Sunday, June 15, 2008

China Day 16: Wild Goose Chase

Our second stop was the extremely scenic Small Wild Goose Pagoda:
Before we came to China I thought the word "pagoda" meant any building with those curved-up corners you see in China and Japan. It turns out that I was totally wrong! Pagodas are a specific type of multi-story tower associated with Buddhist temples.
This particular pagoda has 13 stories. It originally had 15 but Xi'an is in an earthquake zone and the pagoda's been here for about 1300 years; that it survives at all is pretty impressive. When it was built, during the Tang Dynasty, they used a novel foundation of a hemisphere of packed earth which appears to have helped stabilize the pagoda against earthquakes. In the mid 1500s one quake took out the top two stories, but most of it stayed up, and we were even told that in one case an earthquake closed up cracks that a previous earthquake had caused!

There was a gift shop, naturally, but this one was more interesting than normal - they had a little display of things you would find in a traditional Chinese house. This:
is the Kitchen God, whom I knew about from Amy Tan's wonderful book, The Kitchen God's Wife. And this:
is a traditional Chinese bed. I finally understand the rock-like firmness of the mattresses we have encountered here; this bed is made out of brick, and they would light a fire under it to warm the family in the wintertime.

The pagoda is set in what once was a temple courtyard, and Dad and I
enjoyed looking around for the next piece of whimsy. We found a collection of hitching posts
a fellow with his pet cricket in a cage
a lovely little bamboo bower
some stone turtles, carefully protected from the rain by arches and from small children wanting to play on them by gratings
a sort of a poor man's "Spirit Way"
and an enormous iron bell suspended from a wooden frame.
The red object is a beam of wood which you swing at the bell to ring it - there's no way you could ring the bell by swinging it since it weighs about ten tons. The bell can be heard for over three miles. It's a very pretty bell sound - until the 43rd person decides he needs to ring the bell in the same ten minute period.

The piece of resistance, however, was this sign:
I looked all around for the circular square; I'm not sure but I think this is what they meant.
Altogether a tranquil and serene hour!

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