Beijing, 3 February 2013

A few weeks ago, I went to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan. I was visiting a company that makes an interesting energy conservation technology, details about which I won’t bore you with. I also visited a company that makes graphite electrodes for electric arc furnaces; again, I won’t bore you with details. And of course, as is usual, the local authorities put on a banquet for me, at which I politely ate the local, horribly spicy food (see my earlier rant about spices to know how I feel on this topic). But when all else has faded from my mind, what will remain with me is a visit to the Sanxingdui Museum, some 40 km to the north of Chengdu.

Before going there, I knew nothing about the museum or the historical Ba-Shu culture on which it is based. I was just told that the museum was very interesting and asked if I would like to visit it. If I can, I never disappoint my hosts, and anyway being a bit of a museum rat I’m always glad to visit a museum. So of course I heartily agreed to the proposal.

But I was totally unprepared for what met me when I got there.

Bronze head-1

Bronze head-5

Bronze head-7

Bronze head-10

These strange, strange bronze heads, sometimes also in groups and overlain in gold

Bronze head-3- 3 heads

Bronze head-13-many heads

Like this gentleman, I was gobsmacked by these heads

man looking at mask

There are other enigmatic heads around the world. Easter Island heads and Olmec heads from Mexico come to mind.

easter island heads


But these Ba-Shu heads take the biscuit. It’s the eyes that are so strange, they’re not human at all. Link that to those thin, thin lips with that slight smile playing on some of them and you have a really sinister-looking face. I have to say that my first reaction was “extraterrestrials!”. Foolish, of course, but I could well imagine a movie where beings looking like this step off the mother ship in front of groveling earthlings.

bronze statue-3

But it gets stranger. Take a gander at these

Bronze head-11-protruding eyes-3

bronze head-15-protruding eyes-4

What is one to make of those rods in the eyes? The museum literature suggests that these could be rays emanating from the eyes. To my overheated imagination, they look nothing more like sticks rammed into the being’s eyes and his masochistic delight at this treatment.

For the historically inclined, I should mention that these finds have been dated to a period 3,000 to 4,000 years ago, that for reasons unknown the civilization disappeared from view and from the historical record, only to resurface in 1986 after a farmer was doing some digging in his fields.

Well, it’s clear. The beings decided to go back to wherever they came from, probably after promising that they would be back …


Bronze head-1: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Bronze_head_from_Sanxingdui.JPG
Bronze head-2: http://images.yangtzeriver.org/attraction/chengdu/sanxingdui-museum-in-guanghan/sanxingdui-museum-in-guanghan3.jpg
Bronze head-3: http://data.travelchinaguide.com/photo/chengdu-sanxingdui-museum.jpg
Bronze head-4: http://www.mychinatours.com/images/attraction/chengdu/sanxingdui-museum-in-guanghan/sanxingdui3.jpg
Bronze head group-1: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Sanxingduimasks.jpg
Bronze head group-2: http://www.chinesetimeschool.com/Portals/2/cms/images/201206/634753526083340000.jpeg
Man looking at head: http://p3.img.cctvpic.com/program/cultureexpress/20100705/images/1278294852929_1278294852929_r.jpg
Easter Island heads: http://www.philipcoppens.com/easterisle01.jpg
Olmec head: http://media-2.web.britannica.com/eb-media/56/4556-004-1703C415.jpg
Bronze head with protruding eyes-1: http://peripatetickiwi.files.wordpress.com/2009/07/imgp1405.jpg
Bronze head with protruding eyes-2: http://jessiechophotos.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Day3-206.jpg


Beijing, 2 February 2013

The last week has been dreadful for air quality in Beijing. The brief break we had which I wrote about a few posts ago was but a temporary remission and we soon plunged back into the murk. My wife was a little more philosophical about it than I. She remarked that it reminded her of her childhood in Milan, when smog was frequent, and reminisced about having to cross the road to go to primary school and not being able to see if the light had changed. But still, we both suffered.

To cheer us up, my wife bought a bunch of tulips. They were still closed when she brought them home, but she placed them in a jar and we watched them slowly open over the following few days. Yesterday morning, we woke up to a gloriously bright and clear day. Thanking all the spirits I could think of, I stepped humming into the dining room, only to be greeted by the tulips which had fully opened over night. The sunlight pouring in through the windows was picking out their delicate pinks, whites and greens. I just had to memorialize the occasion.

   tulips 003

tulips 002

The mandarins which were also on the table kept nudging themselves into the frame, so eventually, I brought them in too.

tulips 005

Wonderful, wonderful fruit, those! They don’t look up to much, but aah the taste, my friends! First comes the delicate mandarin aroma which breaks out as you begin to peel the fruit and prepares you for what lies ahead. Then comes the citrically acidic taste with sharp mandarin overtones which hits your taste buds as you pop one segment in after the other. They are completely addictive; between my wife and I, that plate of mandarins lasted but one breakfast. She has found a greengrocers up the road which sells them. Sorry, the address will remain a secret.