Adventures in China's New Territories 2: Dancing Dragons

IMG_6867I just spent a few weeks visiting my sister and her family in Hong Kong. I was there in May, ahead of the rainy season. It’s already hot and humid, only a hint of the weather to come….

It can’t be a coincidence that this time of year is also the birthday of Tin Hau. [1, 2]

IMG_7155 IMG_7170She’s the Goddess of the Seas, patron saint of sailors and fishermen throughout China and Southeast Asia. Her festival is always held on the twenty-third day of the third lunar month of the lunar calendar. This year her birthday fell on May 11th. My friend Weiyu flew over from Beijing, and we had the good luck to see a dragon parade. [3]

IMG_6727Lin Moniang (don’t forget that Chinese put the family name first) was born during the Song Dynasty on Meizhou Island in Fujian, China. Her dates are 23 March 960 – 4 October 987. She was the seventh daughter, an excellent swimmer, and wore a red dress. No matter how bad the weather was, Lin Moniang stood on the shore in that red dress in order to guide the fishing boats back home.

Wikipedia’s description of her legend is so good that I’ll repeat it verbatim here: “Lin Moniang’s father and brothers were fishermen. One day, a terrible typhoon arose while they were out at sea, and the rest of her family feared that those at sea had perished. In the midst of this storm, depending on the version of the legend, she fell into a trance while praying for the lives of her father and brothers or dreamed of her father and brothers while she was sleeping or sitting at a loom weaving. In both versions of the story, her father and brother were drowning but Moniang’s mother discovered her sleeping and tried to wake her. This diverted Moniang’s attention and caused her to drop her brother who drowned as a result. Consequently, Moniang’s father returned alive and told the other villagers that a miracle had happened.” [4]

IMG_7156She was deified shortly after her death. There are many reports of miraculous sightings of Tin Hau by sailors in distress. Chinese who immigrated often built temples once they arrived overseas to thank her for the safe journey. Each year a major festival is held on her birthday.

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One of the most spectacular is in Yuen Long in the New Territories. Weiyu and I headed out early to reach the town (an easy trip on the MTR, the wonderful regional transportation system). We left the metro station and immediately saw bright colors and a crowd of people. As we got closer, firecrackers began to go off! We’d arrived right on time!

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The firecrackers exploded and confetti fell out and rained down!

IMG_6737IMG_6743This village had just begun to parade their dragon. They circled the lot a few times accompanied by a loud drum and cymbals. There was another loud bang, more firecrackers popped, and everyone followed the dragon as it headed into town.

IMG_6817IMG_6830We arrived at another square where more dragons waited.

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IMG_6863IMG_6855They took turns weaving up and down the main street, curling and snaking, rising and falling in an intricate dance. Sometimes two dragons danced at the same time.

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IMG_6865IMG_6862People’s shirts indicated which village and dragon they were with. There were groups of old women waving fans, and children in costume, and lions. IMG_6856

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Can you see the dragon on the side in green?

IMG_6848IMG_6845IMG_6847Flags and banners waved around the Fa Paus, ornate towers with paper flowers. Huge elaborate placards wished for luck and prosperity.

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One village group’s Fa Pau

IMG_6809IMG_6852IMG_6843Offerings included entire roasted pigs.

IMG_6850IMG_6846I recognized those instantly from the worship of Bà Chúa Xứ in southern Viet Nam. It can’t be a coincidence that her festival starts at the beginning of the rainy season on the twenty-third day of a lunar month too…

NOTES: [1] Tianhou (天后) literally means “Empress of Heaven”. [2] She’s also known as Mazu, Tian Fei or A-Ma. The Buddhists conflated her into a reincarnation of Guan Yin, Goddess of Compassion. [3] She has over 90 temples in Hong Kong alone. [4] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazu

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.

Go to my post The Cult of Bà Chúa Xứ to read about south Viet Nam’s most sacred shrine. More pictures from our trips to Vietnam and China and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

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http://www.asiaatsea.com/tin-hau-chinese-goddess-of-the-sea/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mazu

http://scalar.usc.edu/anvc/travel-and-culture-in-hong-kong-and-macau/tin-hau

Adventures in China's New Territories 1: Ten Thousand Buddhas

On the path
Pam on the path

My sister Pam is a teacher for international schools. For the last three years she’s been located in the Hong Kong area. It’s a great place to visit: the languages are Cantonese and English, the transportation system is so simple that anyone can feel clever using it, and contrasts between modernity and tradition are everywhere you look.

