Reverberations #4 - Trade Deficit Disorder and the Chinese Gong


by Andrew Borakove January 10, 2008

Hello and welcome to the edited version of the fourth issue of Reverberations.

REVERBERATIONS ISSUE NUMBER 4!
Our two topics are:

1- Why you shouldn’t worry about the trade deficit

2- Different Kinds of Chinese Gongs

 


 

1 – Trade Deficit Disorder

 

Once upon a time, the United States Government didn’t believe running up a huge deficit was What Jesus Would Do with his MessiahCard, and China was called the Sleeping Giant, because they were always tired from trying to fit the theories of Marx and Engel into a square hole.

But all that has changed – China has woken up and decided, with all the blustery panache of Nathan Lane imitating Ethel Merman, that “Money Makes The World Go Round! World Go Round! World Go Round!”

AND

all the US Corporations stopped making shit in the US because they decided it was easier to make shit in countries where humans don’t have things like worker’s comp or lunch breaks.

Voila! Now we have a deficit with China that is like 100 to 200 billion dollars – according to various estimates. Phew! That’s a lot of Happy Meal toys! And yet the deficit doesn’t stop us from adopting many of the adorable ruddy-faced Chinese orphans.

We’re all for people making families, but we wonder, do Americans adopt Chinese babies because we confuse them with those cute little Care Bears their parents make?

Trust us, when the thrill of diapering your new infant wears off, the deficit will still be there.

But don’t worry Gong Lover – we don’t have to start making flat screen TVs in the US and shipping them to China to erase it. And don’t fret, Mr. And Mrs. Dittohead from Oxycontin USA, we don’t have to crunch the numbers and multiply them by the O’Reilly Factor to maintain our rightful place as the Boss of Everyone.

Nope. Don’t have to do a thing. Just sit back and continue to sip your Fair Trade coffee in your local Starbucks.

This whole deficit thing? We have TALL PEOPLE erasing the debt for us.

“Tall People?!” you say as you spit take your half-caf, two percent almond latte onto that guy with the 90’s retro-ironic soul patch dotted with blueberry scone crumbs, “What the heck is he talking about! Tall people erasing the trade deficit?! I’m a 6 foot 5 inch woman (a man until last year, actually) and doing nothing but accruing debt as I buy a whole new wardrobe!”

Well, okay. Not every Tall Person is helping.
It’s a specific kind of Tall People.
Professional Basketball Players are helping.

YOU SEE, WE HAVE A TRADE SURPLUS WITH CHINA WHEN IT COMES TO BASKETBALL PLAYERS!!!

That’s right! There are a few professional basketball leagues in China, and similar to Baseball Teams in Japan, all the teams can have a couple of American players. So they import ours.

Sure, we have Yao Ming and a couple other seven footers from China in the NBA. But China Basketball drafted over 56 of our very tall people this year alone!

This is huge in terms of reducing our trade deficit!!!

How, you may ask? How can 50 basketball players erase our trade deficit?

Let us explain in easy-to-understand economicky terms.

First off, let’s explain the obvious.

These guys are big and tall so they eat a lot.

By eating so much food in China, these players are taking it away from Chinese workers. These workers need sustenance to stay strong to make clothes and consumer goods cheaper. By our players weakening them, slowing them down, we subtly gain the upper hand.

Secondly...
by working in China, these players are NOT sitting on their mother’s couch and moping, watching NBA games on TV and complaining that they could dunk on Shaq. “Booyah!” as they say on ESPN. Though what booyah means, we don’t know.

You see, these Tall People are NOT collecting unemployment! So with them off the unemployment rolls, our economy seems stronger, and the stock market goes up, up, up… and the NASDAQ dunks on Shaq!

Third off...
These tall players are learning valuable skills that they can bring back to our country and use when they retire from the court.

Skills such as how to threaten a dissident island like Taiwan.
(So if Manhattan threatens to secede, these players will be on the front line.)

Or how to subjugate a self-important mountain culture like Tibet.
(Aspen residents watch out!)

