- Dec 22, 2007
You learn the most interesting things, which you didn't even know you were looking for at first.
Here are a few of the things I would never have guessed, and have learned since yesterday:
1 In many countries/cultures around the world Santa Claus (or Saint Nick, or whoever) is accompanied by a demonic character, often named Knecht Ruprecht (Servant Rupert), or Krampus (Claw). While Santa gives gifts to good little children, it is the job of Rupert the Claw to punish the bad ones; slightly bad kids are hit with his cane or birch rod, very naughty children are likely to be put into his sack (like Santa's, but empty) and taken away. A gentler version sometimes has him leaving behind coal or a bundle of sticks in lieu of the beating.
In Italy, in place of Santa is a woman who is an excellent housekeeper and host (and looks a bit like a friendly witch). She set out to bring the baby Jesus gifts, but got lost, and so instead wanders the world giving gifts to all the children she does find.
2 The island country we know as Taiwan is actually officially called The Republic of China (as distinct from mainland China which is officially The Peoples Republic of China). In deference to the demands of communist mainland China (PRC) in the UN and other diplomatic settings it is referred to as Chinese Taipei (Taipei is the capital city).
The government / political party which controls Taiwan/Republic of China controlled all of China (mainland and Taiwan) between the time the last dynasty/emperors were overthrown and when the communist party took power, and technically, they still consider all of China to be legitimately party of their territory.
The original inhabitants of Taiwan were most closely related to Polynesians, with Chinese settling there as early as the 1200s. It was later colonized by the Dutch for 100 years or so, before being defeated by the Chinese when it became a province of China for around 200 years, before being taken over by Japan around the turn of the last century, which controlled it until losing WWII. AS the communists began to win the civil war only a few years later millions of Chinese loyal to the democratic/capitalistic government fled to Taiwan, ever since running an independent and autonomous - although officially unrecognized - country.
Today 98% of the population is ethnically Chinese (12% of whom have only been there since WWII), only 2% are actually aboriginal Taiwanese.
3 In ancient Greece some of the most politically influential and independent women, and the only ones to be educated, were hetaera, who were among other things, prostitutes. They filled a somewhat similar role as Japan's geishas or Europe’s courtesans providing entertainment and all forms, including not only sex but everything from music and dance to intelligent conversation. As with geishas, in some circumstances a hetaera could be purchased outright by a single individual - in one case the price being equivalent to 8 years average salary.
hetaera were the only females who participated in the conversations at Symposiums, a party which was a cross between a place for intellectual discussion and a drinking party. It seems that in general men were far more likely to be in love with their hetaera than with their wives, whose purpose was primarily only procreation and the upkeep of a household, however, in love or not, they could not marry, as hetaera were never citizens.