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Wat Whimsy

I made these photos awhile back while Nai was honoring Buddha at the wat next door to us, Wat Khokxay (coke-sigh). It seems that the monks have a sense of humor. (I think it was the monks–who else would have committed such a sacrilege?) I thought of these photos as I walked past the wat today because someone had wrapped another of the larger figures in a blue garb, either a dress or a toga. I didn’t have my camera with me, but perhaps I’ll try to capture the image before the monks decide to “disrobe” the statue. Now that I know the monks are a bit playful, I’ll have to visit the grounds from time to time to see what creative fashion statements are being made.

Statues wearing sunglasses

Buddhist statues at Wat Khokxay wearing sunglasses.

Statue wearing sunglasses

Buddhist statue at Wat Khokxay wearing sunglasses.

Update: In the previous post I wrote that there are 6 new puppies at The Farm, but they must have cloned themselves because yesterday I counted NINE of them. The more the merrier, I suppose.

A Temple Visit

I’m back in warm, humid Yeosu, working (hardly working, actually–we don’t have that many classes right at the moment). Kind of dull, so let’s continue with my recent vacation in Thailand and Laos.

On one of my final days in Vientiane, Nai needed to visit Wat Si Muang, a Buddhist temple, where he wanted to pray with a monk. One of his brothers is going through a rough time, and Nai wanted to seek the help of Buddha. Nai went into the main temple building, and I waited around outside for him. I took these photos while waiting. (I also have another post about this wat from 2010.)

I don’t know why this great-looking car was parked in front of the temple. Was it for a blessing? Did someone get married and leave the car outside while they went inside for a blessing? It seems a bit incongruous, the old and the new together.

Car at temple

Car at Temple

Here are a couple of shots of the details on one of the outside walls of the temple. It’s interesting to wander around any Buddhist temple and discover all the intricate little things that you might not notice at first glance.

Temple wall

Temple Wall

Temple wall detail

Temple Wall Detail

Temple wall detail

Temple Wall Detail

And the statuary is also fascinating. I believe these are mainly supposed to protect the temple from evil spirits. Here’s one of them.

Temple statue

Temple Statue

Next to the main temple, I spotted this building, which might be an administration building or the living quarters of the monks. I didn’t dare go inside; there weren’t any signs forbidding entry, but it looked like more of a private place than one open to the public.

Adjunct building

Adjunct Building

Our trip to the temple finished, we went to one of our favorite eateries, an outdoor restaurant near the river. I can never remember the name of the place, so I should write it down next time I’m there. It’s the something something Beer Garden, if memory serves me correctly. The lady and her family who run the place are all very friendly, and the food is pretty decent, too. Just outside the restaurant is this jackfruit tree. One of the large fruits had fallen off, and the owner had cut out the fruit. She gave us a generous dish, on the house. I didn’t take a photo of the fruit, but below the first shot is what it looks like. (I “borrowed” the photo from the internet, where it appears on several other websites.) And, no, I’ve never seen any birds in the cage hanging from the tree.

Jackfruit tree

Jackfruit Tree

Jackfruit

Jackfruit

Hey, what are you smiling at, buddy?

My friend Nai

A Smiling Nai

After leaving Vientiane the next morning, we went to Nongkhai to spend a few days before heading down to Bangkok. I’ll have a few photos from Nongkhai in my next post. More later.

Wat Traimit

As I indicated in the previous Chinatown post, I did have enough time to tour Wat Traimit, one of the big attractions of Chinatown. According to the link on that post, the Golden Buddha in Traimit is the world’s largest solid gold Buddha image, weighing in at 5.5 tons and standing 15 feet tall (although the image is seated). So, at today’s gold prices, the image is worth quite a few millions of dollars!

Wat Traimit Buddha

Wat Traimit Buddha

There’s also an interesting history of the 13th century statue, a history involving deception and discovery. Again, check out the link to read about the image.

Here’s another smaller Buddha image that’s near the Golden Buddha.

Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue

Wat Traimit Small Buddha Statue

There’s also a detailed history of Chinatown located in a second-floor exhibition, which shows 3D life-sized scenes of daily living and which also includes a scale model of Chinatown as it looked in the mid 1950s or so. This was the only photo I got of the exhibition, since most museums and similar places don’t allow you to take photos. I didn’t see any signs forbidding it, but I didn’t want to offend anyone. At the final exhibit, the scale model of Chinatown, I saw someone else taking a shot, so I figured it was ok and took the one below. As with all the photos taken this vacation trip, I had only my pocket point-and-shoot with me. It’s a good camera, but it doesn’t do too well in dark lighting, so I had to crank up the ISO to capture this shot. In post-processing, I removed most of the digital noise that’s usually present with high ISO settings, but in doing so, the image lost some of its sharpness, as you can see in the photo below. I’ll have to bring along my small tripod next time.

Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit

Wat Traimit Chinatown Exhibit

And, of course, here are a few shots of the exterior of the wat. As you can see, Thailand’s revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej is honored everywhere.

Wat Traimit exterior

Wat Traimit

Wat Traimit Bell

Wat Traimit Bell

Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic

Wat Traimit 3D Mosaic

This one is looking up to the spire from a position close to one of the outside walls.

Wat Traimit

Wat Traimit

Directly next door to Wat Traimit is a smaller temple, sort of an annex. Here’s a detail shot of the roof of that area.

Wat Traimit annex

Wat Traimit annex roof detail

Also next to Traimit is a boys’ school (well, I didn’t see any girls, so I assume it’s a boys’ school). At the entrance to the school is a statue of a scholar (again, I assume) from days gone by. Here are the kids during what appears to be recess.

Boys' school next to Wat Traimit.

Boys' School recess

And the scholar.

Boys' school statue

Boys' school scholar statue.

Finally, I did have some time to go to the Siam Paragon shopping mall to buy some reading material. They usually have some kind of display outside the center, and this year’s set-up featured an Alice in Wonderland motif. (Pretty girls not included) Quite colorful.

Siam Paragon display

Alice in Wonderland at Siam Paragon shopping center

OK, that’s about it for the Bangkok portion of the trip. It feels like I’ve kind of over-saturated the blog with too many photos of the trip already, so I’ll just post a few more from Nong Khai and Laos a bit later. In the meantime, I’ll process the new Expo 2012 photos I took this past Saturday and get those up soon. More later.

Vientiane Boat Racing Festival

The Vientiane Dragon Boat Racing Festival is one of the events marking the end of the Buddhist Lent period, which is called Ork Punsa in Laos and Thailand (read about it at the Buddhism Inter blog, at this Laos travel blog, or at Lao Voices). The race was held this past Thursday, Oct. 13th, along the Mekong River in the capital. Check out this video posted on You Tube to see some of the racing and some of the other goings-on along the riverbank. Lao Voices also has a short article on the history of the boats.

Nai told me that his entire village was celebrating because many of the young men on the winning team, including one of his brothers, are from his neck of the woods. I’ve watched these guys practice and race before, and they are an amazing sight to watch. The You Tube video above will give you some sense of the strength and team work of the top crews. Wish I’d been there. Someday, perhaps.

Two Sides of the Mekong

I stayed a few short days in both Nong Khai, Thailand, and Vientiane, Laos. I mainly hung out along the Mekong River, and both cities have built up their respective riverbanks.

Nong Khai hasn’t changed all that much in the year since I’d last been there. It’s a pleasant walk along the river, where you can duck into one of the small shelters, out of the hot sun, and take a nap if you’d like.

There are also any number of small, open-air restaurants. Go in, sit by a fan and grab a snack or a meal. Here, Nai and I prepare to chow down. I’m the fella without glasses. Oh, sorry about that. You’ll just have to guess which one of the handsome guys is yours truly.

I forget what Nai ordered, but I got shrimp pad thai (first photo below) and spring rolls. Yummmmm.

You can also eat dinner ON the river by taking the dinner cruise boat, located at the end of the river walkway. It’s not too expensive and it’s worth it, in my opinion. Nong Khai is very colorful from the middle of the Mekong. One of my favorite sights is the Big Buddha that sits on top of one of the temples, contemplating the river and gazing into Laos.

This particular evening, the sun was close to setting and the golden light it cast really bought out the colors along the river bank.

Let’s take a look into Laos, shall we?

Not too much to see except temples and lots of vegetation. But, then again, it’s not Vientiane. You have to go about 20 kilometers upstream, as the river flows, to get to the capital city. In the past, the river was lined with small restaurants, merely chairs and grills set up to serve diners, but it was a nice spot to watch the sun go down over Thailand. Here’s a shot of one of our favorite spots from days gone by (actually, from December, 2009).

