Category Archives: Cultural

Egyptian Culture – Love Potions

Many ancient observers have commented on the devout nature of ancient Egyptians. Hardly a day went by apparently, without a religious event of some sort. They were a thankful people always ready to express their gratitude to their gods. Ritual in the temples was a fine art with a great many people helping to make the experience deep and profound.

Today our finest minds have split the atom, travelled to the outer planets and constructed an internet system that is inspired. We were no less clever in our ancient past when great minds were working on the refinements of worship. Geniuses of ancient times worked hard to provide the props for a passionate experience of divine drama. Had there been award ceremonies in those days, the Egyptians would have won all the Oscars!

In the four months of the year when the farmland flooded, temporarily redundant labourers were employed on fabulous building projects producing pyramids, magnificent city temples and palaces. Divine architecture was a national pre-occupation and even today, crumbling and unpainted, these buildings still hold a charge. In their heyday when they were properly maintained and freshly painted they would have been electrifying.

The interiors were no less impressive. The way to an inner sanctum was through a series of sealed doorways designed to stimulate a rising climax and a feeling of exclusion and secrecy. Beautifully painted murals directed the supplicants towards a magical otherworld until they eventually arrived at an inner chamber or womb. Within this holy of holies was the sealed shrine containing the statue of the deity about to be reborn for communion. This was always accompanied by perfume.

In a country with high temperatures, perspiration and body odour was a constant factor in temple gatherings so the use of incense was essential to maintain an experience of divinity. Frankincense and myrrh were widely used and this exquisite scent would produce a feeling of holiness by association. Egypt was famous throughout the known world for producing the finest perfumes and many gorgeous varieties were available. The distillation of alcohol was not known until the fourth century BC, so scent was extracted by steeping in oil to obtain essential oil. This essence was then blended with other additives using great skill.

There is a theory about ‘anointing’ that suggests an altered state of mind where “The Anointed One” would receive enlightenment and divine experience. What were they anointed with I wonder? The skills of apothecaries were highly refined and hallucinogens and other mind altering ingredients wouldn’t have been overlooked. Opium and hashish were widely used. Is it possible that perfumes were also enhanced with these emotional intensifiers and called enchantments? Or love potions?

China Culture: Beijing Hutong

Entering the modernized Beijing, what interest people the most often are not those row upon row of sky rises, nor are the wide streets extending in all directions. What really attracts travelers are the deep and quiet winding Hutongs full of warm, beautiful Siheyuan, or quadrangles. Therefore, the ancient capital culture has been named as “Hutong culture” and “Siheyuan culture”, this indeed is not over said.

In the past, Beijing was largely formed by tens of thousands of Siheyuan that were aligned back-to-back, face-to-face, and side by side. For the convenience of coming in and out, a walking passage must be kept between each row of Siheyuan, this is what we call Hutong.

In the Yuan Dynasty, gaps between Beijing’s Hutongs were much wider. Therefore the descendants chose the open areas to construct more Siheyuan, created narrow passages between rows of Siheyuan courtyard houses, this resulted in massive small Hutongs among many well known big ones. Hence the proverb: “Famous Hutongs are 3600, nameless Hutongs exceeded number of ox hairs”.

Until 1949, there were 6074 well known streets and alleys in Beijing’s city areas. Out of which were 1330 Hutongs, 274 streets, 111 alleys, 85 Dao (small streets), 71 lanes, 37 roads. Traditionally, people classify all the small streets and alleys as Hutongs.

In Beijing, crisscross networked large and small Hutongs weaved the capital city with distinguished people and exquisite objects. Deep in the Hutongs are innumerable warm families, this is why ordinary Beijingers have special sentimental feelings towards Hutongs.

The narrowest Hutong in Beijing is the Qianshi (money market) Hutong in the Dashalan area of outside Qianmen, the narrowest space is merely 40 centimeters. There are also some winding deep Hutongs assumed zigzag shapes, like the Jiudaowan (nine-zigzag) originally at Beixinqiao (north new bridge), it actually had more than 20 zigzags, it was later divided into 5 Hutongs; There is another Hutong also named Jiudaowan outside Qianmen, it in fact has 13 zigzag turns. The name of Hutongs in Beijing is like an encyclopedia, it reflected the historical evolution and demonstrated the social characters and styles, it has been discovered as a hard to come by traveling resources in recent years.

Presently, those big worn-out courtyards in Beijing are being replaced by the modern buildings, the old Hutongs are also losing the base they once relied on to exist. But, to maintain Beijing’s ancient capital styles and features, many famous Hutongs have been reserved as the cultural relics, it preserved certain ancient colors for our emerging capital.

Now, Beijing’s Hutong culture development has already opened up a new travel program – visiting Hutongs. Foreign travelers from all over the world take Beijing’s old-fashioned pedicab as transportation, by pass the west line of Shuchangshahai, come to Gu Lou (the Drum Tower) through Yinding bridge, go up to Gu Lou to look down at Beijing’s old city areas and Hutongs that extend in all directions. They then go to the Houhai area, visit the city’s ancient Nanbeiguanfang Hutong, Daxiaojinshi (big and small golden lion), and Qianhoujing Hutong, walk in Siheyuan, chat with residents, get to know the life of ordinary Beijingers, go to the Gong Wang Fu (Mansion and Garden of Prince Gong in Qing Dynasty) to experience the living environment and Emperor’s gardens in the old times.

Beijing’s Hutong has a kind of eternal charm as a carrier of the ancient culture.