The Pavilion

We were heading to China, and the World Expo was taking place in Shanghai that year. Oh man, did I ever want to go. When I was a kid, my family made the trip to the World’s Fair in New York City. I still remember the excitement of the Space Park, the talking, moving Lincoln robot statue in the Illinois Pavilion, and the Bel-Gem Brussels waffles we all ate for the very first time, smothered in strawberries and whipped cream. [1]

Expo in Shanghai! Surely, we had to see it. But there was just one teeny problem: all the on-line sources for tickets had been sold out for months. I wrote my friend Weiyu in Beijing and asked her, could she get us tickets? She checked in the capitol… all the ticket options there were sold out, too! But, ever resourceful, she called in a favor from a friend who lived in Shanghai, and he managed to secure two tickets for the time period we’d be visiting.

With our passports in hand (because your passport allowed you to skip the unbelievably long lines in front of most of the pavilions and enter your country’s VIP door), we headed out early in the morning.

That Expo was terrific. Some countries had put incredible thought and creativity into their presentations (more on some of them in future posts). And visiting Expo was a way to glimpse certain countries in places that I feel pretty sure I’ll never visit in real life.

Like North Korea. For a country that’s usually in the news these days, North Korea sure is shrouded in permanent mystery. I don’t know if their pavilion at the Shanghai Expo cleared up many of the mists, but it was an eye-opener in other ways.

I had no idea that Jeff Koons had designed their central fountain, for instance. [2] Frolicking naked cherubs (minus the wings) showed off their muscular buttocks. They held hands in a circle as they released a bird. Cherubs and bird all gazed up into the heavens…. I have a funny bone that gets amused by kitsch, and from the second I saw that fountain my funny bone began to tickle. I started laughing, and couldn’t stop.

The colored lights were an especially thoughtful finishing touch

The selection of literature for sale was slim on choice but heavy on message. Who can forget that classic of North Korean literature, “The Immortal Woman Revolutionary”?

Who doesn’t know and love The Immortal Woman Revolutionary

The sales woman was dour and didn’t crack a smile. Maybe humor doesn’t translate as easily as I’d hoped.

NOTES: [1] The Vatican even allowed Michelangelo‘s Pietà to travel for the World’s Fair. Viewers stood on a moving walkway to see it. [2] Not really. I have no idea if Jeff Koons was consulted on that fountain’s design. But I  laughed so hard I almost peed my pants. ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Baum, Bats, and Monkeys

NOTE: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz first appeared in print on 17 May, 1900; the film premiered on 12 August, 1939. Here is one of my very first posts, about author L. Frank Baum, bats, and monkeys…. — Jadi

Both sides of my family hail from the Northeast. We lived for a while in Cazenovia, one of the most beautiful small towns in upstate NY. Caz is just a few miles from Chittenango Falls, and that town was the birthplace of L. Frank Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz.

My sisters and I first saw The Wizard of Oz film on an old black and white television set we called Lucille. Lucille was temperamental (“Dad! Lucille’s on the fritz again!”), but her screen was big.

It was years before I finally saw The Wizard of Oz on a color television. How I gasped when Dorothy opened that door and stepped out into Munchkin Land! But in color or black and white, to this day I don’t much like monkeys.

Balinese Barong

Some years ago my husband and I traveled to Bali. The Balinese fill their temples with statues of the strange half-bird, half-god creature known as Garuda, a lion-like Barong, lots of sinuous snakes, and Hanuman the monkey god. The cultural heart of Bali is Ubud, home to the Monkey Forest which contains the Monkey Temple. I wrapped a sarong around my waist before we entered to show respect, and I know I was curious as to what we’d find.

The temple grounds were filled – no, overrun – with crab-eating macaque (Macaca fascicularis) monkeys. Dozens of them rested on the platforms to the Pura Dalem Agung Padangtegal temple. Many more watched us from up in the canopy of thick jungle trees and vines. But worst of all, a horde of monkeys scampered our way as we drew near. They were used to people and accustomed to visitors who bring them food. We walked slowly, not making any sudden movements, keeping our arms stretched out with our hands opened. I hoped my empty palms signaled: no food here!

Monkey Temple Gang
Monkey Temple Gang

I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we left the grounds. But I wonder about the sanity (to say nothing of the later health) of tourists who bring bananas and fruit to hand to the macaques. Those critters are feral!

