These are from around Jhudong (竹東), the city where I teach. First is the exterior of Pu-Zhao Temple, a Buddhist monastery…
…and its big Buddha who overlooks my school:
Moving to a different part of Korean history, Gyeongbokgung Palace is a major historical site and tourist attraction dating originally to 1395, but rebuilt as recently as the 1990′s due to war and its symbol for Korean pride even in the midst of Japanese occupation.
Part of a visit is a changing of the guard to the palace gates, where costumed soldiers march in to the area. This gave a perfect beginning to the visit.
Above: this symbol, seen on a ceremonial drum, is a variant on the Taegeuk, or 태극, an ancient symbol which appears on the national Korean flag in a two-color form. The example above is three-colored, so its known as the “삼색의 태극,” or “Samsaeg-ui Taeguek.” Yellow represents humanity, while red and blue refer to heaven and earth.
Last Sunday, a celebration of San Tai Zi ( 三太子), a major figure in Taiwan’s popular and religious culture occurred throughout the streets of Jhubei, heading north toward Hsinfeng. I’m always excited by the chances I get to see these parades as I really get to experience the culture, practice my bad Chinese, and interact with the people.
Above: a spirit medium representing who I believe to be San Tai Zi dances in front of a moving altar with onlookers watching. This was taking place, as you might see with the truck in the background, on a busy highway bridge to Hsinfeng.
Above: a temple leader shows off his sash.
Above: a two-faced god, representing Yin and Yang (陰陽).
These images are from a sort of park for Okinawan culture. Ryukyu Mura, or “Ryukyu Village” is a park that showcases much of the culture of the island, featuring buildings that have been moved from other parts of the island. Even if it lacks the authenticity of a real town, I’d say that this is necessary as 90% of the buildings of Okinawa were destroyed during the 1945 battle and this park does a great job preserving the culture from previous times.
One of the first things visitors will notice is the sanshin, an instrument with three strings that sounds like a banjo, is often made from snake skin, and looks similar to the Chinese bowed Erhu. The sanshin is plucked and is a mainstay of traditional Okinawan music. I’ll attach a video first, because you really need to hear it to understand it:
In addition, Ryukyu Mura has a bit of a “Colonial Williamsburg” feel to it as costumed staff demonstrate daily life in the Ryukyu Kingdom and in old Okinawa:
The rest are from a performance that
Shuri-jo, or 首里城, is a castle located in southern Okinawa which I visited last week while on a trip to the Japanese island. The structure itself is rebuilt, having been used as a Japanese military headquarters during the 1945 battle and subsequently destroyed during the fighting. It dates back to the 14th century, during which it was part of not Japan, but the Ryukyu Kingdom. The Ryukyu culture, which is similar in many ways to Japan through language and culture, played a central role in trade in the region. It was, however, taken over and annexed by the 19th century as Okinawa became Okinawa Prefecture.
Jhunan, or Zhunan (竹南) is a city in northern Miaoli County, Taiwan located about twenty minutes south by train from Hsinchu City. Its name comes from the Chinese word for “bamboo” (竹, or Zhu) and mixes in the direction “South” (南, or Nan) and literally means “south of bamboo.” Hsinchu, or probably more correctly “Xinzhu” means “New Bamboo” – so this obviously refers to the larger city in the north.
One of the main draws in the city is a temple dedicated to Mazu (媽祖), goddess of the sea. Mazu is huge in Taiwan as a religious figure. She is also referred to as the Heavenly Queen or simply as “Grandmother” or “Mother” as the name Mazu actually implies. The temple is home to the largest statue of Mazu on the island – to my knowledge. It is said to be over 100 feet from bottom to top and I will post more about it later.
Something that is less known about the temple is the 10,000 or so Mazu statues that line the walls of different floors. I wasn’t sure if that was an accurate number at first – then I started to climb stairs and see the huge number of figures. They line every wall in the temple in some parts, acting much like the golden temple donor plaques. These shots are made at an angle and it was hard to grasp the huge number while still dealing with the low light – you’ll just have to trust me when I say 10,000.
I’ll be posting more about Mazu in the coming weeks as the Jhubei temple will soon be having a large celebration. The last big Mazu event I attended was the Mazu Pilgrimage, which takes place around the time of her birthday in Changhua City. You can see posts here and here.
On Double Ten, the day which marks the Republic of China’s independence from the Qing Emporer, huge masses of people flocked to Chiang Kai Shek Memorial to witness a military display celebrating an anniversary of Nationalist rule. While Taiwan itself hasn’t been in its current form for 100 years, it is celebrated much more heavily here here than the mainland, where the date is foreshadowed by the 1949 Civil War.
It was nearly impossible to get a view of the main parade ground with the amount of people. For this reason, I stuck to the sides and got shots as the drill teams and bands came off and marched away. The day was beautiful for photography as it was a bit overcast but rather bright. The white tile ground acted as a huge reflector, which made things easy for me.