And of course, the necessary amount of force to squelch an evangelical religious movement similar to Falun Gong.
(Insert religious zealots of your own choosing here.)

These players may not be as good enough to play in the NBA, but they’re good enough to be on the front lines of ending the trade deficit with China.

They’re all part of the plan hatched by David Stern, Commissioner of the NBA, and Warren Buffett. By making pro basketball interesting to China, we have made the Chinese desire what we want. Cheap Plastic Playthings.

The more of them, the better. And then they will become like us, and we can sell them back all the crap they sent here! (And force them to take on the last three years of Shaq’s contract.)

Don’t believe us? Check out this new pro basketball cheerleader in China. Some big imitation playthings there… YEP! It all starts on the court.

Chinese Cheerleader

Unfortunately for the Chinese, neither Confucius, Mao, nor Sun Tzu had any wisdom to share about breast implants.

This intrepid reporter did call Shanghai to ask about the young lady’s Chinese Lanterns seen in above photo. I was told that when struck with a mallet, they produce the same tone as a 28 inch Wind Gong.


2 - Different kinds of Chinese Gongs

 

You know this past year, we offered many types of Chinese Gongs that you don’t usually see offered at the regular percussion store- after all, we are “UNLIMITED” - but we were surprised that these unique ones weren’t flying out the door right away. Except when we played Ultimate Frisbee with them. We have been selling them, but we just figured they would drive people crazy with desire.

But then we realized it was because everyone out there didn’t know about these gongs. Unfamiliar. Our customers’ sonic palates, trained on the aural equivalent of Sweet and Sour Pork and Kung Pao Chicken (CHAU AND WIND GONGS), were unaware of the varieties of gongs they could have and love. Frog Liver on sticks they sell on the streets in Central China, you know.

So, in the interest of broadening everyone’s minds and ears, we provide you with some information about some of the other Chinese Gongs we have.

(If any of you out there are actually Chinese Music Ph.Ds or just generally Sonic Sinophiles and have even more info to share about these gongs, please let us know. We will be happy to receive it. As they say in the Chinese Restaurants in Tijuana --- Gracias!)

Let’s go back in time for a moment for some ancient Chinese gong history.

In ancient times, gongs had different uses in different countries. The armies in what is now China used both drums and gongs for specific purposes.
The drum was used while attacking. The gong was sounded to signal a retreat.
President Bush 43, the Little Drummer Boy when it comes to Iraq, doesn’t like to bang a gong. Oddly enough, Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat from Texas, didn’t like banging gongs about Vietnam either.

Pause….

The Malletheads wonder aloud if it is intelligent to put any more politicians from the Lone Star State in the White House.

Okay, we’ll stop messing with Texas – after all, you so often ask us all not to mess with you. Don’t Mess with Texas you print on all those bumper stickers and fancy T-shirts. Okay, we won’t. We don’t want to make you cry.

Let’s go back to topic and mess with China.

All the way back to the Song Dynasty (960 to 1280 AD). After banging the gong and retreating, the army and everyone needs to do something with their time, like play music, so the gong started being used in folk music to create a happy sound and festive spirit. And over time it keeps on spreading. Dynasty after dynasty.

To highlight this history, did you know that the orchestra of a typical Chinese Opera has two parts -- the Wenchang, or Civil Section, which is comprised of string and wind instruments; and the Wuchang, or Military Section, composed of percussion instruments.

A lot of Westerners have seen or heard the gongs in Chinese Opera. Many of these gongs are called Opera Gongs.

But please realize that there are Opera Gongs and then there are Other Opera Gongs.

Most likely you have seen the basic Opera Gong that we (and many other stores) sell.

It can come in an ascending or descending style. It’s a fun gong, just wild enough to get you crazy and loose, but still a classic gong, and you can respect it.

But there are lots of different kinds of Chinese Opera. Just like there are many kinds of Chinese Opera. Most people in the US are familiar with Peking Opera, with its many unique costumes and characters. You’ve seen it in movies and such. Jackie Chan talks about it.

