15 February 2007

Echo Microphones & Easily Amused “White People”

I finally figured out where this whole Chinese obsession with cranking the echo effect on microphones comes from! We spent the day at the Temple of Heaven and while the buildings, architecture and grounds were majestic and interesting, both Robin and I were taken aback by two astounding “special effects.”

The first was discovered outside the Emperor’s changing room, where he would prepare to make the annual sacrifice to ensure a good harvest. The outer wall was constructed in a perfect circle, it’s sides smoothed down so that there were no jagged edges. It became known as the “Echo Wall” because you can stand at any point along its inner side, speak directly at it, and be heard along the entire thing! This just blew us away. Truth be told, we spent about fifteen minutes at another semi-circled wall that we thought was the echo wall, speaking directly at it, only half-hearing each other, and leaving less than impressed. The we found the ACTUAL structure and spent a half hour having a conversation with one another at regular speaking volume while standing a good 100 yards apart.

The second came on the Altar or Heaven, where the actual animal (and sometimes human) sacrifices were made to God. Once again this gargantuan structure was full of significance. There is one central round stone and from there, the entire altar is constructed in multiples of nine. There are nine stones surrounding this central stone, followed by eighteen stones then twenty-seven stones and so on all the way out to the forty-second ring, which has 378 stones. Odd numbers constitute “yin,” or heaven, and since nine is the highest odd digit it only makes sense to construct this altar with that idea in mind.

The fascinating tidbit is that when a person stands on the middle stone and projects their voice in any direction, it is echoed and magnified nine-fold when returning to that individual’s ears. This occurs because of the downward slope in the stone combined with the shape, distance and angle of the nine balustrades in correlation to the central stone on an equal plane with the sun and moon which signifies that this altar is indeed at the center of the earth (only the ancient Chinese believed that last part). It essentially sounded like you were in a large stadium speaking into a microphone, but it only sounded that way to you, which made me look crazy as I stood there talking to myself.

Of course, the Chinese folks there didn’t actually talk while standing on the stone. They just hopped up, had their picture taken, and wandered off, clearly missing the “kitsch” factor of this fine spot. I encouraged them to talk, yelling “shuo, shuo” (speak speak). A few spouted a word or two, but my efforts were largely unsuccessful. Hey, at least Robin and I enjoyed ourselves!

I almost forgot, we also saw this guy wandering around. He had just jumped into the frozen lake then was running all over in his underwear. The Chinese believe it increases vitality. I believe we refer to it as hypothermia...

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