Gods Aren’t For Sale

I had an encounter with magic in southern Laos. I mean this literally. We flew to Pakse, in order to make our way down to an area called 4,000 Islands. Laos’s border to Cambodia is a stretch of the Mekong River with wild waterfalls and rushing waters. [1] The French ambitiously (and quixotically) tried to build a train through the jungle at Don Det-Don Khon. The rapids defeated them. D31_6937_DxO8 We hired a driver and sweet young man named Ley to guide us around. We made an outing to Paksong on the Bolaven Plateau, home of small, superb Laotian coffee plantations. D31_6495_DxO8D31_6496_DxO8On our drive back we stopped at a market hall. Taxis were filling with local workers who stopped to buy groceries. D31_6481_DxO8Rows of vendors sold grades of rice, D31_6488_DxO8eggs, fresh fruit, coffee (natch), bolts of cloth, dried fishes, D31_6478_DxO8D31_6479_DxO8vegetables and herbs, freshly cooked food and plastic bags of marinades and sauces.

D31_6491_DxO8D31_6489_DxO8The variety of fresh produce is tremendous: alone in these photos I can identify three different sizes and shapes of eggplant, tomatoes, cilantro, parsley, Thai basil, oranges, peppers in every size and grade of hotness, cucumber, bitter melon, carrots, zuccini, onions, garlic, bok choy, green and Napa (Chinese) cabbages, ginger, limes, long beans, shallots, spring onions, chives, squash, rose apples.D31_6476_DxO8
D31_6474_DxO8Women from the hill tribes had wares for sale. An older woman had set up a stand away from most of the others. Curious, I walked over.D31_6487_DxO8She had images of the Buddha, and  items for religious and medical purposes. Talons, hooves, D31_6486_DxO8deer skulls, D31_6485_DxO8bundles of herbs and animal horns. D31_6483_DxO8

Bottles of herb tinctures. Bark. Dried leaves.D31_6484_DxO8

I was pulled like a magnet to her strange pairs of roots. I couldn’t tear my eyes from them. I felt fascinated, and somehow frightened, too. She’d tied male and female roots together. They’d been carved to accentuate their human forms.D31_6483_DxO8
D31_6483_DxO8The pairs called to me on some strange level…. “What are they for?” I asked. Ley explained to me that they are placed in a home to protect it and the family that lives there.

“Would you ask her how much they cost?” I asked. She gave me a sharp look and hesitated. “Ten dollars,” she said finally.

“Ten dollars?” I was beyond surprised. $10 is a paltry sum in most parts of the world. Here, in one of the poorest countries on the planet, the price she wanted was outrageous. [2]

Ley looked confused as well, and talked to her for a while. Her voice rose. The two discussed the transaction so long that I became uncomfortable. At last he turned to me. “She says, these are their gods, and it would be wrong to sell them to outsiders.”

In an instant, desire to be near the figures left me. “I’m so sorry. Please apologize to her and tell her I meant no disrespect. They are very, very powerful.” Ley translated and she gave me a grudging looking-over.

I’ve thought a lot about that strange encounter with foreign magic. Even my husband says he wondered about me that afternoon; he watched with growing concern as I was drawn to something I didn’t understand. All these years later I recall the power that emanated from those male and female roots, and I tremble.

NOTES: [1] For a little while longer, anyway. Hydroelectric dams are being built by northern neighbor China, with breathtakingly little regard or concern for how this impacts the ecosystems further downstream. [2] She purposely asked for a ridiculously large amount of money.

Go to my posts The Salt Pits and The Waterfalls of Laos: North for more on Laos. Photos Copyright © 2012 Uwe Hartmann. More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

http://www.paksong.info
Don Khon narrow gauge railway

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Adventures in China's New Territories 4: The Gods of Medicine

IMG_6945I spent a few weeks north of Hong Kong in the New Territories. The transportation system is easy and each day I went exploring. I’d read up, select yet another fascinating place to discover, and off I’d go.

Entering the temple at Wong Tai Sin
Entering the temple at Wong Tai Sin

As a massage therapist I went to pay my respects to Sun Si-miao Zhen Ren, Perfected Master and god of Chinese Medicine.

He was a doctor and herbalist who lived from 581 – 682. (Yes. 101 years.) Perfected Master Sun authored some of the most important Traditional Chinese Medicine treatises. Along with medical recipes and information on everything from acupuncture and massage to herbs and diet, he wrote the following: “A Great Physician should not pay attention to status, wealth or age. Neither should he question whether the particular person is attractive or unattractive, whether he is an enemy or a friend, whether he is a Chinese or a foreigner, and finally, whether he is uneducated or educated. He should meet everyone on equal grounds. He should always act as if he were thinking of his close relatives.” [1]

He tried to heal whoever needed his help, regardless of whether his patients were rich or poor. He turned down offers for jobs as physician at the Sui and Tang courts, working instead with ordinary people.

His books are still required reading for all TCM practitioners. Taoists honor him as a god of healing. Even today, the ill and infirm (or people wishing to stay healthy) visit his temple to make offerings.

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IMG_6922 So I headed to Wong Tai Sin Temple.

IMG_6913I was delighted to discover that at the temple you can worship gods. Goddesses. Protectors and saints. Local deities. Buddha.

IMG_6948The entrance is protected.

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I was met by wonderful bronze statues of the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac.

IMG_6907IMG_6908IMG_6994IMG_6993I managed to photograph all but the ox and dog.

Horse
Horse
Rat
Rat
Rabbit
Rabbit
Snake
Snake
Goat
Goat
Monkey
Monkey
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Tiger
Rooster
Rooster
Pig
Pig
Dragon
Dragon

Then I ascended the stairs and entered the compound.

IMG_6903IMG_6905IMG_6924IMG_6917 IMG_6941IMG_6963IMG_6923IMG_6939The temple is just outside a metro stop, smack dab in an urban area. The serenity of the shrines and their religious activity is set against a backdrop of tall buildings.

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Click on the photograph and check out all the turtles

IMG_6934IMG_6935Wong Tai Sin Temple includes a meditative garden, and I wandered around to take photographs.IMG_6983IMG_6970IMG_6972IMG_6985

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Even more turtles on this side!

As I walked I thought about the gods of medicine. When Uwe and I were in Egypt in 2013 we visited the ruins at Edfu. They contain a room known as the Laboratory. The high walls are covered in hieroglyphics that are some of the world’s oldest formulas for incense and unguents. Our local guide Khairy spoke German and was finishing a degree in Egyptology. Khairy believes that the Egyptian gods were real men and women. He thought they’d once lived and had made discoveries or created things so extraordinary that over time they came to be considered gods. He said, surely whoever wrote the recipes inscribed on these walls must have seemed like a god.

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Chamber of medical recipes at Edfu, Temple to Horus

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I recalled Khairy’s words as I explored the temple.

When I left Wong Tai Sin I don’t know if I came away a better massage therapist, but I love the idea of a temple to a person who dedicated his life to healing others.

NOTES: [1] On the Absolute Sincerity of Great Physicians (大醫精誠 Dayi Jingcheng). This has been called the Chinese Hippocratic Oath.

http://jadeturtlerecords.blogspot.hk/2011/02/sun-simiao.html

http://www.sqg.com.sg/?page_id=22&lang=en

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-phil-medicine/#SunSim
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Photos Copyright © 2015 Jadi Campbell or Uwe Hartmann. All photogaphs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image. More of Uwe’s images from Egypt and our earlier trips to China and Hong Kong and his photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.