Here’s another one from the same time from the fourth floor location of the Bor Pen Nyang bar. However, this one shows some of the dramatic changes that would be made to the riverside. The image below it gives a broader look at the construction that was still ongoing in June of 2010.

The result of all that work is a very pleasant riverside park, one that Laotians can be very proud of. Gone from that area are all the old dining areas (they’ve moved farther down the river), but there’s a very nice walkway, play areas for the kids and lots of greenery. Here’s another view from almost exactly the same location from the Bor Pen Nyang. The park stretches nearly to the large, white Don Chan Palace hotel in the background, and I believe work is still being done on the section near there.

The two shots below were taken around 6 p.m. on a Saturday, so the place was fairly crowded with families, couples, singles and even a few monks, all out enjoying a stroll or riding their bicycles in the cooling evening breeze.

So, yeah, it’s a nice park and a welcome addition to Vientiane. I kinda miss the small eateries, but they can still be found if you look for them. Sitting on the river, sipping an ice-cold Beer Lao or another beverage of your choice and watching the sun go down over the Mekong is also still possible and a memorable experience.

That’s it for now. I’ll get some more photos up later of Bangkok and Phuket, so stay tuned.

Buddha’s Birthday and Other Holidays

It’s kind of holiday “season” here in Yeosu. From May 5th through June 9th, there are four holidays, all of them on weekdays, so no work on those days. Unfortunately, we have to make up the classes that we miss because of those days off, a demand by the university that irks me to no end, as I’ve mentioned before. Some of the new teachers this semester said that it’s the first education institution that they’ve worked at in Korea that demands that holiday classes be made up. Our contracts state that we get all national and university holidays off, but that’s a bit of a half-truth if we have to do the classes at another time. It’s kind of like your boss telling you “No, you don’t have to work on Thanksgiving Day, but you have to come in on Sunday to make up for it.” Sheesh. Not much I can do about it though–grin and bear it.

May 5th was Children’s Day, today is the celebration of Buddha’s Birthday, and June 6th is Memorial Day. In addition, June 9th is the Founding Day of the university, so classes are also called off for that event. Buddha’s Birthday is celebrated on the 10th in many East Asian countries and it’s celebrated on the 17th in some others, to coincide with the full moon.

For the last two or three weeks, all of the temples here have been gaily decorated with colorful paper lanterns. If you didn’t know where the temples were located, you’d know their presence by the lanterns.

It’s been overcast and a bit rainy today, but between the sprinkles, I took a short walk down the road below the dormitories to a small temple, about 15 minutes away. I assumed there would be some events and ceremonies going on, and there were. Lots of people were present in the main temple–gentlemen dressed in suits and sporting flowers in their lapels, ladies wearing their finery and suited ushers showing people in. I would like to have shot some photos of the temple, but it would have been totally inappropriate for me to try to do so. Therefore, I contented myself with taking a few shots of the small grounds outside the temple.

There either was already or there was going to be a parade, and this dragon float looked ready to roll.

He had a friend to accompany him, in the form of this tiger.

Here’s a shot of the outside of the main temple, where the ceremony was being held. I could hear the chanting of the monks and the clanging of gongs, and I really wanted to go in. Not this time, though.

The paper lanterns are quite beautiful and I love the details on some of them. Here are four for your viewing pleasure.

I was also out and about on Children’s Day and got a number of photos of the Turtle Ship Festival that is always held at the same time. I’ll put some of those up in the next post. More later.

A Death in the Family

After a year-long struggle, my friend Nai’s mother succumbed to an illness last Friday night. I posted last May that the doctor had given her just a few months to live, but she held on this long, although she was often in great pain.

I still don’t know what took her life, but I suspect cancer or emphysema. I visited them last June, and it was very apparent how much she had wasted away. I’m heartbroken for Nai and his family. He told me that today he would “make fire” for her, meaning a traditional Buddhist cremation. He was practically inconsolable when I talked to him Saturday afternoon, but yesterday he was so busy cooking food for all the friends and family that were paying their respects that I think his mind was temporarily taken off his sadness. I imagine today will be quite sorrowful.

Below is a photo of her that I took back in August of 2006. She’s on the right, of course, with her youngest son Pui, Nai’s brother, on the left and one of her daughter’s girls in the middle. Rest in peace, Mer.