Peking Opera has a 200 year history, but its roots go back to Chinese performance arts that date back many more centuries. Peking Opera combines music, dance, art and acrobatics.

The music part is played on wind instruments, strings, percussion. The percussion includes drums, castanets, and of course, a VARIETY OF GONGS, all of which are used to help characters and story be expressed.

Besides the traditional Opera Gong, we also carry the Xiang Ja Gong, Se Gong, and Ma Gong, which are used regularly in Chinese Operas.

Funny Aside: While we in the West have been taught to accord great respect to our operas, with all their excessively passionate stories and bloviated emotions, the Chinese, for many years, did not treat their opera the same.

Why?

Well, Chinese culture was dominated for many centuries, by the teachings of Confucius. Now good old Connie F. believed that music was a means to chill the passions, not to excite them, to dispel unrest and lust, rather than as a form of entertainment.
Motown? Confucius say No-town!
Because of this, in the old days of China, musical entertainers, opera folk, were relegated to an extremely low social status. You didn’t start a garage band to get cute chicks in the old time China.

Not that they weren’t into music. They were. The Chinese have long believed that sound influences the harmony of the universe.

Interesting to note, that one of the most important duties of the first emperor of each new dynasty was to SEARCH OUT AND ESTABLISH HIS DYNASTY'S TRUE STANDARD OF PITCH.

(If this was the task of the US President, I shudder in horror. But to tell the truth, we believe the Ancient Chinese were right. The taste in music of a leader does influence things. Do you recall the Clintons and Gores dancing to Fleetwood Mac during their Inauguration festivities? Is it any wonder that his Presidency was destroyed by Rumours? It was the essence of the music he chose, the spirit, for Fleetwood Mac was a band that came apart due to romantic trysts. Put a picture of Monica Lewinsky next to the bloated Stevie Nicks of recent years. These two come from the same pod. Future Presidents – choose your music wisely!)

BACK TO GONGS…

In the time before electricity, Peking Opera was done on stage in the open air, or teahouses or in the large courtyards of temples. Since the musicians had to play loudly, the Opera Stars had to develop a sharp, loud vocal style that could be heard by the folks in the back rows. This situation even led to their costumes becoming more garish to stand out on a stage only lit by oil lamps.

That’s the same reason why the gongs for Chinese Opera have many unique and piquant tones. They needed to be heard and distinct. They had to express and announce things clearly to the audience.

The SE GONG, one of our favorites, is a small gong that is used in the Opera, as well as many folk performances, and even sometimes Lion Dancing.

The Se Gong has a musicality and bounce that other small gongs don’t usually have. And it works well in combination with other percussion. In fact, it often accompanies by a Chinese Chaun cymbal. We like to say that the Se Gong is like the Blood Type O of gongs– a universal donor, it can go in almost any performance.

We don’t know a ton about the historical or opera-specific use of the MA GONG and XIANG JA GONG. (We don’t speak Chinese so its hard to get a lot out of our gongmakers) but what we do know is this:

The Ma Gong is a small gong, but feisty and strong in tone. It doesn’t sound like a small gong. It is not tinny. You get a clear mid range and depth of sound. When people do hear it, they buy it fast.

The Xiang Ja is a bigger, heavier gong that can be played with mallets, drumsticks, and other things. Its bigger rim provides all kinds of sounds. It is used to highlight acrobatics and comedy from what we have found out.

If you have any info about these two gongs let us know. They are not cheap plastic playthings, hence there is a dearth of material on them.

NOW! From the Opera to Circus!

And onto our PASI AND DAN DA GONGS.

The Pasi Gong looks like a Wind Gong with a small rim like a Chau – but it has a more playful tone. It’s zesty. It’s spunky. It’s totally pasi! It’s like Drew Barrymore compared to Emma Thompson.

The Dan Da Gong is smaller, but it is uniquely designed.

Out of all our Chinese Gongs, it looks the most unique with its layers of oxide and brownish-red hues. Some might be put off by it’s surface appearance, in the same way you might’ve been stunned the first time you saw Steve Buscemi in a movie. But like Buscemi, the Dan Da gong’s performance can make you forget its looks.

