Thursday, February 08, 2007

Hall of Nocturnal Fantasies

Some might view him as a staid, serious no-nonsense academician wholly devoid of humour but I'd know better. They couldn't be more wrong though since beneath that stern scholarly surface my father certainly has a kooky, unconventional sense of humour - a deeply embedded vein well hidden from the rest of the world but still we do get a glimmer of its promise every once in a while.

For instance both of us are huge history buffs and on the occasional evenings, we usually end up watching dreadfully dull documentaries on ancient crumbling civilizations much to the disgust of my disgruntled brother. Which is how we managed to tune in to a documentary about the magnificent Forbidden Palace in Beijing.

Let's not argue that the enterprising Chinese people built one of the finest civilizations over there in the fertile Yellow River Delta, erecting achritectural wonders, monuments and palaces. But like any bureaucratic nation - especially staffed with a thousand and one sycophantic eunuchs, is it any wonder that the hoity-toity language of the court deals with a whole lot of grandiloquent gibberish?

Seriously, some of the names given to the chambers and halls in the Forbidden Palace would probably induce an embarassed titter or two. No doubt the meaning in Chinese is simply inspirational but it somehow loses its manifold charm in translation. Sometimes it seems as if some overenthused courtier back in the days of yore had gotten hold of a particularly wordy thesaurus from a particularly conniving merchant and fished out the most impressive sounding ( with the highest number of syllables ) synonym for a match.

Sure I can be occasionally verbose with the occasional five-dollar words but these loquacious court interpreters certainly put me to shame. The Palace of Heavenly Purity? The Palace of Earthly Tranquility? Come on, how can anyone not make fun of the Hall of Mental Cultivation? Call it the damned study or the library dammit! And no doubt we all know what's strictly taboo in the aptly named Hall of Abstinence ( as well as the Gate of Chastity and Obedience! ).

Breaking out of the Hall of Abstinence

Some names are a little harder to comprehend. Maybe we have a vague idea of what's happening in the Hall of Imperial Zenith ( assume it's a display of imperial might and wealth ) but God only knows what's happening in the Hall of All-Encompassing Universe.

With a quietly mischievious twinkle in his eye, my father suggested renaming the rooms in my house for the sake of feng shui. Don't think it would hurt, right? Maybe my kitchen should be the Hall of Heavenly Offerings, and the toilet the Realm of Fragrant Ablution? Then I could stick wooden plaques outside my bedroom proclaiming it the Hall of Nocturnal Fantasies!

Wonder who I should hire as a sexy palace guard. Maybe Rangoon Ranger is still available.


Stephen said...

You'd prefer something like Urumqi's top tourist attraction, the "Museum of Ancient Dried Corpses"?

I've read a little Chinese literature (in translation) and I love the tendency to either call a spade a bloody spade or a heavenly fragrant earth vessel - even on the same page!

Sam said...

You can hire me...


jase said...

I'm sure they all sound way better in mandarin or cantonese. So lets give them some credit. It would sound entirely boring if they called it a library. And if they called it with a normal name it'd be like calling any other library other than the one in the palace. :)

Musang said...

my level of China ancient civilisation only limited to all those comic books i've read and the all the kung fu movies i've watched.

pastu kagum. the names. the rules. and the kungfu. :P

Annie said...

Like father, like son.

I KNOW the PERFECT feng shui name for your bedroom Paul!


The MORGUE: Sleep like the Dead


closetalk said...

hehehe. mine changes character. From The Zone of Intrepid Activity, to The Abode of Restless Longing to The Realm of Sloth.

Sue said...

Ah, my favorite: the porcelain reading room.

savante said...

Ancient Dried Corpses? Ooh, pretty cool Stephen!

AS a bodyguard, sam?

Bet they do but not sure why they would translate so badly, jase.

No worries, musang. I glance through them every once in a while and the Five Fingered Fist of Death always makes me smile.

True, there are similarities, anniieeeeee...

Realm of Sloth sounds familiar, closetalk.

:) Now we know where you read, sue.