Wednesday I went to a luncheon to here a talk about Chinese symbolism. Regretfully there will be no pictures of food today. For some reason, I was the last of the 84 people in attendance to get their food for each course and it was a long wait each time. By the time the food arrived, everyone else around me was nearly finished and I was faint from hunger. My plates were scrubbed clean before I remembered!
Chinese symbolism is shown in three ways:
1. Through depictions of the 5 blessings or “fu”, that all Chinese desire:
To live a long life
To be virtuous
To die peacefully at an old age
2. Through puns in the sounds of the language
3. Through rebuses which are puns strung together to tell a short story or phrase.
The peculiarities of the Chinese language that make it so difficult to learn (and give me fits) is what make it possible to have these clever puns and symbols. So for instance, the same syllable that stands for “rich, abundant, wealth, and blessings” is also the same as the one for bat (the ones that fly around in caves)–they just have different tone marks. Therefore bats are a common motif.
Same goes for vases: “ping” is in both the word for peace and for vase, so you will see vases in pictures as well as being used as canvases for other symbols with peace as an element of the symbolism.
Perhaps you have heard of gifts you should never give a Chinese person. That is because their Chinese words are too close to other words that have bad meanings. So umbrella (yusan) is made up of the syllable “san” which also means to break a couple apart. So it would be bad luck to give an umbrella to someone, because it implies that you think the family is going to break up. However I haven’t heard of any problems with opening an umbrella inside the house.
Never give a clock to a Chinese person either because the word “zhong” for clock is also the same word and tone as “zhong” for the end. The double entendre here is that you are wishing the person the end of their time.
So what about the deer? The Lu god is a god you will see often in Chinese paintings. He holds a sceptre and wears a scholarly hat. Back in the day, he would help a person to obtain a good position in life by helping him to do well on the civil service exams that were required to allow one to rise into the merchant class out of the peasant class. He’s different than the cash god, seen in this rather blurry picture who holds ingots and gold. The help you get from him is more like winning the lottery. The success you get from the Lu god is more self-induced.
Now to the deer. “Lu” is the Chinese word for deer. Therefore, when you see a deer in Chinese art, that symbolizes a wish for high salary and status. Perhaps I wouldn’t have bad mouthed the herds of deer in our yard in Corning all these years if I’d known they brought something other than Lyme disease!
Thought I’d show you a couple of random things I’ve seen on the streets lately. I pass a hospital on the way to the Avocado Lady where I buy most of my fruits and vegetables these days.
Yesterday I saw a guy with an office chair upside down on his shoulder speeding down the street on a two-wheeled bike happy as you please! And going too fast for me to take a picture.
I also pass this place on my way to the Avocado Lady. Although it’s kind of hard to tell from the sign, it’s actually a vegetarian restaurant. Turns out it’s the Moosewood (famous vegetarian restaurant in Ithaca, NY for all you non-upstate, NY readers) restaurant of Shanghai. It was started in 1922 by an apprentice monk who came to Shanghai to meet the vegetarian needs of the increasing number of Buddhist monks who were living here. The Chinese name is Gong De Lin, which means Merit Forest: by abstaining from meat you accumulate kindness and merit that continue to grow like a forest. Somehow it translates to Godly in English. But what’s really interesting about this place is that this monk-to-be was the inventor of “fake meat” products. He knew that the Shanghai-ese loved their meat so he brought together all these talented chefs from various temples to make things like roasted eight treasure duck out of mushrooms and fungus. And we thought Boca burgers were so revolutionary!
We’re busily getting ready for our first visitor from the States, Meredith’s friend, Zoe, and figuring out how to cook Thanksgiving dinner when the only item on the menu that fits in the oven is the turkey. Perhaps I should be thankful that the turkey actually fits in the oven. 🙂