Bali has another disturbing indigenous species: bats.

Text
Bali bats from hell

A huge colony of the largest fruit eating bats I have ever seen, all with wingspans of an easy three feet, hung upside down in a very tall tree. I was horrified by their size.

Then they began flying. In the middle of the day. Bright tropical sun highlighted the reddish membranes of their webbed skins. They flew in loops, more and more gigantic bats, circling lower. I began to feel dizzy as a scratchy voice in my head murmured, “I’ll get you, my little pretty …”

Macaques and bats had morphed together into L. Frank Baum’s flying monkeys. Never underestimate the power of imagination in children…or adults. That movie scene still haunts me. Like I said, to this day I don’t much like monkeys.

PS: But, do go to Bali!

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. Uwe’s photos of our trips and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ

NOTE: Today marks the beginning of the 5 day festival of the Vietnamese goddess Bà Chúa Xứ. In her honor I am reprinting my original post about her cult. —Jadi

To see the Mekong Delta on our own by boat proved complicated and required more time than we had. We signed on instead for a tour. We were lucky: only a young couple from Holland had signed up as well.

Travel by boat we did! We took long boats, short boats, boats powered by motors or by human arms. We visited floating markets and stumbled into a tourism promotion festival going on in Chau Doc.

For me the highlight was the festival for Bà Chúa Xứ, the Lady of the Realm on the border to Cambodia. The shrine to Bà Chúa Xứ houses the most important cult in southern Vietnam.

Temple entrance

We had the really good luck to visit Bà Chúa Xứ’s temple during the holiest period of the year. Her three-day festival starts at the beginning of the rainy season on the twenty-third day of the fourth lunar month.

The Lady of the Realm protects female entepreneurs (important in a country like Vietnam where women play a major role in small family businesses). Bà Chúa Xứ’s cult has a fascinating belief in both fecundity and the capacity of the goddess to multiply all that she touches — including money.

If you invoke Bà Chúa Xứ’s help, you must make a pilgrimage to thank your benefactress for her assistance. (She is remorseless to those who betray her favor!) Traditionally men need to spend 9 years making an annual pilgrimage, and 7 years are required of women.

In the courtyard before her temple, spirit money is burned in huge vats.

Spirit $2

Spirit $1

I wanted to make an offering inside the temple and decided to brave the crowds.

DS1_0517

I joined the slow moving throngs and we inched our way forward. All around me pilgrims carried tall flowers,

Pig 6

and men bore platters with decorated sacrifices of whole pigs on their shoulders.

Pig 5

Pig 4

Pig 3

Pig 2

Pig 1

People bought baskets filled with offerings of fruit,

Temple Offering

and still others carried lit sticks of incense, held high.

Entering the temple

The crowds were so thick that I was concerned someone would set my hair on fire!

Incense 1

Once I was inside the temple I managed to make my way up to Bà Chúa Xứ’s altar. Each day in progressive rituals her image is washed and cleaned. On this day, old women were changing her robes. I was unable to get close enough though, and made my offering later out in the (relatively) less-crowded courtyard.

The goddess originally resided on the top of Sam Mountain; her image is popularly thought to have grown from the stones of the landscape.

from the summit of Sam Mountain
from the summit of Sam Mountain, with the temple crowds just below

She wished to be worshipped and caused the locals to move her statue down to Vĩnh Tế village, where her temple still stands today.

I was surprised and moved to realize that her image had mass and strength rather than simple beauty. Some reports state that her statue is a female Shiva (Khmer). Other sources equate her with the queen Thien Y A Na (Cham), the goddess Tin Hau (Chinese), and the Lady Buddha (India). Bà Chúa Xứ is also named The Black Lady, and I see a likeness to Christianity’s Black Madonna.

Bà Chúa Xứ is a powerful deity protecting and bestowing prosperity on her people in the Mekong Delta. In such a fertile area it makes sense to believe in a benevolent, generous goddess.

U&J Temple Entrance

NOTES: © Jadi Campbell. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Laos White String Bracelets: The Baci Ceremony

Note the white cotton threads

When we visit the temples in Laos, we often see monks tying special white cotton strings to the wrist of a person’s right hand. Sometimes the monk ties connecting strings to whole groups of people. What are they, and what was the significance? The answer, it turns out, varies in the different regions of Laos (as well as the Sipsong Panna autonomous prefecture of the Tai Lü in the extreme south of Yunnan, China, and Northern and Isan Thai cultures) and depends on time and place….

