A to Z Challenge: D=Double Happiness.
For seven years (1993-2000), I lived in Hong Kong where I worked as principal of the Lower Primary School, Hong Kong International School, Repulse Bay. Living in a foreign territory or country is a challenging, intriguing, and fascinating experience, something not to be missed if you have the chance to do it.
Hong Kong has such diversity in geographic, cultural, and culinary experiences, that there’s always some place to explore, some new store to shop in, some street market to visit, some new food to eat. Even though it is a relatively expensive city, you can find many cheap activities to do. My favorite cheapie was to ride a Double Happiness tram.
Friends and I would take the yellow double-decker bus on Saturday or Sunday from Repulse Bay down to Central to pick up a tram. It was always our lucky day when a red and gold Double Happiness tram would come down the tracks first. Of course, Double Happiness is an advertisement for cigarettes, but we just ignored that!
We climbed to the second level of the tram to sit by an open window where we could see the great scenes of Hong Kong unfold as we rambled, swayed, and jerked along. Of course, people-watching was always high on the list of cheap fun.
Sometimes we would just ride the tram from one end to the other end and back again, just for the fun of it. Other times we would hop on and off at different stops to go to Victoria Harbour to take the Star Ferry to Kowloon; to ride the Victoria Peak Tram up to Hong Kong’s highest point for spectacular views of Central and Victoria Harbour; or to step on the Central to Mid-Levels Escalator, the longest outdoor covered escalator in the world.
As you wander around Hong Kong, you see the Double Happiness symbol in variety of places. Go into the popular Shanghai Tang store, and you find the double happiness symbol on all manner of brightly-colored silk jackets, pajamas, scarves, hats, letterhead, silver candleholders, and other luxury items. Of course, this popular symbol can also found on soy sauce, rice noodles, matches, and other food items.
What’s the story behind this symbol, and how can it guarantee your happiness in marriage?
Well, what is happiness anyway? We all have our own definitions of happiness, but Confucius (551-479 B.C.) thought you only needed three things to be happy: coarse rice to eat, water to drink, and a bent elbow for a pillow. Our happiness does not come from material things, he said. It comes from our inner spirit and how we live out that spirit in our daily lives.
Connected with Confucius’ idea of happiness is the concept of freedom from hunger. The serfs of Confucius’ time struggled with the lack of food on a daily basis. One Chinese character for happiness, ‘fu’, means a full stomach. “It combines ‘to fill’–made by joining a ‘mouth’, a cultivated ‘field’, and ‘one’ or ‘united’, with ‘heaven’, the source of abundance.” (From The Spirit of the Chinese Character: Gifts from the Heart by Barbara Aria with Russell Eng Gon)
Sometimes you see the Double Happiness symbol written as it is on this blue and white ginger jar in the picture. In Mandarin, the ‘xi’ character means joy or happiness, while the ‘shuanxi’ means Double Happiness.
The story of the Double Happiness symbol goes something like this.
During the Tang Dynasty (618-907 A.D.), one intelligent young man had to travel quite a distance to the capitol city to take the national qualifying exam for a royal court ministerial position. On the way, he fell sick near a village on the slopes of Donghua Mountain. An herbalist doctor and his beautiful daughter took him in and cared for him.
Of course, he fell in love with the beautiful daughter who helped nurse him back to health. He was committed to take the exam, so he left her with her father. Before he restarted his journey to the capitol city, the doctor’s daughter gave him one-half of a rhyming couplet:
- Green trees against the sky in the spring rain while the sky set off the spring trees in obscuration…
Only the person who could provide the second half of the couplet could be her perfect partner in marriage.
The young man passed the qualifying government test with flying colors, but the emperor placed another challenge before him. He had to provide the matching line from a rhyming couplet:
- Red flowers dot the land in the breeze’s chase while the land colored up in red after the kiss.
The emperor was astounded when the young man replied, giving the half of the couplet that his true love had recently given him. The emperor had no choice but to give him the coveted position in the royal court.
Delighted with his good fortune, the young man raced back to the mountains to marry his sweet bride. Now they had two events to celebrate = double happiness. They wrote the symbol for happiness two times, side by side on a piece of red paper and put it up on the wall. They, of course, lived happily ever after in the emperor’s royal court.
Fen Shui masters tell you to place the double happiness symbol in a prominent place in your house (specifically the Marriage and Romance Corner), and if you do so, your marriage will be blessed and happy. Guaranteed!
Well, would you excuse me, please? I have to go dust that special corner in my house and then stir the coarse brown rice. My very happy husband is getting hungry for his dinner. Oh, we’re going out for dinner? Oh well, I tried. Maybe I’ll dust another day.
Now, how about a quick trip to Hong Kong?
Have you ever lived in another country? What were your favorite things to do there?