#AtoZChallenge: April 27, 2013 ~ Xanadu

Xanadu

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree :

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

~ Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Xanadu

Xanadu (here called Ciandu, as Marco Polo spelled it) on the French map of Asia made by Sanson d’Abbeville, geographer of King Louis XIV, dated 1650. It was northeast of Cambalu, or modern-day Beijing.

Xanadu, or Shangdu, was the summer capital of Kublai Khan, Mongol emperor of the 13th century AD, and founder of the Yuan Dynasty of China.  His empire reached from the Pacific to the Black Sea, from Siberia to Afghanistan, covering one fifth of the world’s inhabited land area at the time. He founded Dadu (now Beijing) in 1272.

He himself is quoted in Marco Polo’s  account of his travels (1275-1292) to China, and his summer gardens in Xanadu are the subject of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1797 poem Kubla Khan.

“And when you have ridden three days from the city last mentioned, between north-east and north, you come to a city called Chandu, which was built by the Khan now reigning. There is at this place a very fine marble palace, the rooms of which are all gilt and painted with figures of men and beasts and birds, and with a variety of trees and flowers, all executed with such exquisite art that you regard them with delight and astonishment.

Round this Palace a wall is built, inclosing a compass of 16 miles, and inside the Park there are fountains and rivers and brooks, and beautiful meadows, with all kinds of wild animals (excluding such as are of ferocious nature), which the Emperor has procured and placed there to supply food for his gerfalcons and hawks, which he keeps there in mew. Of these there are more than 200 gerfalcons alone, without reckoning the other hawks. The Khan himself goes every week to see his birds sitting in mew, and sometimes he rides through the park with a leopard behind him on his horse’s croup; and then if he sees any animal that takes his fancy, he slips his leopard at it, and the game when taken is made over to feed the hawks in mew. This he does for diversion.

Moreover [at a spot in the Park where there is a charming wood] he has another Palace built of cane, of which I must give you a description. It is gilt all over, and most elaborately finished inside. [It is stayed on gilt and lacquered columns, on each of which is a dragon all gilt, the tail of which is attached to the column whilst the head supports the architrave, and the claws likewise are stretched out right and left to support the architrave.] The roof, like the rest, is formed of canes, covered with a varnish so strong and excellent that no amount of rain will rot them. These canes are a good 3 palms in girth, and from 10 to 15 paces in length. [They are cut across at each knot, and then the pieces are split so as to form from each two hollow tiles, and with these the house is roofed; only every such tile of cane has to be nailed down to prevent the wind from lifting it.] In short, the whole Palace is built of these canes, which (I may mention) serve also for a great variety of other useful purposes. The construction of the Palace is so devised that it can be taken down and put up again with great celerity; and it can all be taken to pieces and removed whithersoever the Emperor may command. When erected, it is braced [against mishaps from the wind] by more than 200 cords of silk.

The Khan abides at this Park of his, dwelling sometimes in the Marble Palace and sometimes in the Cane Palace for three months of the year, to wit, June, July and August; preferring this residence because it is by no means hot; in fact it is a very cool place. When the 28th day of [the Moon of] August arrives he takes his departure, and the Cane Palace is taken to pieces. But I must tell you what happens when he goes away from this Palace every year on the 28th of the August [Moon].” ~ Marco Polo (1298)

#AtoZChallenge: April 28 – Y is for ¥

The Yen is Japan’s national currency. Its importance  in the world foreign exchange (Forex) markets reflect the size and dynamism of the Japanese economy. Japanese Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the measure of an industrial nation’s economic strength, is third worldwide, after the US and China.

Since the demise of the Bretton Woods agreement in 1973, the world’s currencies are floating, with the US Dollar (USD) succeeding so far in maintaining its position as primary reserve currency. Since the global financial crisis of 2008 that position is under increasing pressure, as the US stand accused by many of abusing their seignorage position, thus holding their creditors hostage to their ability to reduce the national debt through devaluation, and hence the downgrading of US Treasury bonds (the IOU’s held by the creditor countries, of which Japan, China, India and Saudi Arabia are leaders).

Among the world currencies the Yen, and, increasingly the Chinese Renminbi, dominate the Asian Forex markets.

The exchange rate between the US Dollar and the leading Asian currencies, Yen and Renminbi, are of crucial importance for the trade balance of those countries with America. There is a long history, since the onset of the “long downturn” in the 70’s, of a tug-of-war between the US  and leading exporting nations, Germany, Japan and now China, for which the US is the premium market.

World-class centres for Forex are located in Tokyo, Hong-Kong, Frankfurt, Chicago, New-York, Sydney and in the City of London (more exactly its extension of Canary Wharf). There the main Forex dealing institutions trade in Yen and hope soon to create Renminbi desks (so far restricted to Hong-Kong).