Full moon Vientiane, Laos

The strings are tied in the Baci ceremony, and the meaning depends on the occasion. Take weddings, for instance. According to an old Laotian legend, the cotton threads are tied to ensure a happy marriage. We each have a tree in the heavenly garden, and that tree has branches intertwined with your predestined partner. When our trees come to this earthly existence, the cotton threads binding them are cut and we’re born separated and alone. If you can find your soul mate again after searching for him or her, at your marriage you are rejoined by retying the thread.

But in Laos, threads are also tied on newborn babies and their mothers [1], or on people going home or departing from home, which explained the many men, women, and children with these bracelets we saw at airports. The ceremony is performed for specific events in a life: success, health (both for the cured and the sick), and annual festivals like the sacred Wax Castle Procession in Vientiane (we witnessed a high number of Baci ceremonies during that time). [2] The ceremony is done after a death, too, to bring back any wandering, missing spirits and reinforce the harmony of the surviving family members.

The entire ceremony is rich is symbolism. The white color means purity, and the strings are believed to bind the 32 kwan, organs or parts to the soul, to prevent them from wandering away. (The Baci ceremony is also known by the term su kwan, “calling of the soul”.) [3] When kwan wander away from your body, this creates an imbalance in the soul that may lead to illness and bad luck.

Foundation stones are honored

The ceremonies take place in Buddhist temples, but kwan and the Baci ceremony predate Buddhism. [4] I’ve had strings tied to my right wrist in Buddhist and Hindu temples from Thailand to India, but have never taken part in a Baci ceremony. Regardless, the white bracelet should be worn for at least three days. Then the threads can be unknotted or allowed to fall off on their own, but should never be cut.

NOTES: [1] A Baci ceremony for new mothers and their babies is performed to welcome the baby, and to recall any kwan that may have wandered off from the mother during the birth. [2] The Wax Castle Procession falls on an especially auspicious lunar calendar date: the full moon of the seventh lunar month. [3] Concept of Kwan: Kwan are components of the soul but have a more abstract meaning than this. The kwan have been variously described by Westerners as: “vital forces, giving harmony and balance to the body, or part of it”, “the private reality of the body, inherent in the life of men and animals from the moment of their birth,” and simply as “vital breath”. – Pom Outama Khampradith, Bounheng Inversin, and Tiao Nithakhong Somsanith, writing for Lao Heritage Foundation. [4] Check out my posts about the Rocket Festival we saw on our first trip to Laos!

P.S: Baci in Italian means kisses, and it’s an awesome chocolate candy that contains a whole hazelnut at the center.

©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to  viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

To learn more about kwan and the Baci ceremony: https://www.laos-guide-999.com/baci-ceremony.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baci

http://www.laoheritagefoundation.org/ceremonies/baci.jsp

https://www.laos-guide-999.com/that-luang-festival.html

 

My Silver Wedding Anniversary, or the Rose-Colored Windows that Weren’t

For twenty-five years (minus a day) I had a memory of rose-colored glass. Uwe and I got married a quarter of a century ago. Aside from thinking Yikes, how did that happen?!, I have sighed Awwww. Not many things last this long, especially when we’re talking about human beans….

You know how some couples seem to glide through life without ever having a disagreement?

We aren’t that couple.

walking around a town with even more history than we have

But I distinctly recall that the hotel room where we spent our first night as husband and wife had old-fashioned windows with glass panels in various colors. I can remember looking at those little panes and thinking, How wonderful to begin married life looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. That first image has comforted me countless times. It’s provided me with endless inspiration, and I love telling friends the story of those old windows that shimmered and glowed like gemstones.

Our wedding anniversary recently took place, and we wanted to return to the little town in Alsace where it all began. We booked the same hotel and both think we may even have been given the same room. We drove over a day before our anniversary and checked in as it began to rain. The sight of the rain on the windows was get outta here romantic.

I took some pictures. But later, checking to make sure my photos turned out, I was puzzled. The views of the village outside the windows had stayed pretty. But, wait a second: where were the colored panes of glass both of us are sure we remember?