Pam and her family live in the New Territories. This part of China is on the mainland north of Hong Kong. While Hong Kong is the most densely and vertically populated city on the planet, the New Territories are still relatively quiet. The landscape consists of steep, lush jungle peaks that end in bays and inlets.

Hong Kong Island
The vertical density of Hong Kong
The view from my sister's apartment in China's New Territories
The view from their apartment near Sai Kung

The region is growing, and changing fast. On the bus from the apartment we pass villages on hillsides or tucked into hamlets and harbors. Several floating villages of traditional houseboats are minutes away. And then the high rises suddenly appear, row after row after row.

There are lots more that look just like these
There are lots more that look just like these
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So did you hear the one where the Buddhist monk, the Catholic priest, and the Jewish rabbi enter a temple…

It’s not far to Man Fat Tsz, the Ten Thousand Buddhas Monastery in Sha Tin. It was founded by the devout layman Venerable Yuexi (the Chinese月溪法師; pinyin: yuè xī). Building began in 1949 as Yuexi and his disciples carried everything up from the foot of the mountain. For eighteen years they constructed the buildings – and 12,800 Buddha statues.

IMG_6471You head up through a bamboo forest and statues line both sides of the path to the monastery. IMG_6442There are roughly 500 Arhan [1] statues in plastic, painted gold. Each one is unique. IMG_6462IMG_6445IMG_6464IMG_6465IMG_6449IMG_6461

Their expressions represent the experience of enlightenment. Other statues await once you reach the summit. (Click on any of the thumbnail photos for a closer look.)

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I felt like I was in a tacky Buddhist Disneyland until I got to the top and entered the main temple. Before the altar is a glass case, and it contains Venerable Yuexi’s preserved body! His body (still perfectly intact) was exhumed eight months after his April 24, 1965 death. Yuexi was next embalmed with Chinese lacquer, his head and face covered in gold leaf. The Diamond Indestructible Body of Yuexi’s robed corpse sits in the lotus position. I was oddly moved by his preserved body: with the sight, I had a glimpse of religious truth. [2]

IMG_6492IMG_6546IMG_6545IMG_6551That feeling became surreal as we headed back to the bus stop.

This pagoda appears on the HK$100 banknote
This pagoda appeared on Hong Kong’s $100 banknotes

IMG_6516IMG_6504We climbed down a different set of steps past my least favorite creatures: wild monkeys.

IMG_6574And from the meditative hillside of Ten Thousand Buddhas, we neared and then entered the shopping mall complex at Sha Tin.

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Sha Tin shopping mall
Sha Tin shopping mall

As I say, the New Territories has both the traditional and the modern. They all line the same path.

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NOTES: [1] To quote Wikipedia, “…in Theravada Buddhism, an Arhat (Sanskrit: अर्हत् arhat; Pali: arahant; “one who is worthy”) is a “perfected person” who has attained nirvana. In other Buddhist traditions the term has also been used for people far advanced along the path of Enlightenment.”

[2] Taking pictures inside the temple is not allowed.

Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell. All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the images. Uwe’s photos of our earlier trips to Hong Kong and mainland China and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Nippon Visions

Ronnie’s coworker Yoshiko Sakei appeared in the next vision. Yoshiko came to the States for college and ended up marrying Erik Gross. She became an American citizen forty years ago. She’s nearing retirement, and she and Erik plan to move to Honshu. Yoshiko feels a secret guilt: she’s enjoyed the irresponsible freedom of a Japanese person living outside the home country.

Kyoto parade
Kyoto parade

Yoshiko tells Erik, “Let’s go back and care for my parents.” Erik likes the idea, because a Western man in Asia has lots of advantages. Gaigin aren’t expected to fit in.

They sell their home and plan to move as soon as Yoshiko stops working.

Miyajima
Miyajima
Kyoto train station
Kyoto train station
Kagoshima Aquarium
Kagoshima Aquarium

The vision shifts. Zen landscapes,

Bamboo forest
Bamboo forest
Zen garden
Zen garden

crowded city streets with tall buildings,

Tokyo
Tokyo

monks in yellow,

Kyoto temple
Kyoto temple

geishas in colorful kimonos,

Geishas

salarymen in somber business suits all kaleidoscope through the dream. A few exquisite pieces of lacquer ware and a hand painted folding screen decorate a small space.

Zen interior
Zen interior

Yoshiko and Erik sit at a table across from an old Japanese couple with gentle smiles and parchment paper skins. The four of them drink tea. In the next scene they lie asleep in blankets on spotless tatami mats.

All four open their eyes as the light wood of the house splinters into match sticks. They look shocked in Ronnie’s direction – and the dream blows apart.

