Showing posts with label temple_photos. Show all posts
Showing posts with label temple_photos. Show all posts

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Indonesia: Prambanan

So, the reason I've been a bit quiet this week is that I've been writing an article on a specific component of my teaching practice for an Australian journal. Nothing too scary academic, because I don't have research results to publish or anything like that (ha ha, like anybody pays me to do research, funny joke ha ha). When it's published in September I'll link it here, just as I did with my story about King Boat Festival in How Does One Dress to Buy Dragonfruit? which, if you haven't read, you really ought to.

Anyway, writing that article took a lot out of me, so I'm abdicating today and putting up a few more pictures from our trip to Indonesia in February. I also have posts about recent trips to Tainan, Kaohsiung and Yunlin and a weekender to Hong Kong to write about - I haven't just been hanging out in Taipei these past few weeks!

So, enjoy Prambanan in the rain.

This was a side trip between Borobudur and Surakarta (Solo), on a part of our trip that had us mostly visiting old temples. The easiest way to do this is to hire a car and driver - which you can do remarkably cheaply - and have them take you not only to Prambanan but a few of the other smaller temple complexes in the area, including the Plaosan group of temples, some more temples to the south and, near the town of Kalasan, the stand-alone temples of Candi Kalasan and Candi Sari. More than anywhere else these are influenced by the Hindu dynasties that once ruled in Java, meaning that if you've ever been to India and seen crumbling temple ruins there, these will look quite familiar. That said, the occasional Southeast Asian artistic flourish does become apparent if you look closely, especially on window and door lintels through the temples, even as the main gods the temples were built to worship are entirely of Indian origin.

All of these temples were built between the 8th-10th centuries AD.

Doing this properly, including time to stop and eat, and exploring temples beyond the Prambanan main complex before heading to Solo will take you most of the day, but unless you're slowed down by heavy monsoon rains or your driver gets a bit lost trying to find your final destination in Solo (as ours did), you can be sure to get from Borobudur to Solo before nightfall.

This was an interesting monsoon-y day to visit Prambanan, alternating between sunshine with fluffy white clouds and sheets of pouring rain - and the photos reflect this! We got caught out in the rain more than once, and Brendan ended up soaked. We also met and chatted with a nice Taiwanese guy and his wife, and ended up eating with them - it was great to be able to break out the Chinese that week and communicate clearly with someone other than Brendan and our friend Laszlo in Surabaya!



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Check out my other Indonesia posts:

Surabaya
Borobudur
Prambanan
Surakarta (Solo)
Baluran National Park

...and maybe someday I'll blog my 2008 Sumatra trip, which I took before even starting this blog!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Something Old, Something New

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One of the things I love about living in Taiwan - though I suppose this is true for expat life in just about any country - is that I can see something that looks as though it will be the same as something I've seen in the past, but discover something completely new within it.

For example, I happened upon a temple parade in my neighborhood a few weeks ago. It is fairly rare to find one there; they usually take place in the older part of the city, not the most densely populated part of Da'an! I enjoyed it in part because, being more of a neighborhood thing, it didn't draw the massive crowds that the more well-known festivals draw. I was able to get solid close-ups of the temple cohorts and performers, including some more unique or characterful shots that are hard to get when you are pressed in by a massive crowd at, say, Qingshan Wang, Baosheng Culture Festival, the Matsu pilgrimage or others.

The other thing I liked about this festival was that I saw something I'd never seen before, despite having thought I'd "seen it all" as far as temple parades go.

And that is the offering of beer to bajiajiang, or the 8 generals!

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This was really interesting to watch - a tiny temple, more like a shrine, in the lanes around Rui'an Street, coming out with a tray of Bar Beer and offering it to the performers. The performers accepted it formally and drank it quickly.

I didn't know this was something you could do, in fact, I wasn't aware they could be seen drinking, talking or using technology (though I have definitely seen bajiajiang chatting, smoking or on cell phones when they shouldn't be.

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Another thing I didn't expect was the "temple parade enthusiast" (which I joked might be me in about 30 years) - I had seen spirit medium type parade followers who became possessed during parades but never one who was clearly not possessed but simply wanted to also be a part of the procession. She even had the right outfit, and was allowed to join by the rest of the temple troupes.

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I was quite sad to see a truck with poles for sexy temple dancers being used for Three Princes (santaizi) instead, and none of them were dancing on the poles. A pole-dancing child god would be a wonderful photo! 

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Otherwise it was a fairly normal neighborhood parade, with small crowds coming out to watch, not unlike, say, a Firemen's Day parade in the US but more colorful and interesting, at least to me. There were two bajiajiang troupes, the second fiercer than the first. These guys were legit scary: 

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And the usual cohort of dragon dancers, lion dancers and tall god costumes.

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What bothers me, and I feel like writing about here, are complaints about traditional temple activities and how they should be curtailed or banned. Not just temple parades but ghost money, Mid-Autumn Festival barbecue and Chinese New Year firecrackers.

