July 23, 2007
Bored and wealthy? Rush over to central Asia and check out the Qinghai Horse Festival This link is from the travel website Diverse China. You might expect the Chinese government to crush this kind of "expression of diversity" but Communist governments like to publicly celebrate their minorities even while brutally repressing them away from the cameras. Recall the Soviet Union's frequent joyful proclamations of the many nations of people within its vast borders, and all the while various nationalities were being relocated or extinguished at the whim of Moscow bureaucrats. (The entire nation of Chechnya was forcibly relocated to Kazakhstan in 1944, because Stalin believed they were conspiring with the approaching -- but never quite arriving, in Chechnya -- German army. They got to come home after Stalin died.) But this horse thing looks very cool. No horses shown on the page I linked to, but the bright costumes look good too.
There's a row in Britain over a controversial restaurant name. Apparently a Durham city council member took offense on behalf of local Buddhists when restauranteur Eddie Fung expressed a desire to name his Chinese restaurant "Fat Buddha." (Fung already operates a restaurant called Fat Buddha in Belfast, and started a popular chain called Red Panda.) The councilwoman, Tracey Ingle, called the name "provocative." Mr. Fung called the situation "political correctness gone mad." Perhaps Ms. Ingle would have preferred a slightly more ascetic Buddha (pictured at right) rather than the cheerful, well-fed Budai Mr. Fung wanted to greet diners with in the lobby?
Speaking of Buddha statues and restaurants, check out the huge decoration at Tao Las Vegas, said by the New York Times to be the "highest grossing independent restaurant in the United States." Somehow Buddhism, both because it is so strange and exotic, and at the same time judged to be so secular-philosophical, is not considered a real religion in the West, so that God-fearing Christians can eat their food in comfort in the shadow of a huge idol. Also, all Asian religions seem to be conflated in the public imagination, so that a restaurant called Tao can have a huge Buddha with no contradiction. Why not throw in a Dancing Siva and Conficius statue? (The Tao Las Vegas website also features a topless Asian woman in a swimming pool. The Las Vegas city council clearly isn't taking marching orders from its counterparts in Durham.)
More distressing news about Sri Lanka -- its Buddhist establishment spouting pro-war talk, its government bloated and corrupt, its rebels intractable and ruthless. And last week I was concerned about the Buddhist relic going there from Bangladesh.
- Philip Ryan, Webmaster