ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “Architecture

DAY 2 (4/5): FROM MATSUMOTO (松本) TO KAMIKOCHI (上高地), Nagano Prefecture (長野県), Japan, 2018.05.26

With a population of less than 250,000, peaceful Matsumoto (松本市) is renowned for its beautiful mountain views, in particular the Hida Mountains to the west.  Coming from Tokyo, we could immediately sense the relaxing air of the mountain city as we stepped out the train station.  We spent 5 hours in Matsumoto, visiting the castle, art museum, and performing arts centre.  All three sites were within walking distance from the train station, and we were able to cover everything on foot.  Near the castle, we passed by small weekend markets where vendors were selling snacks, handicrafts, straw hats, accessories, local produces, artworks, etc.  Our brief stay in Matsumoto provided us a moment of transition between busy Tokyo and tranquil Kamikochi (上高地) in the Japanese Alps.

DSC_5957At 09:40 we arrived at Matsumoto Station (松本駅) by JR East’s Super Azusa.

DSC_5958It was Saturday morning.  Most shops near the station had yet open their doors except this sake store.  Sake, the popular Japanese rice wine, is in fact quite famous in Nagano Prefecture, where clean water, good sake rice and cool weather can be found.

DSC_6062With red polka dots all over, the Town Sneaker bus is undoubtedly designed by Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生), the world renowned artist from Matsumoto.  This inner city loop service is a convenient way for tourists to get around the city.

DSC_5962In front of the newly opened Shinmai Media Garden, a lively street market captured our attention.  Designed by Toyo Ito, Shinmai Media Garden is a shopping centre with an interesting trade mix, including a local beer restaurant, cultural workshops, rooftop cafe, restaurants, apple cider shop, lifestyle store, small exhibition spaces, etc.

DSC_6066At the street market, we could find different local products from handicrafts to snacks.

DSC_6064Even doughnuts were made with local ingredients.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAStraw broom (houki) of Matsumoto (松本箒) is a famous traditional handicraft of the city since the late Edo Period 150 years ago.

DSC_5964This minimalist building right by the Metoba River is a small retail complex with a barber shop, restaurants, and fashion boutiques.

DSC_5966Behind the retail complex stands the Matsumoto Timepiece Museum, which hosts a collection of timepieces donated by Chikazo Honda and other local citizens.

DSC_5967Nawate Dori, also called Kaeru Machi or “Frog Street”, is a small street near the castle famous for its traditional shops.  Frog sculptures can be found along Nawate Dori.  Made by students of Tokyo University for Arts, this sculpture of frog samurai is one the most impressive.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASome say the abundance of frog sculptures at Nawate Dori is a result from the typhoon incident in 1959, which flooded the area and forced the original Kajika frogs of the Metoba River leaving for higher ground and never returned.  The frog sculptures have since become replacements to retain the original spirit of the place.

DSC_6061The streets of Matsumoto were full of surprises.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe abundance of nice boutiques and delightful cafes at downtown Matsumoto reveals the youthful energy and desire for a cozy lifestyle.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMatsumoto has a decent student population with its universities, junior colleges, secondary and elementary schools.

DSC_6214At 14:45, we hopped on the Alpico Kotsu’s Kamikochi Line at platform No. 7 at the station.  The 14.4km train ride took us as far as Shin Shimashima (新島々駅) in half an hour, from where we switched to the Kamikochi bound bus for the final leg of the journey.

IMG_6011At Matsumoto Station, we picked up two bento boxes from a convenient store.  They were tasty and decent looking, perfect for a relaxing train ride.

DSC_6227As soon as we stepped out of Shin Shimashima Station (新島々駅), we could see the bus parked outside.  It was a smooth transfer as we boarded the direct bus for Kamikochi.

DSC_6230On the way to Kamikochi, we often passed by picturesque rice paddies.

DSC_6233_01The bus ride took about 60 minutes through mountain valleys and small villages.  All we could hope for was pleasant weather in Kamikochi, where we would make day hikes to explore the mountains.