Buddhist Lent and Merit Making

Today marks the beginning of the 3-month long Buddhist Lent period, known as Khao Pansa (or Phansa or Vassa). It occurs at the start of the rainy season, and it’s the time when Buddhist monks return to their home monasteries, there to remain for the remainder of Lent. It’s also a time when ordinary folks increase their spirtual activities and, perhaps, give up some of their luxuries (smoking, drinking, meat) for the period, much like the Christian Lent period. Click here and here for a couple of web sites that talk about this in more depth.

I talked to Nai last night, and he and his family were busy preparing an elaborate meal to serve today to the monks at the wat near his house. I was present several years back during this time, and below are a couple of photos from then.

Here’s the meal, with Nai and some friends who helped serve it.

Guess who got to wash the dishes afterwards?

This is merit making, doing good deeds, not because it’ll gain you spiritual favor, but because it’s the right thing to do. Another way of merit-making is to release animals, like birds, fish or turtles, that have been captured. Many of the animals can be purchased near the temples (a bit of a racket, it you ask me) and then released at the temple or elsewhere. While I was in Laos this summer, Nai made merit this way in the hopes that his fatally ill (according to Lao and Thai doctors) mother would gain favor. First, he purchased a couple of small turtles at one of the markets, then bought some birds at Wat Si Muang, where he prayed for about 10 minutes with one of the monks. Then we went to the Mekong, where he released the birds and the turtles.

Here are a few shots of the various statuary at Wat Si Muang.





Nai also told me that the local villagers have been warned that a repeat of the flooding of 2008 is once again a possibility. Many people blame it on the upstream dams built by the Chinese, but there’s certainly been a huge amount of rain in China that’s contributing to high water levels. Let’s hope they don’t get higher. More later.

Jasan Park

To continue, somewhat belatedly, from my prior post, I was at the top of the hill where Jasan Park is situated, near Odong Island. Here’s a view of one of Yeosu’s residential areas. Notice the odd-looking structure, the white building, in the upper left.

Yeosu_From_Jasan_Park1

Here’s a cropped, zoomed-in shot.

Thumb_Church1

I’d seen this building before, but I’d never gotten close enough to find out what it’s function might be. Is it a convention center or a post-modern art gallery? We’ll find out later, because I was determined to walk to it.

In the meantime, I walked to the other side of the park, which overlooks the construction site of the new bridge from Dolson Island to this section of Yeosu.

New_Dolsan_Bridge1

It should be an impressive addition to the Yeosu transportation system when it’s finished in time for Expo 2012.

Continuing down from the bridge overlook, I stumbled across this small (one building) temple near the bottom of the hill. Below is a shot of the building and a few close-ups of some details.

Jasan_Temple1

Jasan_Temple2

Jasan_Temple3

Jasan_Temple4

If I thought that Hyangiram had a sea motif, I would probably say that this small out-of-the-way temple has a tiger guardian theme.

I’ve got a lot more to post about this walk of a few weekends past, but there’s too much to put into one entry, so I’ll spread the whole thing over several posts. Stay tuned for the New Dolsan Bridge, Hamel Light, Jongpo Ocean Park and the Mystery Building.

P.S. Weather today in Yeosu–2 inches of rain, according to the Korean Meteorological website, with just as much forecast for tomorrow.

Hyangiram Fire

In addition to the collapse of the mosque in Meknes, Morocco, there was a disaster at another house of worship with which I’m familiar. Luckily, there were no injuries in this particular misfortune, an unfortunate fire at Hyangiram in Yeosu. I’ve posted before about Hyangiram Temple. It’s one of the locations where I went on a university-associated field trip last November. Though the fire occurred back in December, I didn’t find out about it until recently, when one of my students made mention of the fact. I was skeptical, but I asked around, and sure enough, several of the structures, including the main temple, burned to the ground. Here’s a photo of the inside of the main temple I took last March.
Hyangiram_Buddha1
This shot is of the golden-roofed temple. I can’t say for sure if these areas were destroyed, but I suspect they were.
Hyangiram_Golden_Temple
And a few more shots.
Hyangiram_Lanterns2jpg
Hyangiram_Temple3
I was told that the reconstruction of the buildings will take about two years. Hopefully, the effort will be finished in time for the 2012 Expo. The temple itself is not all that spectacular; here, it’s the view, and it is magnificent.

Hyangiram_Harbor
Hyangiram_View1