The ground stops convulsing and a gigantic wave with the salt of a billion tears engulfs the collapsed dwelling. Fires burn as poisons spill out into the land, air and waters.

It’s absolute devastation as far as the eye can see, whether on site or from across space and time. Ronnie sees the word TEPCO but has no idea what it means. A disaster is on the way, and her friends and every soul within hundreds of kilometers are doomed to die. Whether the death of one person or ten thousand, the outcome is unchangeable.

This dream of Japan contains only destruction of life and property and an aftermath that will linger, terrible, for generations. She can imagine what poisons are released; she can imagine, but she doesn’t want to.

***

Ronnie wept in great gasps and needed long minutes to convince herself that she wasn’t in the dream earthquake. All the same, she’d experienced a tsunami of the soul.

A disaster was going to strike northern Japan. What the hell could she do with the information, call the Prime Minister and warn him that he needed to put Japan on high alert? Contact TEPCO, whoever or whatever they were? Could she warn Yoshiko and Erik not to move, or to bring Yoshiko’s aged parents to them instead? She had nightmares for weeks.

Ronnie acknowledged the vision’s finality with a heavy heart. She went to going away parties and contributed to the fund for Yoshiko’s retirement present. She took part in the long goodbye with a smile whenever they met, knowing the parting would be final. When they left for Fukoshima, their absence felt like they were already dead.

That early farewell to Erik and Yoshiko pushed her into a deeper process of farewells. Ronnie was detaching more and more, from everybody and everything. She couldn’t be sure when the next person she knew would show up in a vision.

***

– from my chapter “Precognitious” in Tsunami Cowboys. Available online at amazon.com, amazon.de, and amazon in countries everywhere. This link gets you there.

Uwe’s photos of our trip to Japan and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

The Fork is Mightier Than the Sword. A Post in Which I Eat Paris.

As someone who believes in freedom of thought and speech, I was horrified by the attacks in Paris. I’m only a few train hours away and visit there gladly. The murders were way too close to where I live, on every single literal and metaphoric level you care to mention.

Uwe and I spent our honeymoon here. We visited eight museums in three days with our city pass and rewarded ourselves with great meals every evening. My husband has business trips to Paris, and sometimes I meet him before or afterwards. On the last trip we dined in a small restaurant where I ordered a meal that came with french fries. One bite, and I knew I was tasting something I’d read about but never had the pleasure of trying: potatoes fried in duck fat. They were sublime.

On another trip the Metro was on strike. We decided not to wait on the platform for a crowded city train. Instead, we went to a bistro with tables so tiny and close together that Uwe and I bumped knees under ours. A portly man sat at the next table with a salad that included slices of pear and fois gras on toast points. Beside his plate was a half carafe of house wine and a carafe of water. An entire fish baked on fennel halves arrived. He expertly dissected the fish and ordered more wine.

My salade nicoise was salty with anchovies. I watched waiters make their way through the packed bistro, food trays held above their heads. The patrons were businessmen and women, students, and  families with small children. Not a seat was free. When we left, my neighbor had a platter of cheeses in front of him and showed no signs of slowing eating. I was sorry we had to leave before he got dessert.

My friend Shaun met me for a week one year. We washed lettuce in the bathroom sink of our obnoxiously small apartment. Warning to future travelers to Paris, triple check when a holiday rental promises it has a real working kitchen! This kitchen was two burners in a closet. [1] But we sat on a park bench and shared a cheese crepe we’d bought from a vendor on the street. She introduced me to (and got me hooked on) vibrant, dry Sancerres. And we ordered steak and pommes frites from the menu written on a little chalk board in a café with red checked table cloths and candles in wine bottles. We found that place by walking a block past the tourist spots.

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I bet whatever they were cooking was delicious

Once I traveled to Paris with my sisters and our friend Chris. Paris with three artists is daunting. We went to one museum per day and I’d watch as all three of them sketched madly in concentration. Then we’d go shopping for ingredients to cook that night. A moveable feast indeed.

If Bangkok is the most sexual city I’ve ever been to, Paris is the most sensual. A simple omelette is a marvel, with beaten eggs of impossibly silky texture. Pastries nestle in  windows. Each bakery, patisserie, café and place to eat calls out “Come here, mon petit!”

And, like any wise lover of food, I go. Je mange Paris.

NOTES: [1] You read that correctly. The kitchen was two burners in a closet and a miniature sink too small to wash a head of lettuce.