 

 

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DAY 2 (3/5): MATSUMOTO PERFORMING ARTS CENTER (まつもと市民芸術館), Matsumoto (松本), Japan, 2018.05.26

Two years ago in April 2016, Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito (伊東豊雄) came to Hong Kong for a public lecture.  His recently completed Taichung Metropolitan Opera House was the main focus on that day, but Ito also introduced some of his earlier works, including the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre (まつもと市民芸術館).  With its spatial fluidity and random windows on the curving outer walls, the Matsumoto project has strongly imprinted onto our memory.  Completed in 2004, the Matsumoto Performing Arts Center is consisted of two performance halls: the great hall (1800 seats) and the smaller hall (240 seats), rehearsal studios, supporting facilities, a cafe, and a reception lobby, all connected by a ribbon-like foyer and a splendid staircase, allowing visitors to freely flow through different spaces.  The performing arts centre was famous not only for its aesthetics, but also its quality as a community theatre, providing a great place for both the audience and performers.  This, to a great extent, was the fruitful result from close collaborations during the design process between architect Toyo Ito and stage director-actor Kazuyoshi Kushida.

Despite our limited time in the city, we just couldn’t leave Matsumoto without checking out Ito’s building.  We were eager to have a firsthand experience of the fluid spatial experience, check out the delicate construction detailing, and admire the lovely finish materials.  The performance halls were closed for the public, but we could still freely wander in the common areas, from the grand entrance staircase to the lovely roof garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre is just a few minutes walk from Matsumoto City Museum of Art.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFrom outside, the Matsumoto Performing Arts Centre bends along a side street to the dark grey fly tower.

DSC_6131The expression of fluidity seems to be the coherent design language of the building.  Patterns of flowing water appears on some metal panels near the building entrance.

DSC_6133The magical experience of the architecture begins right from the dramatic entry into the entrance lobby and grand staircase.

DSC_6138A moving walkway along the beautiful outer wall of random openings, where diffused natural light is allowed to enter the interior.

DSC_6140In a magazine interview, Toyo Ito describes the curved facade with windows of sparkling pattern can give the impression of being random and natural rather than geometrically based.

DSC_6155From a distance, the facade of random windows appears like a translucent screen of sparkling gemstones.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADuring daytime, the foyer serves as a indoor public space.  The public is free to enter and climb the stair to the upper foyer.

DSC_6143A screen of translucent glass serves as a balustrade for the upper foyer.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOn the upper foyer, there is a large glazed wall allowing visitors to take in the view of greenery outside.

DSC_6145The curvature of the outer walls extends all the way to the back foyer of the grand hall.  While the outer wall are defined by the random windows, the walls of the performance halls in the foyer are cladded by dark metal panels.

DSC_6149On the upper foyer, there are several two groups of organic shaped seating under spotlight.

DSC_6150Between the grand and smaller halls, the foyer offers a pleasant space for pre-function activities under the carefully designed ambient lighting.

DSC_6182There is a causal cafe at the end of the foyer next to the smaller hall.  The adjacent glass elevator provides a convenient way to access the above roof garden.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe flat roof is covered entirely by vegetation.  Both the lawn and the continuous bench along the railing offer pleasant seating to the public.

DSC_6173The roof garden ends at a dance rehearsal studio and the fly tower of the grand hall.

DSC_6167From the roof garden, visitors can enjoy the skyline of Matsumoto and the scenery of Hida Mountains (Northern Japanese Alps) beyond.

DSC_6195After touring the roof garden and upper foyer, we descended back to the ground floor.

DSC_6203We were delighted to have make it to see Ito’s great piece of architecture.  From the performing arts centre, it was a 15-minute walk back to Matsumoto Station for us to embark into the countryside of the Northern Japanese Alps.

 

 


DAY 2 (2/5): “ALL ABOUT MY LOVE”, Yayoi Kusama’s Exhibition at Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館), Matsumoto (松本), Japan, 2018.05.26

First appeared in 1966, the stainless steel balls floating in the natural flow of pond water of Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生)’s “Narcissus Garden” was a remarkable landscape art piece that we saw in 2013 at Inhotim, an outdoor art museum and botanical garden near Belo Horizonte of Brazil.  During the same trip, we went on to see her retrospective show “Obsesión infinita [Infinite Obsession]” at Centro Cultural Banco do Brasil in Rio de Janeiro.  It was an mind-blowing experience to enter Yayoi Kusama’s world of polka dots for the first time.  Four and a half years has passed.  This time, we were fortunate to swing by Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama’s birthplace, on our way to the Japanese Alps and got a chance to see her latest show at the city’s art museum.  Since its grand opening in 2003, Matsumoto City Museum of Art (松本市美術館) has held three Yayoi Kusama’s shows.  With 180 pieces in display, “All About My Love (私の愛のすべて) has become the fourth show for the famous daughter of Matsumoto.

