I don’t think about hair. I mean, sure I’m losing mine. And sure, the musical is one of the greatest things of all time.
But really… is hirsituity that big a deal? Big enough for the Musée de Quai Branly to brazenly devote an entire exhibit to it? Lord no! And Lord YES!
(Adapting my professorial voice here, and pushing my glasses up my nose ever so slightly.)
You see, hair is a symbol of sensuality, sexuality, virility. And that’s clearly why this exhibit features a score — yes, A SCORE — of shrunken heads.
Shrunken HEADS? Do they really fit among the Elizabethan ebony busts of African hairdos, and photos of French starlets from the 60s? I mean, I guess they did have hair to kill for… almost Bon Jovian sometimes…
This was like the trip to Disneyworld I’ve never taken. My golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s factory. Our trip to North Korea.
I know you’ve already been. Many times. But walking these two kilometers, I realized why this was one of my mom’s favorite places in Paris. Two kilometers of stacked-up bones, all to us. Entirely alone. So damned romantic.
With Melaka being a culture mix of Indian, Malay, Chinese, Dutch and Portuguese, amongst others, local customs are very much honored and preserved. Buddhists, keeping up with modern times, offer their ancestors the very best in the afterlife. Apart from the expected cash to spend and incense to purify and keep them from harm, the modern dead are blessed with all of life’s daily amenities and enjoyments including cigarettes, a complete wardrobe, soda pop and beer, as well as lingerie and extra set of dentures, and the latest iPhone!
“I’m surprised you already have the iPhone4 here!”
“We have everything!”
“You really do!”
“Here, look at this!” the shopkeeper’s wife interjected and thrust into view a life-sized paper iPad (with faux leather case!)
Everything here is made of paper to be burned. It’ll end up in heaven with your ancestors, that way. The washing machine, the clothes, the iPhone, the old man. Okay, not the old man. He’s real.
Yesterday, these little nectarines showed up at the market. Dyed (branded? scalded? waxed? greased up with dirty stinking chemicals?) with Chinese characters, they read tall (高), shining (照), a thing (事) and happiness (喜).
“No, no, no,” said Echo, a good friend. “You’ve bought the wrong ones, and got them in the wrong order. They should read ‘吉星高照,’ which means ‘good luck.’ It’s an idiom.” (The ones I ended up with, ordered as below, read something like “tall photograph of a happy thing.”)
“Or maybe they’re trying to say ‘喜事高照,'” she mused. “It’s not so correct but it’d still make sense.”
We spent the last ten days living in a small Tongzhou village, an hour east of Beijing, and construction was non-stop. Every day we were there, a ramshackle house was torn down and replaced by a building site. New walls would go up in hours. Bricks and dust were everywhere. Often, a 4′ pile of sand would block our driveway. If we wanted to drive anywhere, the six of us would have to pick up shovels and move it ourselves. (The builders would hide around the corner, leaving only their shovels behind.)
Just beyond the village, though, there were mostly fields. At the ends of many of the fields were graves. Conical mounds of dirt, with an inscribed gravestone, sitting on top of the plough lines. Old women were squatting at the ends of the fields, planting new crops.
It seemed a strange place for graves, so we asked a local friend about them.
“Ha,” he laughed, “I don’t think those are real graves. There probably are no bodies down there.”
Fake graves? Outside our Tongzhou village??
“Yes. The villagers know that the land is going to be developed, and the government will only give them so much money. But if it’s a graveyard, they may pay more. So the local villagers build fake graves on their fields, to get more money. You know the expression ‘shǎjīng?’” I didn’t. “It means stupid-clever. That’s what they are. Shajing shajing.” He laughed at his own expression, as he repeated it again. “傻精傻精.”
It seemed strange to dedicate graves to government payouts. But just a few miles away, close enough to see if the pollution wasn’t too heavy, there were high rise apartment buildings. A short bus ride away, there was a new subway line. Two of my friends had recently bought houses near here. This land was no longer just for planting Chinese cabbage. It was becoming real estate.
(As usual, many of the pictures — and in this case, I think all of them — are by Woo.)