In the cooler hours of the morning, before the tourists take over the yellow streets of Hội An, local couples dressed in traditional costumes arrive for a photo shoot. Weddings, anniversaries, engagements or portraits, many couples choose the less commercial end of Nguyễn Thái Học street for its colourful and historic built background. No one seems to mind my presence alongside or behind the professional photographer, though with my simple lens, the glare makes it hard to focus.
The old town near the Hội An’s historic district, is recognised as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th century. Chinese and Japanese influences can be seen in the shop fronts, houses and old businesses in the streets closest to the wharf. It is a city requiring a leisurely week or more of you wish to fathom its charms.
Women often choose to wear theáo dài, the Vietnamese national costume, for these portraits.
Other portraits taken in Hội An, Vietnam, can be viewed here and here.
In a country like China, where everyday life is complex, busy, and often crowded, order creates harmony. It enables Chinese life to work smoothly. Orderliness can be seen in the cleanliness of the streets, the hygiene applied to food preparation and the behaviour of the Chinese people. The ancient principles of Confucianism, a system of norms and propriety that determine how a person should act in everyday life, underlies many aspects of Chinese society, with later overlays of buddhism, daoism, communism and capitalism. Below: some sketches of everyday life in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.
Another rainy day in Myanmar. We spent the morning visiting the vast temple grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Out of nowhere, a flash of crimson passed by, an evanescent moment. The colour, so striking against the backdrop of gold, was unexpected, as was the youth and animation of the group. The young monks were quiet and respectful as they ambled through this magnificent Buddhist monument but their gait and facial expressions revealed something else.
Buddhist monastic schools play a vital role in the education of the poor and underprivileged throughout Myanmar, as well as in Laos and Thailand. I often visit these schools when in the vicinity, and watch as young monks are instructed in business maths or English grammar or art, the latter usually based on sculpting Buddhist images or restoring carved panels.
‘ Generally, Burmese monastic schools accept children from needy families who live nearby and are unable to attend government schools. Many of the orphans who attend monastery schools in Yangon and Mandalay are from remote areas and have been sent by senior monks from their villages and small towns. Some operate similarly as boarding schools and some as day schools depending on the situation and support of the public.
The schools are required to cooperate closely with township education authorities to be officially recognized. The operation and finance rely heavily on donations and collaboration from the public. The fees of most of the students at the school were covered by these donations, and some parents were able to make a small contribution.’¹
I love it when it rains somewhere in Asia. It’s hot and humid and the sudden downpours are refreshing. They don’t usually last too long. When it rains in Bangkok, I like to duck into my favourite Chinese -Thai dumpling shop and sip a cup of ginger and lemon tea while grappling with chop sticks over a bowl of slippery dumplings. By the time they are scoffed, the rain has passed.
This love of a good passing storm did not prepare me for the frequent downpours during our travels through Myanmar. I spent more time than usual meditating in golden pagodas due to heavy rain. On this occasion, we were tucked inside a restaurant in Bagan, watching the young lads outside having a ball.
And my favourite rain song? Ed Sheeran’s Make it Rain. I sing this song often during Australian summers. For Ailsa’s travel theme, rain, on Where’s My Backpack.
Yunnan province in China has the largest population of minorities with 25 different ethnic minorities, 16 of which are indigenous to that area. Wandering around the town of Dali, you will recognise many different ethnic groups largely by their dress, traditional customs, cultures and language. The town is a awash with colour and makes an exotic first stop after leaving the capital, Kunming.
Here a Shaxi woman arranges her peaches for sale on market day.
The light down the south coast of New Zealand is glorious in May. It is the best time to go for Autumn’s deep colours, nature’s majesty and that hypnotic chiaroscuro that precedes the depths of winter. The nights are chilly and the mornings frosty, then the days open up splendidly. A leisurely walk through Oamaru’s public gardens is one of the highlights of this wonderful town. It’s a place of reflection for some: for the energetic, it’s a place to run: for children and the young at heart, it’s a fairyland, with sculpted mushroom tables and chairs, hidden stone grottos, and mysterious dark places to explore. It is also a place to consider the foresight of Victorian planners, who, in 1858, set aside 34 acres as a public reserve. Oamaru Gardens opened on this site in 1876, making it one of the oldest in the country.