Born in 1929 and raised in Matsumoto, Yayoi Kusama is a prolific artist with a career spanning many decades.  Since the age of 10, Yayoi Kusama experienced hallucinations of light flashes, auras, or dense fields of dots.  These vivid imagery has since become a powerful source of inspirations for many of her works.  In her childhood, she was also inspired by the smooth and fluid forms of white river stones near her home, which has led to another major influence in her works.  Yayoi Kusama began exhibiting her works in Japan in 1950s.  In 1957 at the age of 27, she moved to the United States to pursue greater freedom and respect for an avant-garde woman artist.  She stayed in the US from 1957 to 1972, based mainly in New York City.  In New York, she soon became an active member in the circle of avant-garde artists, befriended many artists and activists of her era, produced paintings, art installations, performance art, photography, and films, involved in a number of social movements including anti-war protests and opened a naked painting studio and a gay social club.  She stood at the forefront of the avant-garde art scene and held exhibitions/ performances in established venues such as MoMA and the Venice Biennale.  In 1973, she fell ill and returned to Japan.  She checked into Tokyo’s Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill in 1977, and has stayed there since then.  After leaving New York, she was soon forgotten in the international art scene until the early 1990s, when retrospective shows and large outdoor installations revived international interest in her works.  Some notable pieces included the 1993 Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale, where she created a mirrored room filled with small pumpkin sculptures, and soon later, huge yellow pumpkin sculptures covered with black dots (representing a kind of her alter-ego) emerged around the world, and so as various reiterations of “Narcissus Garden” around the world.  In recent years, collaborations with commercial labels such as Louis Vuitton and Lancome have further brought the veteran avant-garde back in the limelight.

DSC_6129It was just a  20-minute walk from Matsumoto Castle to Matsumoto City Museum of Art.  The museum building was covered with the trademark of Yayoi Kusama, the Queen of Polka Dots.

DSC_6127_01We were greeted by Yayoi Kusama’s “The Visionary Flowers”, an eye-catching installation of three wacky-looking tulips that have stood at the museum forecourt since 2002.

DSC_6077After presenting our online-purchased tickets, we followed the coloured footprints and headed upstairs to the show.

DSC_6104Photography was not allowed for most of the show, except the common atrium and one of the painting galleries.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASomehow the red polka dots fitted in very well with the minimalist museum interior.

DSC_6082Another Yayoi Kusama’s flower installation inside the museum.

DSC_6083A paper cut of Yayoi Kusama was offered as a photo spot for visitors.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe room filled with paintings from the “My Eternal Soul” series was the only gallery that photography was allowed.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAVisitors enjoyed themselves by making selfies in front of the colourful paintings.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAUnder the power of the Polka Dot Queen, even the food at the museum cafe provided an Yayoi Kusama experience.

DSC_6102Through a polka dot on the window, we could see a version of Yayoi Kusama’s most recognizable yellow pumpkin in the museum courtyard.

DSC_6108Polka dots were everywhere.

DSC_6120We couldn’t leave the museum without a closer look at the yellow pumpkin.

DSC_6119While most visitors went to make selfies at the yellow pumpkin, kids were having fun at the water feature in the courtyard.

 


DAY 1 (3/3): MORI ART MUSEUM (森美術館), 21_21 DESIGN SIGHT & CAFE KITSUNE, Tokyo, Japan, 2018.05.25

A short metro ride took us to Roppongi (六本木), a business and entertainment district dominated by the high-rise complexes of Roppongi Hills (2003) and Tokyo Midtown (2006).  Before the completion of these mixed-use developments, Roppongi was well known for its disco scene since the late 1960’s.  In 2014, we visited the area for the first time to explore these complexes and the nearby National Art Center (国立新美術館) in a stormy day.  This time, we came specifically to check out the exhibitions at Mori Art Museum and 21_21 Design Sight.

DSC_5889 At Roku Roku Plaza of Roppongi Hills, Louise Bourgeois’ famous sculpture “Maman” was given a temporary makeover by Magda Sayeg, the textile artist who was responsible for a wide range of yarn installations in cities around the world.

DSC_5893On the observation deck of Mori Tower, we had a good view of the surrounding area.  The wavy facade of Kisho Kurokawa’s National Art Center stood out at the forefront.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo mark its 15th anniversary, the Mori Art Museum was hosting an exhibition on Japanese architecture on the 53rd floor of Mori Tower.

