Each guide we met, I asked about these things. None of them knew the answers. I wonder how I will find out about these things.
1. The big nests? All around China (except in Shanghai) we saw huge bird nests made of rough sticks built up in the trees. Many trees had more than one nest, although there was always one grand-daddy nest. A couple of guides said “bird’s nest.” What kind of bird? Shrug.
2. What’s growing in the ponds? All over the south of China there are small square ponds in which people are growing things. What I never found out was what was being grown: fish? crabs? crawfish? what kind of whatever? veggies?
3. Roof decorations? My eyes will miss the beautiful lines of the Chinese roofs at home. First, Chinese roofs are either clay tiles (mostly) or ceramic tiles (on really rich buildings). The roofs, sweep upwards at the ends of the ridge pole. The peak construction also sweeps slightly outwards, creating a slight concave arch between the ridge pole and the top of the walls. Like the Chinese character “ren” (which means people).
In various parts of China the upswept ends of the ridge pole – and sometimes the middle of the ridge pole are topped with effigies. I tried and tried to get an explanation of the regional differences.
Some roofs have dragons;
Some roofs have boats;
Some roofs have just the lonely upturn;
Some roofs have something else altogether;
There are the pointy roofs with their lightning rods;
And the square roofs with their cupolas.
But none one could explain the symbolism or the differences. Except Jack knew about the Naxi “roof cat.” A very stylized screeching cat, mouth improbably wide opened, all teeth showing, that sits in the middle of the ridge pole on a Naxi house. This creature, whom I wish I had bought one of, eats up all the bad stuff before it gets into the house. He would have gone well with my Peruvian toros.
4. Interesting Buildings? I would like an RMB for every building I asked a guide about – “What is that building?” – and got either no answer, a diversionary answer, or an I don’t know answer. I’d be rich.