Beijing, 7 February 2013

A little while back, when the weather was still pleasantly autumnal, my wife and I decided to take a stroll through a hutong (one of the old districts of Beijing, rather worse for wear now). As we wandered from lane to lane, we came across this sign sellotaped to the wall of a house.

N-S transect 037

Intrigued, I took the photo for later clarification. We also picked up another of these signs which had fallen down, to add to our collection of urban flotsam and jetsam which we have found lying in our paths during our walks across the city: an abandoned set of Chinese chequers, some large chunks of raw coal, bits of brick from destroyed hutongs, broken pieces of ceramic

This was a weekend. On Monday, I went to my usual expert source on Chinese calligraphy, namely my secretary, and showed her the picture. “Double happiness”, she told me with a smile. After a certain amount of clarifications from her and some reading on the web, I can report back.

As I think is clear from the picture, this Chinese character is actually a composition of two identical characters, which both stand for , or ‘joy’. Hence its meaning of double joy or double happiness. It is very often used in weddings – this was almost certainly the case in the hutong – which I think is very sweet: marriage as the union of two happy people. Of course, we know that marriage is not all sweetness and light but two happy people is a good start. The colour red is also significant. The Chinese are somewhat mediaeval (at least to my way of thinking) in attributing moods to colours. Red stands for happiness (so Chinese communists no doubt saw a much deeper meaning in the communist flag than the original European communists ever did).

So we took our trophy back to the apartment and laid it down for future hanging. By the time we got around to doing that, we had forgotten which way was up – being illiterate in Chinese, we couldn’t read it of course. After some debate, we decided to hang it up like so.

double-happiness-house 009

Only then did I remember to check the photo.  The alert reader will immediately have spotted what we discovered, that we had hung it upside down. After a moment of consternation, we decided that actually this way it looks even more like two happy people arm in arm. So we’ve left it that way. Lord knows what our cleaner thinks; she’s been too polite to say.

We’re away next week, so I use this post to wish everyone a happy St. Valentine’s day, the two-happy-people day.

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I like writing, but I’ve spent most of my life writing about things that don’t particularly interest me. Finally, as I neared the age of 60, I decided to change that. I wanted to write about things that interested me. What really interests me is beauty. So I’ve focused this blog on beautiful things. I could be writing about a formally beautiful object in a museum. But it could also be something sitting quietly on a shelf. Or it could be just a fleeting view that's caught my eye, or a momentary splash of colour-on-colour at the turn of the road. Or it could be a piece of music I've just heard. Or a piece of poetry. Or food. And I’m sure I’ve missed things. But I’ll also write about interesting things that I hear or read about. Isn't there a beauty about things pleasing to the mind? I started just writing, but my wife quickly persuaded me to include photos. I tried it and I liked it. So my posts are now a mix of words and pictures, most of which I find on the internet. What else about me? When I first started this blog, my wife and I lived in Beijing where I was head of the regional office of the UN Agency I worked for. So at the beginning I wrote a lot about things Chinese. Then we moved to Bangkok, where again I headed up my Agency's regional office. So for a period I wrote about Thailand and South-East Asia more generally. But we had lived in Austria for many years before moving to China, and anyway we both come from Europe my wife is Italian while I'm half English, half French - so I often write about things European. Now I'm retired and we've moved back to Europe, so I suppose I will be writing a lot more about the Old Continent, interspersed with posts we have gone to visit. What else? We have two grown children, who had already left the nest when we moved to China, but they still figure from time to time in my posts. I’ll let my readers figure out more about me from reading what I've written. As these readers will discover, I really like trees. So I chose a tree - an apple tree, painted by the Austrian painter Gustav Klimt - as my gravatar. And I chose Abellio as my name because he is the Celtic God of the apple tree. I hope you enjoy my posts. Klimt/big/Apple Tree I.jpg

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