IMG_5906“Japan in Architecture: Genealogies of Its Transformation” presented the essence of modern Japanese architecture in 9 sections: 1) Possibilities of Wood, 2) Transcendent Aesthetics, 3) Roofs of Tranquility, 4) Crafts as Architecture, 5) Linked Spaces, 6) Hybrid Architecture, 7) Forms of Living Together, 8) Japan Discovered, and 9) Living with Nature.

DSC_5900In each section, the topics were presented with physical models, design installations, architectural drawings, project photos, hand sketches, etc.  Photography was not allowed for most displays.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA causal seating area offered further reading on Japanese architecture.

DSC_5904A one-to-one model of a Japanese tea house offered visitors a chance to see the essence of traditional minimalist architecture.

DSC_5905This large wooden model of what looked like a traditional Japanese home was in fact the Tange House designed by architectural maestro Kenzo Tange (丹下健三).  Built in 1953, the Tange House presented a fusion of traditional style and customs of modern living.

IMG_5941Towards the end of the exhibition, there was an eye-catching multi-media show made with 3D projections.

DSC_5913After a good taste of Japanese architecture at Mori, we walked a few blocks north to 21_21 Design Sight, a small design museum at Hinokicho Park (檜町公園) in Tokyo Midtown.

DSC_5914With the beautiful terracotta cladding, the 20-acre Tokyo Midtown is an elegant and highly recognizable high-rise complex.

DSC_5915With glass canopies and shade trees, the outdoor areas of Tokyo Midtown exemplify a role model of livable city.

DSC_5945Last time when we came to 21_21 Design Sight, the facility was closed for exhibition installation.  This time, a photography show “New Planet Photo City – William Klein and Photographers Living in the 22nd Century” was held, and we were able to see the show as well as the building designed by Tadao Ando.

DSC_5934Despite its small scale, Ando’s 21_21 Design Sight was an interesting attraction for design enthusiasts.

DSC_5937Curated by photographic critic and art historian Toshiharu Ito, the show began with a video presentation of William Klein’s photographs on the 20th century urbanity, and then contemporary photography on city and people by various Asian photographers.

DSC_5939Ando’s signature fair faced concrete provided a beautiful backdrop for light and shadow.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside 21_21 Design Sight, the afternoon sun was soft and relaxing.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe sat on a bench in Hinokicho Park (檜町公園) to take a brief rest, and decided to follow Google Map for a 25-minute walk to Aoyama (青山).  Time was getting a little late and we weren’t sure if we could still make it to see Taro Okamoto Memorial Museum (岡本太郎記念館), the former home of renounced artist Taro Okamoto.  We left Tokyo Midtown and walked west from Nogizaka Station (乃木坂駅), passed by the peaceful Aoyama Cemetery (青山霊園), and reached the fabulous Nezu Museum (根津美術館) in Aoyama at around 4:15pm.  From Nezu, it was only a block from Taro Okamoto’s former residence, and we had about 1.5 hour to visit the house, its exhibitions and cafe.  Time was a little tight and we were quite tired due to the midnight flight.  We decided to leave the museum until next time in town.

DSC_5951Instead, we opted for Cafe Kitsuné at a side street off the fashionable Omotesando (表参道), where the creative talents of world famous fashion designers and architects converged into high-end fashion boutiques.  Associated with Kitsuné, a French electronic music record and fashion label (Kitsuné Maison) created by Gildas Loaec, Masaya Kuroki and company Abake, Cafe Kitsuné is a little gem in Aoyama for anyone who loves coffee and design.

IMG_5949The nice coffee from Japan’s first Slayer coffee machine and the stylish interior made the visit worthwhile.

 


DAY 1 (4/9): COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

After the Second Anglo-Burmese War in 1852, the East India Company’s annexation of Pegu province put Yangon into British hands.  In 1885, the Third Anglo-Burmese War resulted in Britain’s complete annexation of Burma, and Rangoon (now Yangon) was named as the capital of Burma (now Yangon).  From 1852 until Burma gaining independence in 1948, Rangoon saw major urban transformation under the British, with splendid colonial structures constructed all over the downtown.  After independence, political and military turmoil among ethnic groups threatened the survival of the new nation, and then in 1962, a coup d’etat brought the nation into a 48-year military dictatorship until the first civilian elected president came to power in 2010.  During the period of political turmoil and authoritarian rule, Yangon, together with much of Myanmar, was largely isolated from the outside world.  Many colonial buildings from the British era were neglected and left for natural decay.  Ironically, Yangon’s decades of lack of development led to the successful preservation of Southeast Asia’s largest concentration of colonial architecture.  Recently, international investment began to pour in as the country gradually opened up.  Some historical buildings had since then became redevelopment targets for foreign developers.   Before heading north to visit Shwedagon Pagoda, we spent a brief time wandering around the lower downtown of Yangon to admire its awesome but fading colonial architecture.