Some highlights of the gardens include the Japanese Red Bridge, the Oriental Garden, the Fragrant Garden and the large trees around the band rotunda. Details from the Victorian era can be seen everywhere – a sundial, croquet lawns, a wishing well, an aviary and a peacock house.
Doors, shutters, inner courtyards, Menshen or door gods, all these features of ancient Chinese architecture denote security and protection. Once safely inside the inner courtyard of a wooden Tang dynasty house, a sense of calm and peace descends: you feel perfectly secure and removed from the world.Chinese doors make a fascinating study in themselves. The ancient cities of Dali and Lijiang in Yunnan Province and Langzhong in Sichuan Province afford the traveller with an enormous array of wonderful doors to study and photograph.
Many are richly carved an ornate but today I have chosen a few modest examples.
After a long stay in the beguiling yellow city of Hội An, we decided to go by car to our next stop, Huế, a journey of 145 kilometres. There are two main routes to Huế: the new route, now favoured by trucks and other heavy commuters, which passes through a tunnel, a fast but boring trip, and the scenic route over the top of Hải Vân Pass, which takes a good part of a day, given the various stops along the way. The road taken, the scenic route, provided plenty of distraction, making for an amusing seven hour journey. This route also brings back haunting memories of the American War, with names such as China Beach, Danang and Lang Co indelibly etched in my memory from that era.
You can discuss your itinerary with your driver before you go or just leave it up to him. Our itinerary included a long, hot and fairly tedious stop at Marble Mountain. In hindsight, I would not bother with this stopover. The next stop was along the beach at Danang. By late morning, the intense heat and glare was overwhelming: the colourful basket boats, thung chai, nestled on the sand in theforeground, contrasting so vividly with the concrete skyline of Danang, a modern highrise city by the sea with very little appeal. Then, a quick stop at the top of Hải Vân Pass, (‘ocean cloud pass’) an important stop for historical reasons and providing great views, then down to Lang Co Beach, for a unmemorable lunch in a beach hut, and finally on to beautiful Hue.
If you go, organise a car and driver in Hội An In August, 2016, this cost us around $60 AU. Make sure that your driver has a smattering of English. Most drivers have their own agenda: if you wish to cut out a couple of these stops, the trip would take around 4 hours.
A trip to the weekend Chatuchuk market is one of the highlights of a Bangkok visit. The 35-acre market site is home to more than 8,000 market stalls. The market seems overwhelming at first and it’s easy to get lost. Make a plan before you go and stick to the areas that are appealing rather than wasting time in the general furniture, hardware or pet sections. Below are a few scenes from the market, included in this week’s wordpress photographic challenge, A Good Match. I have chosen these photos mostly due to colour matching or the juxtaposition of coordinated elements in the displays.
You can get to the market by taking the sky train. Hop on at BTS and get off at Mo Chit station, then take exit no. 1 and follow the crowd until you see rows of canvas stalls selling clothes. Turn right while continuing to follow the crowd and you will see a small entrance that leads into the market (clothing section). You can also get there by taxi. It’s a great day out, with plenty of interesting options for resting when you get tired. Little cafes are sprinkled among the stalls and good restaurants can be found around the perimeter of the market, as well as fast food within it.
How much do we hear about Myanmar these days? Or Italy, or anywhere else for that matter, other than the dominant news from the USA? Since the demise of Berlusconi, we rarely hear about Italy, unless there’s an earthquake. National disasters, terrorist activities, real or imagined, and narcissistic world leaders with toxic tendencies tend to dominate our mainstream media. We are adrift in a polluted sea of fake news.
Against all odds, in 2015, a peaceful election was held in Myanmar, enabling a remarkable transition from a military led dictatorship to an emerging democracy. There is still a long way to go, not that any one cares much, when the eyes of the world are so focussed on the golden-haired beast. I’d rather contemplate these golden temples.