Monday, February 17, 2014


Exciting, exciting - my first experience overhearing people speaking in Mandarin, and understanding it! OK, maybe it was a little overdetermined. It was in the Japanese gallery at the Met (I was on my way to the stupendous contemporary art show Ink Art in the Chinese galleries - more anon). A Chinese nun in brown was explaining a Kamakura Kannon 観音 sculpture to a lay companion, pointing toward the head. I heard 三面 (sanmian) and 十一面 (shiyimian) - three-face and eleven-face - and knew what she was saying: though this one has only one, representations of Guanyin 观音 sometimes have three faces and, as this one does, more above adding up to eleven faces. Yes, yes, I supplied about 90% of that out of non-Mandarin knowledge but still... It felt a very auspicious start to vicarious listening comprehension. (In fact, as 观世音 this particular bodhisattva is a specialist in hearing.)

The photo, however, isn't Kannon/Guanyin but from the exhibition of Silla Korea: a 1400-year-old Mireuk (Maitreya), Buddha of the future.

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