DSC_2652Yangon City Hall, one the most prominent colonial building in the city, stands across the street from Sule Pagoda.  Designed by Burmese architect U Tin and completed in 1940, the City Hall is a fine example of Burmese colonial architecture where local influence (in this case the multi-tiered pyatthat roof) has been incorporated into the otherwise largely Western design.  The City Hall building exemplifies nationalist Burmese architecture at the twilight stage of colonial rule.

DSC_2754Across the street from the City Hall, the Ayeyarwady Bank occupies the former Rowe & Co. Department Store building.  Completed in 1910, the Rowe & Co. Department Store was the most splendid shopping venue in Rangoon.  This century-old building featured a innovative steel structural frame, electric lifts and ceiling fans over a century ago.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAcross the street from the City Hall, the Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) has long been a public park at the heart of Yangon since 1868.  While we were there, audience seating and a stage were set up for an upcoming event.

DSC_2773Also designed by Burmese architect U Tin, the Independent Monument at Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park) was erected at the centre of the park in 1948 to commemorate the nation’s independence, replacing the former statue of Queen Victoria at the same location.

DSC_2775Flanking the east side of Mahandoola Garden (Maha Bandula Park), the former High Court is one of the most iconic buildings in Yangon.  It was also one of the first in Yangon to have toilet and plumbing facilities as well as electricity.  During the military rule, the Supreme Court was replaced by the socialist Council of People’s Justices controlled by the General.  Today, Myanmar’s Supreme Court has been relocated to the new capital Naypyidaw.

DSC_2776Further south from Mahandoola Garden, at the intersection of Sule Pagoda Road and Strand Road stands the baby blue and white Myanmar Economic Bank building (formerly Bank of Bengal and then Imperial Bank of India).  The Imperial Bank of India was the most prominent bank in colonial Burma, serving like the central bank for the nation.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department were housed in a magnificent building with three octagonal towers.  These former colonial departments oversaw taxes and trade customs for British Burma, which was belonged to the Government of British India.

DSC_2792Today, the building is in poor condition, especially for the wings along Bank Street and Mahabandoola Garden Street.  Overgrown weeds took over parts of the building facade.

DSC_2796The building hasn’t changed much since the Japanese bombing in 1942.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThis former Accountant-General’s Office and Currency Department building was partially occupied by Yangon Divisional Court and Department of Pensions nowadays.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEach of the octagonal towers houses a ornate spiral staircase.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe red-brick Customs House is one of the few historical buildings still serving its original functions today.

DSC_2804Since 1916, the two-faced clock has been the iconic feature of the Custom House.

DSC_2810Further down Strand Road, we arrived at Myanmar Port Authority (former Port Trust Office).  The corner tower is an iconic landmark for the city, both for today and back in 1920s, when the new building was erected to reflect Rangoon as one of the busiest port in the British Empire.

DSC_2815Myanmar National Airlines occupies the 1920s building of the former Bombay-Burmah Trading Corporation, whose diverse business included exporting teak wood.  Right next door stood the splendid Strand Hotel, the 1901 glamorous hotel for affluent visitors in the early 20th century.  In 1993, the hotel was fully renovated with a budget of USD 10 million.

DSC_2819The former National Bank of India building (now Myanma Agricultural Development Bank) was built in 1930.  Designed by Thomas Oliphant Foster and Basil Ward, the same architects who had done the Myanmar Port Authority building, the beautiful entrance canopy and the golden entrance door remain as special features of Pansodan Road.

DSC_2829Written with “A Scott & Co” and “erected 1902” on the triangular pediment of today’s YCDC (Yangon City Development Committee) building, this colonial architecture had witnessed the era when Rangoon had a strong trading connections with Scotland.

DSC_2846Wandering in Downtown Yangon offered us a chance to see a number of the city’s finest colonial buildings in just a short walk.  Throughout the walk, we passed by many anonymous buildings from the British era.

