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Wan Shi Tong
We are introduced to Sandbenders in this episode. The Sandbenders are desert nomad Earthbenders who as the name implies, are especially proficient in bending sand.
By the looks of it, in the Avatar world they measure the years accordingly by the Chinese Zodiac. According to the dial, they are in the Year of the Monkey.
The library that Admiral Zhao mentioned in The Siege of the North (Part 1) is the same one that the group visits in this episode. Wan Shi Tong mentions him while talking about how humans only want knowledge for their own selfish needs. It's also likely that he was the one that destroyed all records and literature involving the Fire Nation.
When Professor Zei talks about the knowledge seekers, Toph's headband turns completely yellow.
When the gang step out from behind the pillars and Aang approaches Wan Shi Tong, where his shawl is tucked into his elbow bands, the yellow sleeve beneath is red-orange like his shawl.
When we are shown Katara climbing down the rope, the white part of her right sleeve turns the same color as her sleeve.
When Katara is hiding behind a bookcase from Wan Shi Tong with Momo in her arms, the white of her collar is blue like her robe.
When they reach the library, Sokka is seen climbing up the rope first, yet when they are inside the library, the professor is seen sliding down the rope first and Sokka is last.
Translated, the date on the Fire Nation document can be seen as July 9. However, when Sokka turns the wheels of the calendar to reflect this, the date seen through the reader July 19, a good ten days difference.
The normal version of the desert map in the beginning shows the Misty Palms Oasis as an area surrounded by a rock wall with an ice formation in the middle. In the up-close shot, palm trees and buildings appear.
Professor Zei: (to Wan Shi Tong) Hello. I'm Professor Zei, Head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University.
Wan Shi Tong: You should leave the way you came, unless you want to become a stuffed head of anthropology. (points out his collection of animal heads on a nearby pillar)
Sokka: That fox thing went through a window. I say we climb up there and give it a look.
Toph: I say you guys go ahead without me.
Katara: You got something against library's?
Toph: I've held books before, and I gotta tell you, they don't exactly do it for me.
Katara: Oh right, sorry.
Toph: Let me know if they have something you can listen to.
Toph: I can see by feeling the vibrations on the earth, but the sand in this desert is so soft and shifty that it makes it all look fuzzy. (Appa groans apparently angry) Not that there is anything wrong with fuzzy things.
Aang: Why are we doing this?
Sokka: Because if this calendar can tell us about eclipses in the past, then maybe it can project when the next one will be.
Aang: You can't possibly check every single date.
Sokka: I don't have to. We just have to check every date before Sozin's comet arrives, because after that…Well, try not to think about that.
Professor Zei: Oh, it is. According to legend, it was built by the great knowledge spirit, Wan Shi Tong, with the help of his foxy knowledge seekers.
Sokka: Oh, so this spirit has attractive assistants, huh?
Katara: I think he means they look like actual foxes, Sokka.
Professor Zei: You're both right, hansom little creatures.
Professor Zei (gazing at large owl mosaic set across the top of an arc): My word! The exquisite mosaic handywork of this tile-rendered avian symbol... (the group stares at him in confusion) Eh, nice... owl.
Sokka: Are you the spirit who brought this library to the physical world?
Wan Shi Tong: Indeed, I am Wan Shi Tong, he who knows 10,000 things. And you are obviously humans, which by the way are no longer permitted in my study.
Aang: What do you have against humans?
Wan Shi Tong: Hmm, humans only bother learning things to get the edge on other humans, (fade to the clip from "The Siege of the North (Part 2)" of Zhao's flashback of the library) like that Firebender who came to this place a few years ago, looking to destroy his enemy. So, (quickly brings his face close to Sokka's, startling him) who are you trying to destroy?
Sokka (smiling nervously and waving his hand in protest): What? Oh, no, no, no destroying, we're not into that.
Wan Shi Tong: Then why have you come here?
Sokka: Um... knowledge, for... knowledge's sake?
Wan Shi Tong (pause): If you're going to lie to an all-knowing spirit being, you should at least put some effort into it.
Aang (To Appa): Don't worry, boy. I won't make you go underground ever again. You can stay out here with Toph.
Toph: What's up?
Toph: Does this place even exist?
Professor Zei: Some say it doesn't.
Toph: Shouldn't you have mentioned that before? Ugh!
(Professor Zei and Aang bump into each other and Zei spills his "smoothie" on Aang)
Aang: No worries, I clean up easy. (Aang puts his fists together, and a burst of air dries off his shirt)
Professor Zei (gasps): You're a living relic!
Aang: Thanks, I try.
Professor Zei: An Air Nomad, right in front of me. (Introducing himself) Professor Zei, head of Anthropology at Ba Sing Se University. Tell me, which of the air temples do you hail from?
Aang: The Southern Temple.
Professor Zei: Oh splendid!
Sokka: What's out here?
Toph: A lot, actually. There's hundreds of little...
Aang: Shh! I know you can see underground, but don't ruin the surprise... just watch!
(blows note on whistle)
(A little prairie dog pops out of hole and imitates the note from the whistle)
(blows another note on whistle)
(Another little prairie dog pops out of hole and imitates the note from the whistle)
Aang: I'm putting an orchestra together!
Sokka: Then it's settled. Aang, I do believe it's my turn. I'd like to spend my vacation (dramatically pointing one finger into the air) at The Library!
Toph: Uh, hey... what about me? When do I get to pick?
Sokka: You gotta work here a little longer before you qualify for vacation time.