People complain that they are noisy, they are dangerous, they pollute, they annoy neighbors. I have very little patience for this (maybe for the ghost money but honestly the most polluted days to me are not the ones on which it is being burned). People who think the occasional temple parade causes "pollution" don't seem overly concerned about the actual biggest source of noise and air pollution in Taipei - scooters. Or how they are far more dangerous than a few fireworks from a parade.

They say Mid-Autumn Festival BBQ annoys neighbors, without even thinking about how noise trucks, those stupid loudspeakers outside of stores, or community events (Fireman's Day is a big one in my community, and there are quite a few concerts and children's events too) that are just as noisy and maybe just as annoying to some of us. But no, a few days of barbecue is somehow more polluting than Taipei's traffic, and somehow noisier and more annoying than all the other events in the city.

Give me a damn break. I just can't take seriously the idea that temple parades are somehow worse than scooters for traffic snarls, noise, air pollution or general danger and public annoyance, that Mid-Autumn BBQ is worse than a political noise truck or more polluting than the imprint of a large, air-conditioned, concrete department store, that Chinese New Year fireworks are more annoying than the Musical China Douchemobile. That ghost money smoke creates more pollution than factory or traffic exhaust (again, the worst pollution days to me - someone with a weak respiratory system - are actually not ghost money days).

So stupid. So wrongheaded. 

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I'm usually not one go to in for conspiracy theories, but I can't help but wonder in whose interest it is to slowly let the air out of the cultural street life of Taipei (and Taiwan in general, but this seems to mostly be a Taipei problem). Whom does it benefit to see temple parades become smaller, quieter and more rare until they disappear altogether? Whom does it benefit to squash autumn barbecues? Whom does it benefit to allow noise trucks and civic events but not firecrackers? Whom does it benefit to ban or discourage election posters so Taipei looks less like a democracy going through an election as you drive around?

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Because it seems to me that while temple parades may have originated in China, they aren't really done much in China anymore (one year in China and I saw exactly one lion dancer, hired for the grand opening of a supermarket), and a lot of the quintessentially "Taiwanese" practices, such as bajiajiang, have their origins in a few temples in Fujian and aren't really pan-Chinese in any real sense of the word. I didn't see much ghost money burning in China either although it originated there and I am sure is still practiced to some extent. The others, such as barbecue (which originated in Taiwan with a barbecue sauce ad, but I still love it and anyone who doesn't can shove off) and, well, democracy, are not Chinese in origin at all. Night markets may be a thing in some parts of China - I went to an okay one in Yantai - but most people associate them with Taiwan...and a lot of neighborhoods have become recently and mysteriously interested in closing down night markets in their vicinity where no such animosity existed before.

Is it an attempt, consciously or not, to make Taiwan look more like China?

I don't know, and I realize I'm baiting conspiracy theory by even asking, but that's sure how it feels. 

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Some people, for sure, probably aren't even thinking along those lines and think these are the things keeping Taipei from being a truly modern city - quiet, clean and upscale.

Which is of course utter nonsense.

These things are what make Taipei Taipei, rather than, I dunno, some crappy box-building city in China with streaky luxury apartment complexes rotting out by the 80th ring road, or Beijing which is even worse than that despite the cultural heritage because you literally can't breath and they are slowly razing anything of interest (rather like the cultural razing of temple parades and other items of cultural interest in Taipei in favor of luxury apartments, boring civic celebrations and department stores?), or Duluth or Peoria or Des Moines or some other city I wouldn't want to live in that feels like a stand-in for a boring, poorly-planned metropolis more known for suburbs than actual urban vibrancy. 

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I mean, if I wanted to live in Duluth I would have moved to Duluth. If I wanted to live in 屁眼, China, I would have moved there.

I live in Taipei because I want to be in Taipei, and a part of that is the street life, the overall street-level liveliness, and the cultural aspects of living here. I'll put up with a traffic jam because a ten-foot god is walking down the road for that. 

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Some people do say it's because so many temple events are connected with gangsters, because gangs, temples, businessmen and politicians are in many ways just an inbred group of cronies in Taiwan.

Sure, that's true.

But who cares?

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Honestly, of all the things gangs in Taiwan are involved in, this is by a very wide margin the least problematic. Stopping temple parades isn't going to make gangs go away, and even if there is gang activity inherent in them, it's fairly harmless as gang activity goes.

I mean, imagine if the best pasta joint in town were run by the local mafia (which in New York might very well be the case, though not always). Would you want to stop the gang from doing anything illegal or truly problematic? Sure.

Does that mean the pasta restaurant is the problem, and you shouldn't enjoy delicious pasta there? I don't think so. It just doesn't seem like a very strong reason to me. You want to crack down on gangs, crack down on scammers, prostitution rings/pimps/brothels, drug cartels and a scary large percentage of politicians and big business.

The temple parades are not the problem.

Anyway, rant over, enjoy a few more photos:

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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Hukou Old Street: A Photo Essay

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To get my mind off of the tragedy that is the Taipei MRT stabbing, and the less-surprising-yet-still-saddening Santa Barbara shooting (hey, let's make it legal for misogynist assholes to legally buy guns! Nothing could possibly go wrong there!), I decided to post some photos from a recent day trip to Hukou Old Street.