[2] For a more political response to the attacks, I refer you to cartoonist Robert Crumb’s answer. http://observer.com/2015/01/legendary-cartoonist-robert-crumb-on-the-massacre-in-paris/

New England's Old Sturbridge Village, Part 2

Town common
Town Common

We visited Massachusett’s Old Sturbridge Village in the fall, the perfect time to enjoy this open air museum.DSC_6370

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Freeman Farm Sturbridge, Massachusetts, c. 18081725
Freeman Farm
Originally from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, c. 1808

The costumed employees and volunteers at Old Sturbridge harvest the land as the earlier settlers would have. DSC_6372

DSC_6371Apples, pumpkins and squash had been carefully collected, sometimes in unexpected free spaces. The settlers needed a dry area away from weather and animals, and floor space was a great (and, one hopes, temporary) storage spot. DSC_6377

Crops needed to be gathered while other jobs still had to be performed.

Printing Office Worcester, Massachusetts, c. 1780
Printing Office
Originally from Worcester, Massachusetts, c. 1780

Men and boys set type and did the printing, while women stiched and bound books. Country printers also brought out pamphlets, broadsides, sermons, legal forms, advertisements, and public notices.

Vermont Covered Bridge Dummerston, Vermont, c. 1870
Vermont Covered Bridge
Originally from Dummerston, Vermont, c. 1870

This bridge, one of the 12 remaining in Massachusetts, was saved from demolition to make way for a new highway in 1951. Fewer than 200 covered bridges still stand in New England.

Blacksmith Shop Bolton, Massachusetts, c. 1810
Blacksmith Shop
Originally from Bolton, Massachusetts, c. 1810

Along with shoeing horses and making nails, the village blacksmith (often a town had more than one) produced items of metal needed for everyday life. DSC_6400The Fenno House is Sturbridge’s oldest building.

Fenno House  Canton, Massachusettts, c. 1725
Fenno House
Originally from Canton, Massachusettts, c. 1725

Artisans on the Old Sturbridge Village grounds make traditional products in the old way. Many are available for sale in the gift shop. [2]DSC_6485DSC_6440DSC_6430

DSC_6351Old Sturbridge Village was born from the collective vision of a family. The three Wells brothers of the American Optical Company in Southbridge, Massachusetts, Albert B., Joel Cheney, and Channing M. founded the massive collection that makes up Old Sturbridge. It is the world’s finest collection of rural New England artifacts. [3]

They purchased David Wight’s farm with the vision of showing their collection in the context of a working village. The living museum received its first visitors on June 8, 1946. To date more than 21 million adults and children have visited the Village, and 250,000 people visit every year.

Churning butter
And his beard’s real, too!
Anyone care for a johnnycake?
Johnnycake, anyone?

NOTES: [2] The ruby red glass flask I purchased there winks at me from the window as I write this.

[3] Old Sturbridge Village began with a 1926 golf date cancelled due to Vermont rain: A.B. Wells went on an antiquing quest instead and became obsessed with collecting New England antiques and artifacts. Click here for more on the history of Old Sturbridge Village or for their website: www.osv.org/visit.

All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s pictures from New England and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

New England’s Old Sturbridge Village, Part 1

I love open air museums. Reading about history is nice, but when it’s three dimensional it comes to life for me. As a child, one of my family’s favorite destinations was Old Sturbridge Village in Massachusetts. The village depicts life in historic New England from 1790-1840. Visitors stroll across 200 acres that contain 40 mostly original buildings and over 50,000 artifacts. It’s the northeast’s largest open air museum.

One year Uwe and I went to New England. I insisted that our trip include a visit to Old Sturbridge Village. In retrospect, it wasn’t just because the spot is so much fun, and it would be interesting (I hoped) for my European husband to learn about early New England history. A big part of the draw was my desire to revisit a favorite piece of my own childhood.

Revisiting places can be a letdown, but the autumn weather couldn’t have been more beautiful. The seasons were about to change and the leaves were coming into their glory. It was perfect.

Old Sturbridge Village autumn
Old Sturbridge Village autumn

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The entry price is steep, $24 a person. But parking is free, and a second day’s visit is included. I was delighted that Uwe was willing to return the next day! [1]

Old Sturbridge has a large staff and lots of volunteer docents, folks who dress up in period costumes and chat with visitors. These volunteers go through a training period first and either demonstrate crafts (the blacksmith) or share knowledge (the bank clerk). All of them are enthusiastic and fun to talk with.

Asa Knight Store Originally from Dummerston, Vermont, c. 1826 and 1838-39
Asa Knight Store
Originally from Dummerston, Vermont, c. 1826 and 1838-39

Only 25% of those first store patrons could afford to pay cash. Most customers bartered for store goods. The store owner kept a careful ledger of customers’ names, purchases, and what they owed. The young woman behind the counter explained that while ‘her’ father would have run the store, it was likely that a daughter would drop her other duties to help out if she was needed.

