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<La Vie Tang>The Origin of ‘Red’

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‘Bride of the Red Sea’ Jeddah is reputed as a pearl shining on the banks of the Red Sea. When you come to Jeddah, it is highly recommended to go to see the Red Sea and find out why the ocean is called ‘red’.

The second book of the Bible, Exodus, recounts the departure of the Israelites from Egypt led by the Jewish national hero Moses. When the vast expanse of the ocean impeded their way ahead while the army of the Egyptian Pharaoh chased after closely, Moses and his followers were thrown into a fatal dilemma. At this crucial moment, Moses faced the ocean with the divine wand hanging up high above his head then a sudden gust of wind brushed a road by separating the sea apart, which let the Israelites fled safely. After they passed through, the waters flew together again, inundating the Egyptian pursuers at one stroke. The Bible story well-known to every household casts some mysterious color over the Red Sea and even promotes its popularity.

The Red Sea is geographically continental, a narrow strip located between the Arabian Peninsula and the African continent, extending over as long as approximately more than 2,000 kilometers, stretching across about 300 kilometers at its widest, with the average water depth of estimated 500 meters and the deepest reaching 2,200 meters. It connects straightly to the Mediterranean Sea through the Suez Canal at its northwestern side; its southern end meets the fast-flowing, hostile Strait of Mande that connects to the Gulf of Aden. This important waterway that connects the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa has become one of the world’s busiest waterways ever since the Suez Canal was built in 1869.

How does the Red Sea derive its name? is it because the water appears red? Out of full curiosity, I followed my tour guide aboard the yacht to find out the answers from the deep ocean.

In the afternoon, the cloudless sky of Jeddah provided a panoramic view for me to enjoy delightful sceneries on both shores. As the yacht approached the expected ‘Jeddah Tower’, the soon-to-be tallest skyscraper of the world, I could see clearly a number of cranes had been erected around it, as if the Jeddah Tower suddenly became a real crane standing among chickens.

On the oceanfront boulevard, there are large pavilions walling both sides of the road, unconventionally-shaped villas, a variety of sculptures created like giant sailboat, seabird, whale and others, too many kinds of originality for the eye to see. The beautiful coastline is swimmers’ paradise. Toward evening more people are attracted to play with the cool water at the beach.

Many places in Jeddah, including restaurants, have separate reception areas for the male, the female and families, so remember not to mistakenly enter the ‘forbidden zone’ and court troubles. The seawater baths, without exception, is for either private or public use. The private can be used by a whole family together despite of genders or ages while the public has a separation rule for genders. Women are not allowed to swim with men in the same baths and must wear thickly-knitted black robes, and the fun of enjoying the sun beach is even restricted by the doctrine. Beyond doubt, driving a motorbike or a speedboat across the bay is men’s privilege.

Waters of the Red Sea present multi-layered shades of color in the fierce sunlight. But I could only tell the gentle and charming turquoise. Without a trace of red on the sea, I was still puzzled by the origin of the name ‘Red’ Sea.

Some say that the Red Sea is located in the subtropical zone, flanked by hot deserts on both sides. The sea water evaporates quickly due to hot weather, which leads to a very high sea salt content. Dry climate and the shortage of river water injection all the year round are also contributing factors. In the surface of the sea vigorously grows a kind of red seaweed that colors the seawater a red tint, hence the name.

I think this is the most common statement and there should be other comments on it. Later, a friend from Riyadh offered some different accounts. Due to the Red Sea’s proximity to the African desert, the blowing hot air and reddish yellow sand fog not lonely darken the sky but draw the sea some burgundy red.

Some even say that near the boundary of the Red Sea and the coast of Africa stands an expanse of reddish yellow rock walls, the color of which applies the red gloss over the sea through the sun refraction. Besides, another school of scholars believe that some ethnic groups use colors to tell directions, black representing north and red meaning south. Hence, the name ‘Red’ indeed represents to the direction and ‘Red Sea’ should be translated as ‘the Sea in the South’. No unanimous conclusion can be drawn as to the origin of the name of the ‘Red Sea’!

Though there are numerous mosques in Jeddah, nothing is more impressed me than the one built on the seashore of the Red Sea which took my breath away in astonishment and have left me the most beautiful memory. It is reputed as ‘White Mosque’ because of the pure-white exterior walls. My tour guide said it is the most popular mosque in the locality, largely because of its astonishing architectural feature that two-thirds of the structure are supported by multiple stone piles right above the sea surface. At high tide, the mosque appears to float at sea, so namely, the ‘Floating Mosque’.

I always wondered why half of the structure had to extend to the sea, and before my question was responded to, I thought it nothing more than a special design until what my tour guide told that the Islamists believed that Allah’s throne was above the water (The Quran 11:7). Outside the mosque, I stood in front of this architectural art fusing modern and the ancient Islamic styles, admiring its pure and exquisite craftmanship standing out against brilliant sunlight and azure waters.

The tour guide described the dome in the temple of a marvelous creation excelling nature, which transmits sound far and loud with a perfect effect. Its interior structure and furnishing are both gorgeous and stylish, and the spacious auditorium allows thousands of believers to pray together at the same time. Foreign followers in Jeddah would never miss this place in their visiting schedules.

He also mentioned that at the crack of dawn when the sun leaps out from the sea, it sheds brilliant rays to all directions which brush the sea into a vast expanse of glowing red. The mosque with an eastern exposure glitters in the rising sun, casting its golden image into the sea. No one would be able to constrain himself from losing in this enchanting scenery of fantasy.

As my Jeddah trip was about to close, I was unable to stay for the sunrise at the Red Sea the next day. But it was just at dusk, so I hurried to the west of the Red Sea coast, waiting for the sun bending in the west, which somehow counted as making up my regret. When the twilight was deepening, the chubby sun above the sea seemed to be bordered with a red circle, lowering down little by little with the time getting late. The blood-red evening glow reddened the sharp turquois sea that rolled up white waves, the scenery of which spread an intoxicating picture of nature.


Tang Yu Lap Hantec Honorary Chairman


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