The Malletheads love the look of the Dan Da Gong though.
And the sound.
The cool thing about the Dan Da Gong is, each one looks totally unique, none is exactly the same.

The Dan Da and the Pasi Gong are used in circuses to have fun, or to announce the next act in a show. They spice up acrobatics and gymnastics. They are also used in various folk and street performances. This makes sense as they both have fun tones.

However, our favorite use of the Dan Da gong, as told to us by our Chinese gongmakers, is for the performance of “Playing with Monkey.”

We thought this was a special traditional dance, but they corrected us. Their English is not perfect, they meant it literally, that this gong was used for playing it next to a monkey dancing! Literally. Like an old organ grinder in Italy, street performers in China would take out their trained monkey onto a city street and bang their Dan Da along with it to get tips.

Of course, in the modern China this street monkey business happens less. This has left the monkeys angry and confused, and looking, haplessly, for a second career, but no one will hire them, because they think the monkeys are just goofballs and won’t be good at anything else.

This is, oddly enough, the same fate that many former sitcom writers are going through in the USA, thanks to reality TV.

Perhaps there is a way the sitcom writers and monkeys can work together… make a funny show about the difficulty of divorced monkeys raising children, or the antics of a house of attractive, single monkeys… or perhaps they can all go to that Hawaiian island for lepers and live in harmony, putting on musical theater together.

If you have a monkey, or feel like your house or office is a sitcom or a circus, the Pasi Gong or the Dan Da gong may be perfect for you.

Another gong that used to be much more important in Old China, the China before they had electricity in places, and with it alarms and security entrances is the NIGHT GONG.

The Night Gong is not a gong to soothe you to sleep. It was used as an alarm to alert neighbors of fire, thieves, or other local dangers. “Close your doors and windows!” says the Night Gong when you bang it.

Of course, it is still used in rural areas nowadays, but not in the city. You couldn’t hear the Night Gong over the techno music in Hong Kong. Or the screams and moans of Falun Gong practitioners as they are ‘interrogated.’

Speaking of Falun Gong, which is a religious group not a percussion instrument, it reminded us Malletheads that for the political leadership of many countries, having control over the people’s thoughts and/or spiritual beliefs is of paramount importance. They don’t see leadership as service to others. They see it as controlling others.

The Malletheads guess this is because these leaders equate Power with Control on some unconscious level.

Hmmm.

Where do we first learn how to control things? Potty Training. N’est ce pas… Something must have occurred during their toddler poops that made these assholes feel very powerful. Perhaps their mothers lined up their poops in a row and pretended that the kid was All-Powerful Dictator and the little shits were peasants.

Maybe not. Maybe they just didn’t get enough hugs. All we know is that we pray that one day this species of ours gets bored of beating itself up.

The final two Chinese Gongs we will mention are the HENG GONG and the BAO GONG. They each combine beauty in design with unique mellifluous tones.

Both of these genius pieces of percussive metal are used in the Chinese dance-religious-martial arts performance called Lion Dancing. (This is not like Playing with Monkey. No real lions involved.)

These gongs can also be used in the Yangko dance, which according to our gongmakers, is a dance for older people.

The Lion Dance goes back about one thousand years. It plays an important role in the consecration of temples and other buildings, at business openings, planting and harvest times, official celebrations like weddings and births, and religious rites. The Lion Dance is use to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck.

For a proper lion dance, the movements must match the music played by a minimum of three pieces: drum, gong and cymbal. It is a treat and a delight to witness a good Lion Dance. You can see them in the US if you hunt around. A lot of martial arts schools practice and teach it.

So that’s all for now about Different Kinds of Chinese Gongs. We hoped we helped you with some info and some fun.

If you have other info you can share with us about these gongs and others, please do. Just don’t be snotty and weird about it. (Yes, we occasionally get those kinds of emails from people with chips and salsa on their shoulders.)

We don’t claim to be PhD’s and we’re always happy to increase the knowledge base.




Andrew Borakove
Andrew Borakove

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