Thursday, December 20, 2012

Chao hua chih kuan: the pipe which makes fantasies appear

In Volume 4 of Joseph Needham's Science and Civilisation in China, there is a fascinating description:

Another ancestor of the cinematograph was a variety of zoetrope, which may well have originated in China, namely a light canopy hung over a lamp, and bearing vanes at the top so disposed that the ascending convection currents cause it to turn. On the sides of the cylinder there would be thin panes of paper or mica, carrying painted pictures, which, if the canopy spun round fast enough, would give an impression of movement of animals or men. Such devices certainly embodied the principle of a rapid succession of images. In its semi-fabulous account of Chhin Shih Huan Ti's treasury, already quoted, the Hsi Ching Tsa Chi speaks of the sparkling of scales of turning dragons after a lamp was lit. It also describes what must have been a small windmill or air tubine [...]. This was called chao hua chih kuan (the pipe which makes fantasies appear).1

Chen Rong, The Nine Dragons handscroll, 1244.

When you are smoking crack, after a rock or two, there is a build up of resin within the interior of the pipe. Long time users will tell you that it is the result of trying to smoke too large a rock or improper technique. Nevertheless, once the pipe cools, the brown crust forms, impurities or "cut" cooked out. It is the essence of crack. And every user knows that it will provide an amplified and intense experience.

The wire screen, typically made from a torn piece of chore boy, is also generally full of this crack resin. Using a piece of wire ("pokey"), carefully holding the glass pipe with the screen at the bottom, you gently scrape the resin off the sides of the pipe. It falls away from the interior sides of the pipe like brightness falls from the air, collecting on top of the screen. Once the interior has been entirely scraped clean, the pokey is pressed against the bottom of the screen to push it through to the other end, collecting and further concentrating the scrape at the far end of the pipe. The process is called "the scrape" and the "the push." Because it is so potent, many users will tap out a portion of the scrape onto a folded piece of paper to save for later. Smoking the scrape, results in an intense and powerful experience, the closest most will ever get to the Dragon.

It is a pipe dream.

Hall of the Dragon Mist by ~Suirebit