Monday, December 21, 2009

Monkstock in Chiang Mai

A monk called Frank. It's his "habit" name (nickname). He tends to be frank about what he says. Three years as a novice he still misses singing a bit but is devoted to becomming a monk when he turns twenty.

Unlike Bangkok, English is not spoken much outside the tourist industry in Chiang Mai. There is however a rather popular Wat complex within the old city walls that houses a University where English is taught to novices. At Wat Chedi Luang, not only is English taught, but it's use is encouraged and promoted as a way to teach foriegners about life as a monk and Buddism. It's not unusal to have a young novice (someone studying to become a monk) approach you and strike up a conversation in English.

Thailand is over 80% Buddhist but nowhere in the country is Buddhism more evident than here in Chiang Mai.

Wat Phra Singh is the main Wat in the city of Chiang Mai and it's well worth a closer look when visiting the city.

Although Wat Phra Singh is not an unusual name for a temple, Wat means temple, Phra is used to refer to Buddha or a revered Monk, and Singh is a mythical lion-like creature, Chiang Mai's Wat Phra Singh is the most famous one in all of Thailand.

The temple contains some of the most beautiful examples of Lanna Art dating back to the Wat's orgin in 1345. A replica of the "lion style" Phra Singh Buddha sits in the Viharn Lai Kham (above left). The original Phra Sing Buddha is now housed in the Chiang Mai National Museum.

During the height of the Songkran Festival in April, the Buddha is mounted on a Royal Carriage and paraded through the streets for the people to pay homage in the traditional way.

We arrived in Chiang Mai on the last day of November and upon visiting Wat Phra Singh we noticed that a huge monument of some sort was being erected on the main square of the Wat complex. We knew it was a temporary structure based of the materials used.

As it turned out, it was a cremation vehicle for the former Provincial Head of Chiang Mai Monks who had passed away recently. It was commissioned to be built at the price of 500,000 baht ($15,000) and is to represent a "funeral playground".

After four days of construction it was finished and fully operational. It had the tail of a serpent, the body of a bird, and the head of an elephant that included blinking eyes, a rolling trunk, flapping ears, and a swivel head, all rising some 60 feet off the ground.

For the next five days, monks poured in from Wats all over the country.

Here, a contingent of monks and assorted Buddhists from the U.S. are viewed by a senior monk.

The head monk of Thailand read and taught scriptures for three consecutive nights.

He was referred to as the "President of all Monks in Thailand" by a couple of young novices who chose to enlighten us on the proceedings. Monks from several countries attended the nightly rituals, with interpreters on hand to explain what was going on.

Pictured here are two novices that actually spoke pretty good English. The one on the left will become a monk next year after six years studying as a novice. The one on the right is named Moe and has a passion for boxing of all things. He kept naming boxer after boxer asking if I was familiar with each and every one of them. I of course was not.

Boys as young as twelve are indoctrinated as novices but becoming a monk does not come easy. Years of studying and a realizations of one's path is necessary before a novice can become a monk at the age of twenty.

The on the night of December 20, after five full days of ceremonies, the entire structure was burned to the ground.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Shenzhen - eating out again

Shenzhen is a sprawling city in the southern province of Guangdong, China lying just across the border north of Hong Kong.
It is one of the fastest growing cities in China with an estimated population of some 14 million residents. The average age is less than 30, and 20 percent of China's PH'Ds work there.

With it's close proximity to Hong Kong, Shenzhen is fast becoming the Shanghai of the south with it's glitzy skyline and business hub. Some 7,500 Hong Kong residents commute to work in Shenzhen daily.

Alan posing at a temple in "Fairyland Park".

Like many other cities in China, the "theme park" scenario is well in play in Shenzhen. It's a way to accomodate the growing population of Chinese tourists eager for things to see and do.

A Lamasery at the Cultural Center.

The Cultural Center in Shenzhen is a huge attraction for tourists. Here you can see and relive periods throughout Chinese history (many in miniature, or well scaled down).