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Goods from around the world as well as local products were for sale even two hundred years ago.

Tin Shop Sturbridge, Massachusetts, c. 1800-1850 Reconstructed by OSV, 1985
Tin Shop Reconstruction
Originally from Sturbridge, Massachusetts, c. 1800-1850

Tinplated sheet iron was imported from Great Britain and formed in New England tin shops.The Old Sturbridge Village gift store has handmade items such as dippers, lanterns, etc. for sale.

Thompson Bank Thompson, Connecticut, c. 1835
Thompson Bank
Originally from Thompson, Connecticut, c. 1835

The bank’s single employee was the cashier, open for business in the morning. Afternoons were spent doing paperwork and bookkeeping. This terrific volunteer regaled us with his knowledge and said that yes indeed, the bank clerk would have sat at the window waiting for business and chatting with people passing by…

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Cider Mill Brookfield, New Hampshire, c. 1840
Cider Mill
Originally from Brookfield, New Hampshire, c. 1840

A farm family drank about 300 gallons of hard cider each year. Hic!

Carding Mill South Waterford, Maine c. 1840
Carding Mill
Originally from South Waterford, Maine c. 1840

DSC_6406This is the only New England water-powered carding mill still in existence. It did a day’s work of hand-carding wool in a mere 20 minutes.

Part 2 will be posted shortly.

NOTES: [1] Of course, for Uwe a big draw was the unique photo ops…

All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s pictures from New England and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

Madeira’s Verticals

I laugh and say I’m a travel tramp. A new place to see? How soon can we leave? After a holiday is really just the break before the next trip. But a few months ago I was working very very hard to finish my second novel. In my family we’re One-Tracks, and when we’re focused on a project the outside world vanishes. For the first time in our marriage, this year Uwe had to bribe me to go on vacation….

“How about a week on Madeira?” he suggested. “You can write while we’re there. What do you say to a working holiday?”

In the capitol Funchal
In the capitol Funchal

We were on the island a decade ago, and I liked the idea of returning. A place has a personality. You just can’t talk about the Greek islands or the Tunisia coastline without making mention of the quality of light and blue paint contrasting with whitewashed stairs and walls. My visit to Uwe when he was working in northern Sweden was all about snow and the aurora borealis.

Madeira means verticals. This Portuguese possession is located 520 km (280 nautical miles) from the coast of Africa. It’s lush. Madeira advertises itself as the garden island, and it’s a paradise of vivid flowering plants and trees.D70_1207_DxO10

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D70_1206_DxO10D70_1253_DxO10Madeira is also impossibly steep.

Funchal cable car
Cable car from Funchal, southern coast of Madeira

We took the cable cars from the capitol of Funchal up to the various parks and botanical gardens. Later we rented a car and went exploring. Achadas da Cruz (Porto Moniz), population 159, on the northwest corner was a delightful highlight. The fields are down on the waterfront. To reach them the farmers use the cable car known as teleférico, a descent of 500 meters or over 1,500 feet. Prior to the opening of the teleférico in 2004, they made a steep hike of 5 kilometers down to their fields. Now, that’s dedication!D70_1413_DxO10D70_1407_DxO10

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While the teleférico is popular with tourists and costs only 3€ for a one-way trip, the cable car really is used by farmers to transport crops.

Madeira was voted Europe’s Leading Island Destination in 2013. There are ample opportunities for hiking along the traditional water canals known as levadas. The island’s famous for Madeira wine, forests of bay laurels, and black scabbard fish.

Fresh catch of black scabbard fish at Funchal Market
Fresh catch of black scabbard fish at Funchal Market

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The black scabbard or Espada Preta is one ugly fish. It is found only in extremely deep waters like those of Madeira’s coastline. The fish are abundant in waters between 800 and 1300 meters deep; adult fish swim at depths of 200-2000 metres and easily live and feed at substantially greater depths. Almost nothing is known about its life cycle!

A dish of black scabbard and bananas is the island meal (it’s okay. We preferred the fish cooked other ways: with garlic and wine, or in a fish soup, or…) The fish has no scales, and the delicate flesh melts in your mouth no matter how it’s prepared.

Bom Proveito!

NOTES: All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s pictures from Madeira and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de. For more on the One-Tracks go to: Meet the One-Tracks. Northern Sweden: It Was a Bitterly Cold -22°. My new novel: Tsunami Cowboys.