Lukang, or 鹿港, literally means “deer harbor.” It’s a small town just west of Changhua City (彰化市) which was once known for the trade of deer furs and other trade goods, being situated at a point in Taiwan very close to the Chinese mainland. At one point, it was the second-largest city in Taiwan, just after Tainan.
One of the city’s features is an “old town” consisting of brick buildings dating from hundreds of years ago. Mixed into this are countless temples which have seen new life as Taiwanese tourists visit the city.
These are assorted shots from those temples – the biggest being Mazu and Longshan Temples.
I’m doing something I don’t normally do and posting on the weekend to show off a slideshow I made of my time in Cambodia, with special emphasis made on ancient Khmer culture and the ruins of Angkor Archaeological Park.
The music in this slideshow comes from a recording made by Tara Alan and Tyler Kellen. They recorded a group of landmine victims playing traditional Cambodian music for their blog about bicycling around the world, Going Slowly. While they seem to be back according to their posts, you can get a lot of insight about world travel through their ginormous website. They were nice enough to allow me to use their recording. Remember, you can buy CDs of this music from the musicians themselves, who frequent areas around the temples.
I recommend seeing this video at full screen and if possible, at 1080p quality, the highest available.
This is the first of two posts relating to the darker side of Cambodia’s history. Tomorrow, I will be making a post about the landmine epidemic and an organization that plays a big part in educating people and cleaning up Cambodia one mine at a time.
In August, 1975, after the Khmer Rouge pushed into Phnom Penh victoriously, a high school in the heart of the city was converted into a concentration camp and security prison. Chao Ponhea Yat High School became known as Security Prison 21, or S-21, and housed an estimated 17,000 – 20,000 inmates during its existence.During the Cambodian Genocide, intellectuals, monks, teachers, soldiers and members of the Lon Nol regime, doctors, and engineers were systematically killed with Pol Pot’s Khmer Rogue regime attempting to create an agrarian utopia. The purges would not stop there, and an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people lost their lives. This all took place in a country with a population of about 7.3 million in 1975 and an area a little larger than the US state of Oklahoma.S-21 served as a security prison tasked with interrogating “enemies of the revolution” – basically any and everyone with some form of speciality even if their politics were neutral. Like the Nazis before them, the Khmer Rogue provided very detailed records of the prisoners, including photographs which are still on display at the museum today. In addition to these photographs, torture devices are still in existence, as are hooks bolted into the ground to hold people down. When the prison was liberated in 1979 by the Vietnamese Army, only eleven survivors were found and the guards had already left.
While visiting Cambodia, it is important to remember the scars that these wars – which only really ended in 1998 – have inflicted upon the country. This was something that is very apparent – visiting the country gives you an awkward sense as this developing country has seen so many struggles. Years of war has taken its toll on the people and the economy – even today, the average income based on GDP PPP per-capita is $2,100 per year in US dollars. Keep in mind that for many of the poor of Cambodia, this is a huge number, as these statistics don’t take income inequality into mind when they are calculated.
Good news exists though, in the burgeoning tourist industry centered around Angkor Wat. One man my wife Yuling and I got to know was our tuk-tuk driver, Thean. Tourism supports him at about $20 – $30 per day plus extra tips and expenses. He worked very hard and being tri-lingual (he is working on his fourth language, Russian), I would hope that he has a very bright future ahead. His dream is to become a tour guide, but cannot fulfill this yet as the fact that he grew up in a town controlled by the Khmer Rogue until 1997 in Western Cambodia halted his pursuit at a high school diploma. I’m about his age and will complain less when I have some barrier to my next life step.
In addition to tourism, more businesses are bringing factories into the country, though any visitor to Phnom Penh and Siem Reap will be skeptical about this happening quickly as the infrastructure in Cambodia is still “developing” at best. When you have a country with dirt roads for “national highways,” it is difficult to build industry. However, cheap labor is always an attractive option as globalization spreads the marketplace around the world, so it will be interesting to see how things continue.
You can read more about S-21 and the Cambodian Genocide throughout the Internet. One useful article is the Wikipedia entry for S-21, which includes more photographs and personal accounts. Another useful link is this article about Cambodian artist Vann Nath, one of the eleven survivors. His eerie work is hanging throughout the museum, and graphically portrays what happened in each of the rooms.
One of the eerie effects of this prison is the fact that its architecture immediately reminds you of schools in Asia. Nearly all schools here have classrooms which go to the outside – effective before air conditioning was always available. The parts of S-21 that still look like Chao Ponhea Yat High School are immediately noticeable to teachers especially.
Above left: a memorial at the front of the entrance sits to the few people who are buried at the complex. Their 14 bodies were found when the prison was liberated. Most of the killing was done in the rural areas of Cambodia. On the right is another memorial in a rear courtyard.
Above right: a sign which reminds visitors not to smile. There was a certain religious element about this place – it seemed more sacred than even the Buddhist sites I visited.
This Khmer-French-language chalkboard kind of creeped me out. I’m not sure if it was left all these years or placed here for the sake of the museum – either way, it’s very effective at getting the point across.