Alan waving to the masses.

An evening show at the Cultural Center.

And of course there's eating. We spent two days in Shenzhen and it seemed we did more than our share of eating. I guess it's easier when you're traveling with a group because at any given time there's always someone thinking about eating something.

A typical "simple" meal. Lower left is bamboo stuffed with sticky rice.

Shenzhen is a pretty good eating place and the prices are a fraction of what they are in Hong Kong for a similar meal.

Roast Duck & BBQ Pork appetizer.

Stewed Pork.

Sai Fun with vegetables.

Roast Duck with pancakes.

Steamed Free Range Chicken. Yes, served with the head but missing the feet.

Boiled Grass Shrimp.

Steamed Fish.


This is a dish I'd never seen before.
Minced vegetables and pine nuts that you stuff in little cones and eat.
Then of course, Fish Heads.
It's a bit of a joke for some but usually at a Chinese Banquet Style Dinner when a whole fish is served (steamed, fried, or some other way) there are some (usually women) that would drool over the fish head. Well maybe not drool.
Here we had a whole plate full and yes, they were pretty good, and meaty too.
Even Alan, not normally a fish head eating sorta guy, was giving it a go.

Shenzhen - Forget the translation, you know what it means.

Literal translation? Maybe, but you know what it means. And what other kind of translation is there?

When was the last time you "gently slammed" something, while being careful of "collded?".

Here is a panel of switches and knobs mounted on the wall next to the toilet.
The one in the middle and right are pretty easy to figure out.
The switch on the left says "WAIT A MOMENT".
Wait a moment? Wait for who?, or what?.
We didn't try it out and, although still curious, we're not yet regretting it.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Tai Shan - Village life

This village, actually a small town, is where my mother was born. She was last here when she was 15 years old, over 60 years ago.
We didn't know exactly which house it was, and she certainly didn't recognize it. Even the numbers on the doors didn't match what she remembered.

We were lucky to find it, and even luckier that there was someone home, since we were coming unannounced. We knew there was a caretaker living there and boy was she surprised when we showed-up.

When we finally found the place, we simply let ourselves in as though we owned the place (well, technically my mother did). We told them who we were and were allowed to look around.
It was very emotional for my mom.

In one of the rooms on the upper floor were pictures of my parents, my grandmother, and my brother Ed at 45 days old.
The shrine was located in one corner of the room with a couple of pictures of my grandfather.

Village farming life is not easy, especially compared to living in the growing city of Tai Shan, or other cities further afield, where there are more opportunities for a better life.

The days of vigorous village farming communities built around the family structure are long gone but everyday farming does still exists here. Many people still do depend on it for their livelyhood and things run pretty much the same here as it has for as long as these villages have been here.
These are pictures of the home of my Uncle Paul and his brothers. One of the homes that currently has someone actually living in it. The woman currently living in it, a distant relative, was very eager to show us around.

Alan being shown around the house.

Rice harvest.

Usually two crops a year, sometimes three. The quality of the rice in three crop harvests is not as good and the additional work and manpower needed for three crops a year may not necessarily yield profitable results.

Some people with close ties to relatives overseas, or even living overseas themselves, make frequent visits back to their villages. Some have remodeled homes with updated appliances, and maybe even a western toilet.

The buildings in the villages are all pretty much the same. Two story, dark grey, brick buildings separated by narrow 4 ft. alleys.
A typical kitchen with a wood burning stove. Some now have propane buffet burners as well.

Gathering the rice. These village farmers sell whatever rice they harvest in the local markets in the nearby town. Some of it may be purchased by local rice merchants to be sold in larger parcels outside the area.

Drying vegetables. Usually used for soup.

If your family in the village was "rich", you had a summer house, still in the village but separated from the main block of buildings. This one (below) belonging to my sister's family, has long been abandoned and is now used as a storage barn.

The rice harvest.