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The good things about Hukou Old Street: the train station for it is on the local line (not far from Hsinchu) from Taipei, meaning it's easy to get to the town. It is not quite as 'discovered' yet, with far more people inviting you into their traditional homes-cum-shops to peruse antiques than stores selling soap, camphor balm, brown sugar cake and plastic children's toys (they still have those things, but they are far smaller in number). The street never gets fully crowded even on a kinda-sunny Sunday. The buildings and their decorations are remarkably well-preserved. The area has a lot of down-at-heel local color and friendly folks.

The annoying things about Hukou Old Street: first, it's not that close to anything else. Second, while it's easy to take a taxi there from Hukou train station, it is not within easy walking distance and the bus between the two comes rarely. There are not taxis lining up to take you back to the train station or wherever. If you don't have your own transportation, I suggest getting the phone number of whichever taxi took you so you aren't calling taxi companies from a Hi Life when you're ready to go back, hoping one will have a car they can send your way. Because, uhh, I wouldn't know anything about that, no sir.

This is one drawback of living in Taiwan: it's a developed country and as such has an urban metro system, in Taipei and (slowly but surely) in Kaohsiung, worthy of the first world. And yet, much of Taiwan remains rural: it's not "poor" enough that there needs to be public transportation for a populace that can't afford cars, but not "rich" enough that it has the excellent public transit infrastructure of, say, Japan.

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But once there, the old street and surrounding town is a great way to spend some time - I recommend, to the best of your ability, tacking it onto something else - not sure what, as it's not near anything, but something. Including time spent eating you could spend a morning or an afternoon here, but not a whole day.

Which may be why it's not packed to the gills with tourist junk and the tourists who buy it like other old streets, so perhaps that's a blessing in disguise.

(Don't get me wrong, I like some of the tourist junk. I use the camphor balm and love brown sugar cake, it's just...I've seen it all. I'm happy to see that Dihua Street is going more traditional+upscale galleries and Hukou is maintaining its traditional flavor).

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At one end of the street there's a church - worth a quick look. At the other, a temple (beyond the temple there are some rural farmhousey-type areas you could walk around in, although beware unfriendly local dogs).

One woman invited us to enjoy some tea in the loft/top floor of her house - the first floor was full of antiques - most for sale. The seating area and tea set:

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Not bad, eh?

She doesn't invite everyone up, so don't push her...but you may be pleasantly surprised!

Another friendly old fellow with a clip-on mic and megaphone invited everyone in to see his collection of...things, which seems to have taken a Hoarders level of dedication to amass. For example, this thing is not creepy at all:

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This guy had a huge obsession with the KMT, wearing a fake KMT politician vest (he was not a politician) and collecting various Party bric-a-brac which was interspersed with photos of him shaking hands with KMT dignitaries, Hello Kitty piggy banks, Three Wise Men on camels, Ronald McDonald figurines and horrifying light-up faces in faux tree trunks. Also, clowns.


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All in all, it was pretty enjoyable, even if we really stretched out our mealtimes to make the trip all the way out to Hukou worth it.

If you're into old streets and Japanese-era architecture - and I am - and you're willing to go out of the way for a bit more authenticity, Hukou's a good choice.

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I mean, it doesn't get more authentic than that, does it?



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Loved the decorations on the traditional buildings.

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Another nice family invited us to the back of the house to see their antique brass bed.

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The temple is a pretty basic temple, nothing you can't see elsewhere, but it has a nice atmosphere...very peaceful, no scaffolding or corrugated tin roofs. And a few nice surprises like this little elephant hiding in the ceiling beams:

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And this gorgeous black-and-white tiger painting:

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There are a few restaurants, the most famous of which is in the old theater (the food is pretty good - not life-changing, but good enough), and plenty of snacks. We also got ginger tofu pudding (薑汁豆花) - honestly, not as good as what you can get in Sanxia at the much busier Old Street.

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But, of course, a visit to an Old Street is incomplete without a piece of plastic junk. I thought this happy green poop-shaped container holding Smartee-like poop candies was a good choice. He sits on my desk now.

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From there, we weren't hungry enough to head out to Miaoli for a good Hakka dinner. It wasn't exactly convenient to get to Hsinchu or Zhubei, although we considered stopping in Zhubei for Titty Tea's tasty brownies and good beer before heading back to Taipei from there (I know a place in Hsinchu city that does shabu shabu with congee broth, but we weren't hungry enough to eat that soon and I didn't have their information readily available). In the end we just went back to Taipei (after *cough* waiting at a Hi Life for a taxi to finally come get us) and had dinner there - we got back in plenty of time.

Just to show you how friendly and open people can be in Taiwan, I mentioned the taxi kerfuffle to some Hsinchu Science Park students and two of them were all "you should have called me! I would have given you guys a ride, no problem!" (Hukou is about a 20-minute highway trip from Zhubei). Awww.