Had my mind and emotions played tricks all these years, keeping me roped in with a faulty metaphor? Or is my eye sight seriously that bad?

The mystery was solved by a friend who reminded me that hotels – especially old ones – spend money on renovations. So, along with the elevator that was not there when we checked in 25 years ago, the windows were probably recent too. The glass in the windows is now textured, ‘pebbled’ maybe is the word I want. The view is still ever so slightly wavy and distorted…

We had three gorgeous days in one of our favorite regions in Europe. Yes, it remained romantic. As you can see from the photos, with rain or without, the views from the windows are lovely.

And, in the right light, my world as a married woman still looks rose-colored.

no my vision wasn’t impaired by the wine we bought at this winery, founded in 1728…

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. I dedicate this post to Uwe, my wonderful, long-suffering spousal unit. To see  his photos from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Rocket Fest (Bun Bang Fai!) – Part 3

This is the third and final installment of my posts on the Bun Bang Fai, the Rocket Fest that takes place to usher in the rainy season all over Laos and parts of Thailand. We literally stumbled into the Bun Bang Fai on our first visit to Laos…

This 3-day festival celebrates the start of the rainy season by shooting rockets off into the heavens. [1]  Teams compete for awards with home made rockets. HOME MADE.

Take a moment to contemplate that fact.

Contestant teams have to tie their home made rockets to shoot off…. from a bamboo tower.

Got a light?

Each team is required to climb the scaffolding, tie and light the rocket themselves. Take another moment and contemplate that fact. While you’re at it, please pray that the rockets head up in the sky and not down into the watching crowds….

Holy crap! Where’d it go???

The bringing in of the rockets is part of the entertainment. The festivities include plenty of face paint, dressing up in women’s clothing and lots of gleeful music.

Oh yeah: and plenty of alcohol. During the festival there’s lots of dancing and singing, bands perform, and the road is lined with make shift stands, set up by people to sell food and goods.

The bamboo scaffold for shooting the rockets was set up a goodly ways away from the crowds (no doubt due to past experience). You need a spot in a clearing with no ground vegetation.

But what a terrific way to mark the change of seasons: throw a village party, give out some prizes (and these were significant: our guide told us a new house and a water buffalo were among the prizes to be awarded), and shoot off some fireworks. Just make sure that they’re home made, by a team of you and your friends.

Bun Bang Fai!

NOTES: [1] The imagery of impregnating the heavens and bringing the rains to fertilize the crops is too wonderful for words. ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.

Rocket Fest (Bun Bang Fai!) – Part 2

Last week I wrote about the Bun Bang Fai. This is another installment of a new feature for this blog: I’m transcribing my entries from an old travel journal. I hauled out the journal I kept then to make sure that my memories match up with the facts. I use a travel diary to record first impressions and get down the details to go over later (like now, years later). As I said with the last one, enjoy, and let me know if this post is something you want to read more of in the future. — Jadi

“13 March. We stumbled into a rocket festival. The guide asked us if we’d like to stop and look around – a large wooden platform had been erected in a clearing so teams from some 30 surrounding villages could shoot off home-made rockets! The three categories were for small, medium and large and a village head scored them for height and at the end of the third day would give out awards, ranging from a house to a water buffalo.

It’s all pre-Buddhist, pre-recorded time: a wish to impregnate the skies so that it begins to rain. Food stands set up all alongside the one road, a band stand with live music and people dancing before it, a big pavillion for sitting and partying with lots of tables and chairs. The village teams cross-dressed and parading around with their rockets, lots of silly play-acting and laughter.

Pretty in Pink, or is that Pretty as Pink? A team carrying in their rocket for the competition

Check out the stylish red outfit

Depending on the region the 3-day festival takes place just before the start of the rainy season. For example, our guide’s home village has their rocket ceremony later, in May. The fest goes on somewhere in Laos from March through May.

We were the only foreigners. People noticed us certainly but other than a very drunken pair of pals who semi-interviewed us in English, no one ogled or jostled or tried to sell us anything.”

Our presence was simply accepted.

They were lovely in every way

NOTES: ©Jadi Campbell 2018. All photos © Uwe Hartmann. To see more of Uwe’s photos and pics from our trips go to viewpics.de.

Click here for my author page to learn more about my books and me.