It’s always interesting how things can have such different symbolism in different cultures. The owl or mao tou ying (pronounced mow (rhymes with cow) toe ying), literally translated as “cat-headed hawk” is one of these: Where as in much of Western culture the owl is considered “wise”, in China an owl is looked at as a bad luck symbol, frightening because it has traditionally been considered a sign of death. Because of this, it isn’t common to see owls depicted much, although once again, modern times are changing the thinking of at least the younger generation. Although there are about 30 different species of owls in China, I unfortunately have never seen an owl in the wild here. This picture, a Buffy Fish Owl, is from our recent trip to Singapore, it looks very similar to the Tawny Fish Owl, which can be found where we live, so I thought I’d use it to explain the symbolism of owls in Chinese culture.
Life in China 2016: A Picture A Day, February 25 – A Visit to Singapore: Today we returned to China. While at the Singapore Chiangi Airport, we visited the Peranakan display since we hadn’t made it to the Peranakan Museum. The Chinese Peranakans, also called “Straits Chinese,” are the descendants of the wealthy merchant immigrants who arrived in Singapore in the 1600-1700’s, then stayed and married local women and raised families. Peranakan is a Malay word which means “local born”. Today they continue to have a unique culture of food, dress and a beautiful type of porcelain which the large replica (probably 6 feet high) in the picture represents (but the REAL porcelain is far more beautiful than this replica!). The other picture shows a Peranakan bridal couple in the late 19th to early 20th century.
A Visit to Singapore: Today we visited the Botanic Gardens, and while most people would share pictures of the beautiful orchids, I like to be different J. There were many gorgeous plants and flowers, but what I want to share about is the Malayan Water Monitor lizard – although the one we saw today was smaller than the one we saw at Pasir Ris a couple days ago, we were much closer to the one today. I’m intrigued by the fact that these huge lizards just wander around where so many people are! This one we saw today must have been 4 ft long from head to tail, and the one the other day was probably 5-6 ft, and they can grow up to 9 ft! Local people say just ignore them and they’ll ignore you! These do live in the very southeastern tip of China, and on Hainan Island, …but, not where we live in Dongguan.
A visit to Singapore: Today we visited the Singapore Zoo and the River Safari. In the Yangtze River exhibit, there was a Chinese Giant Salamander. Can you find it in the picture? It looks just like one of the rocks! These are the largest living amphibians today: They can grow up to over 5 feet long and weigh well over 100lbs. They supposedly make a noise like a crying baby, so in Chinese, they are called “wawa yu” or “baby fish.” Unfortunately, they are critically endangered because they are considered a luxury food item by the wealthy Chinese. There are many salamander farms, but the ones in the wild also continue to disappear.
A Visit to Singapore: Our last stop tonight was downtown and across the bay from yesterday’s picture. Tonight we walked along the bayfront promenade and visited the famous Merlion statue. It has the head of a lion and body of a fish and is Singapore’s “mascot.” It was first created in 1964 for the tourism board. The lion head represents Singapore’s original name “Singapura” and the fish body and tail represent Singapore’s beginnings as a fishing village. The name Singapura means “Lion City” and was given by a Malay Prince who discovered the fishing village on the island and thought he saw a lion. There are actually five official Merlions in Singapore. I’ll tie this in with China by saying the Merlion reminded me of the many types of Lion statues in China.
A Visit to Singapore: Today we visited the Gardens by the Bay and really enjoyed it. One of the many areas we visited was the 72 foot high Skywalk in the Supertree Grove. The manmade “trees” range from 82-160 ft tall and are actually vertical gardens. In trying to make some connections with China for my picture of the day, here are some young Chinese tourists posing on the Skywalk, with the Marina Bay Sands, a luxury hotel, well-known in the Singapore skyline, in the background. People from mainland China are the second largest group of tourists in Singapore, only behind the Indonesians.