been weeks without a drop. And I miss being able to get a pretty good guess at what weather patterns are going to be for the next three or four days by looking at the northwest. I lived in the mid-Atlantic basically my whole life, and spent a lot of my childhood playing soccer in muddy grass, guessing at clouds.
The park itself follows a pretty standard Chinese format. Big wall around it, gates at cardinal directions with bored provincial policemen telling you where to park and buy tickets. Big playground so the kids have something to do, public exercise equipment on the side (think 80’s-era playground equipment converted into all-weather exercise machines, they’re kind of fascinating and I really like using them when I have time to kill). Inside is all little shops and huge pavilions (changting, 长亭) and large paved roads with fenced off rectangles of sparse forest or interspersed with trees.
Most Chinese parks are actually designed by artists, poets, and cultural figures rather than architects or urban planners or whatever. So they tend to be a lot more rigorously shaped by human hands than western parks, I think. They’re not really that different–Dickinson and Pitt’s campuses have trees just kind of left up hither and yon, and it’s that more “natural” effect that I’m used to, rather than seeing such specific patterns, or obvious paths through “nature,” even though both are rigorously mowed and weeded and tended. Eh. It’s different in how it’s not different at all. Although I’m not sure I understand the point of a park where everyone keeps off the grass.
Within the park itself there are lots of shops selling touristy things, food and drinks, surrounding the actual sights, the temple and surrounding shrines, all for sacrificing things to various gods and members of the trans-dimensional bureaucracy that is the Chinese vision of the divine. Our ideas of the afterlife mirror our culture, of course. China has a bureaucracy on Earth that encompasses and consumes all things, and couldn’t imagine life after death to be any different.
Within the Temple is a complex of towers and prayer halls, all painted green and blue(prayers for rain) rather than the usual red and brick-brown that’s common here otherwise. It gets old pretty quickly, to be honest. But it’s fun to go through the whole anthro-socio thing. What was the purpose of this? What is the meaning of this prayer hall? Why is this sacrifice done, and how has it changed? I also take a sick kind of pleasure in trying to work out the mental math of the cost of supporting the feudal bureaucracy on the peasantry versus the psychological benefit they recieve from having a “good emperor.” Measuring the suffering of a sheep’s life against the value of a shepherd.
Outside of the actual tower is a point that is considered the nearest point on earth to “Heaven,” so if you stand there and say something your voice is supposed to be more likely to be heard. So the emperor used to stand on it and ask for things.
There’s also a path of special steps leading to and away from these points that only the emperor was allowed to walk on. Now, as we were joking in our three-year old vocabulary with our professors, China is communist and everyone is an emperor.
Later we went to a famous Chinese traditional hospital. Mom and Dad, according to my host mom I have gall bladder problems. She looked at my ear and told me to get my dictionary, and then pointed to the character for “gall bladder” and asked me if I have any family history of problems with it. For those of you who don’t know my sister, she actually had to have hers removed. So that’s weird. It’s recommended that I don’t eat anything sour and I get it checked out immediately when I get home. Chinese traditional medicine is always weird and weirdly right more often than it should be, which is not nearly often enough to raise western medicine’s eyebrows.
Other news…um, went to a couple of birthday parties, and those were fun. Out dancing a couple of nights…I keep meeting people, exchanging phone numbers, and then having no further contact with them, ever. I feel like this would be really frustrating in the long term given how impossibly huge this city is. In Pittsburgh it’s impossible to disappear–two people with large enough social networks eventually meet at a couple of points at random. Here, you’re just another face.
Anyway, I will probably update again in the next couple of days about today’s trip to the White Cloud Daoist temple, foot massages, and Anhui food. Sleepy times.