Chairman Bao is a Shih Tzu. We travel a lot. I drive. He watches. We've logged at least 10,000 miles and he's never once said, Sweetheart, don't you think you should stop and ask someone?

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Salem owes its continued existence to witches.
Without the witches, Salem would be just another dingy, dying New England town. There are no more fishing fleets, no more South Sea traders. There’s no industry. There’s really no reason for the place to exist. It’s not even picturesque; the rows of two storey wooden houses are neat and tidy but they look like Newark, and I had enough of Newark as a child to last a lifetime.
However, history threw Salem a life-line, and (to mix a metaphor) you can’t blame the town for taking the ball and running with it. So you can peer into a Witch Dungeon, browse through the Witch Museum, take a Witch Tour, participate in a Witch Trial, buy a Witch T-shirt and have your palm (or your tea leaves) read by a witch.
Or you can give the whole witch thing a miss and visit the Peabody Essex Museum, which is what Bao and I did.
The Peabody has a wonderful collection of Asian Export wares, which are of particular interest to me, as I specialize in Chinese art. Porcelains for export are an important part of the genre. I especially like the blanc de chine “Virgin Mother and Child” statues – these are really images of Guanyin, the Buddhist Goddess of Mercy who (I suppose) bears a sort of resemblance to her Christian counterpart. These Chinese export porcelains of Guanyin holding a baby sold like hotcakes in the West, which makes them deliciously subversive, because what the Europeans didn’t know was that Guanyin was originally a man. In another life, but even so.
Bao’s favourite exhibit was the Yin Yu Tang house, probably because the house still smells of the people and animals that lived within its walls over the past couple of centuries. I didn’t smell anything, but a dog’s sense of smell is 77,000 times stronger than yours or mine, so who knows what was being communicated? Tail up and nose to the ground, he was certainly following a scent. At one point I thought he was going to lift his leg and contribute to the dialogue, but of course, he didn’t. He wouldn’t. He’s a good little dog.
The house is a genuine, wooden Chinese merchant’s house, reassembled piece by piece at the Peabody as a part of a Chinese American friendship initiative, complete with its original furnishings. It’s perfect. It’s even got Mao posters on the walls. (I haven’t seen a Mao poster in decades. At this point, the posters are probably worth more than the house!) I don’t think there’s anything else like it in the United States. You have to buy a special ticket to visit the house, and you can only linger for 30 minutes but the experience is well worth it, and worth the drive from Boston to Salem.
And the less said about that, the better.


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