(Toph angrily slams her smoothie onto the table, crosses her arms, and humphs).
Katara: (reading a book) Aang, did you know that you were left-handed in one of your past lives?
Aang: I always knew I was special.
Toph: (about the library) There it is! (the others come look) That's what it'll sound like when one of you spots it. (waves hand in front of face)
Sokka: We've got to get this information to the Earth King at Ba Sing Se. We'll wait for the next solar eclipse and attack when the Fire Nation is totally helpless. The Fire Lord is going down!
Wan Shi Tong (suddenly appears behind him): Mortals are so predictable, and such terrible liars.
Aang: I gotta hand it to you Sokka, you sure know how to pick the best mini-vacation.
Sokka: (climbing up the rope to the library's exit) Wait. Professor let's go!
Professor Zei: (as everything around him continues to be buried in sand) I've searched far too long for this place. I can't leave now. I can't. There isn't a collection of knowledge anywhere else in the world. I could spend an eternity down here.
(After giggling at a musical mole responding to a note Aang played on his flute)
Katara: Alright, we'll finish our vacations and then we'll look for Sokka's intelligence. (Giggles)
Wan Shi Tong: (to Katara) Your waterbending won't do you much good here. I've studied Northern Water style, Southern Water style, even Foggy Swamp style.
Sokka: (drops straight down from above and brings down a stack of heavy books on his head) That's called Sokka style! Learn it!
Professor Zei: (to Appa) Tell me Sky Bison, are you the last of your kind? (Appa roars) Oh, delightful! If only I could speaks its tongue, the stories this creature could tell. (Momo squeaks) Shush, chatty monkey.
Sokka: Oh great spirit. Check this out. (presents a knot in the shape of a butterfly) It's a special knot, that counts.
Wan Shi Tong: ...You're not very bright, are you?
Sokka: (Quietly after Wan Shi Tong has left) Bright enough to fool you.
Professor Zei (descending into the library): Oh, its breathtaking. The spirit spared no expense in designing this place. Look at those beautiful buttreses! (Sokka and Aang giggle) What's so funny?
Aang: Nothing, we just like architecture!
Professor Zei: As do I.
Wan Shi Tong: I'm afraid I can't allow that; you already know to much.
Wan Shi Tong: You betrayed my trust!
Professor: Tell me, what was the primary agricultural product of your people?
Aang: Uh... are fruit pies an agricultural product?
Professor: Oh truly fascinating, that is one for the history books!
(After seeing a barman prepare a "smoothie")
Sokka: I don't see anything wrong with having one of those fruity beverages while we plan our strategy.
Sokka: I need to find out what happened on the darkest day.
Wan Shi Tong and his library will next be seen in The Legend of Korra's A New Spiritual Age.
This episode aired along with The Desert as the TV-Movie: The Fury of Aang.
This episode is in the Avatar: The Last Airbender Book 2: Earth, Volume 2 DVD, along with The Blind Bandit, Zuko Alone, and Bitter Work.
A segment of this episode appeared on Nick.com's Broadband platform TurboNick nearly 2 weeks before the event aired.
The calendar in Wan Shi Tong's library seems to be based on the Antikythera Mechanism or a early astronomical clock. The Antikythera Mechanism was an ancient mechanical analog computer designed to calculate astronomical positions.
Professor Zei's name comes from a character meaning "thief" or "robber" in traditional Chinese. This is actually a reference to the fact that this is what archaeologists were considered to be before anthropology was established as a semi-official social-science.
The humorous scene with the broadsword-wielding bartender is reminiscent of another TV sword expert who prepared fresh and tasty treats. Back in the early days of Saturday Night Live, John Belushi played a hilarious "Samurai Chef" who used his katana sword to whip up orders at a fast-food joint.
When Wan Shi Tong is "stalking" Momo and Katara it resembles Jurassic Park when the raptors are "stalking" the girl.
The name of the desert is the Si Wong Desert, which means "Desert of the Dead" in Mandarin Chinese.
Wan Shi Tong's name literally means "he who knows 10,000 things" in Mandarin Chinese.
In Greek mythology the owl is a symbol of wisdom and knowledge; however in Eastern mythology it is a sign of evil. Wan Shin Tong seemed to be a combination of the two. First he was the knowledge spirit that built a great library so the world could better itself, but after being betrayed he turned into a fearsome monster bend on killing those who betrayed him.
When Aang catches Sokka and Katara when the rope is shaking, they are lined up vertically in the air. This is very similar to the flight formation in the video game Sonic Heroes, where the flight character will be on the top and the other two team members will be hanging below them.
The preparer of the mango drink for the Professor uses his knives in a way similar to the teppanyaki style cooking made popular by the Benihana restaurant chain.
The Sandbenders looked and behaved similar to the Tusken Raiders from the Star Wars franchise. Coincidentally, the Raiders are also known as the "Sand People" in the saga.
When Wan Shi Tong is walking, he looks almost exactly like the character No-Face Spirit in the Hayao Miyazaki movie Spirited Away.
On the outermost ring of the planetarium control, you can see what appear to be the 12 animals of the Chinese Zodiac carved into the stone. The Chinese zodiac was used in our world for many things, including use as a calendar and a way of telling fortunes.
The basis of the Library in this episode is reminiscent of the Library of Alexandria, as both were massive libraries from which scholars gathered scrolls and records from all over the world that might otherwise have been lost over time. As with Wan Shi Tong's Library the Library of Alexandria was lost to the world also.
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