DSC_2864We planned to visit Secretariat (Ministers’ Building), the former administrative centre of British Burma and Yangon’s most important colonial building.  On our way, we passed by several more interesting historical buildings.  Unfortunately the Secretariat complex was not open to the public.  We could barely see it from outside the fence, and decided to move on to Shwedagon Pagoda.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR


DAY 1 (3/9): SULE PAGODA, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

After lunch at 999 Shan Noodle House, we walked over to the City Hall.  Across the street from the City Hall stood Sule Pagoda, the iconic octagonal stupa that marked the heart of Yangon.  We decided to pay a quick visit to this wonderful monument before venturing further south.

Built in the 5th century BC, the 2600 year old was said to even predate the famous Shwedagon.  The stupa was built in the style of Mon pagoda architecture, back in the era when the Mon people was a dominant ethnic group in the region.  The Mon people was also responsible for spreading Theravada Buddhism throughout Southeast Asia.  The Mon name of Sule Pagoda is “kyaik athok ceti”, meaning “stupa with a sacred hair enshrined”.  Legend has it that the Sule Pagoda contains one of Buddha’s hairs given to merchant Tapussa and Bhallika.  The rest of the same strand of Buddha’s hairs were said to be kept at the Shwedagon Pagoda.

Before the British set out to develop Yangon and its port area, Sule Pagoda was situated on an island surrounded by a swamp at the banks of Yangon River.  The British drained the area, constructed a prominent roundabout centred at the Pagoda and defined Sule as the heart of Downtown Rangoon (now Yangon).  Today, Sule pagoda remains as an iconic spot of the city, and has served as the centre stage of civilian rallies and demonstrations throughout the years.

DSC_2641We crossed the street from the City Hall to the east entrance of the Sule Pagoda.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAt the entrance, we followed the rules and took off our shoes and socks, left them with one of the staff, purchased admission tickets and then climbed up the stairs to the main worshiping area.  This was our first experience of walking barefoot in Myanmar.

DSC_2653The first thing we saw beyond the stair was a cosy and golden altar with many pilgrims.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOutside of the covered altar was a series of small golden shrine surrounding the base of the octagonal pagoda.  It’s important for the Burmese to know which day of the week they were born in order to find the right shrine to worship.   There are eight planetary shrines around the pagoda, each represents a planet as well as a particular day of the week, with Wednesday split into two (am and pm).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWater and food can be found at the pagoda complex, usually donated by Buddhist worshipers, who believe good deeds are one of the basis for path of enlightenment.

DSC_2678Soon we reached another entrance of the Sule Pagoda.  Entrances of the pagoda are arranged at the four cardinal directions: north, south, east and west.

DSC_2680The corresponded altar of this entrance looked somewhat different than the one we first arrived at.

DSC_2685Like all shrines in Myanmar, gold is the single dominant colour of the octagonal Sule Pagoda.

DSC_2693At the Saturday shrine, another two worshipers were busy performing rituals and cleaning the altar with water.

DSC_2695Under the scorching sun, many worshipers stayed at the shaded area to mediate.  It was interesting to see many young people were among the devoted worshipers.

DSC_2699When looking closely, the fine details and craftsmanship of the golden ornaments were overwhelmingly impressive.

DSC_2700.JPGAt another entrance altar, colourful fresco depicted a number of Buddhist stories high up near the ceiling.

DSC_2706Each of the four altars has a distinct set of ornaments.

DSC_2711Other than the devoted worshippers, some locals were just hanging around in the pagoda area as if the space was a public park.  In fact, Buddhist shrines in Myanmar do serve as community spaces that welcome everyone.

DSC_2712It was relaxing to walk on bare feet around the Sule Pagoda.  Surprising we didn’t feel uncomfortable without our shoes and socks.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANear the entrance where we arrived, there was a group of people gathered at a pulley wire, waiting for the staff to send their prayer cards up to the pagoda by the golden prayer boat.

DSC_2714Via a wire pulley system, the golden prayer boat sends prayer cards of worshippers up to the pagoda.

DSC_2717A staff at the base worked the pulley to send up the prayer boat while a group of worshipers gathered to witness the process.

DSC_2739After one loop, we repeated the clockwise stroll around the Sule Pagoda for a second time.

DSC_2743After two loops around the pagoda, we walked down the stair where we first arrived, put on our shoes, and moved on to further explore Downtown Yangon.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT

Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U

Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR

 


DAY 1 (2/9): WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE, Yangon, Myanmar, 2017.12.23

Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, was the capital city of Myanmar (Burma) until 2006.  With 7 million inhabitants, Yangon remains as the largest city in Myanmar.  Because of our tight schedule, we only had a day to explore the downtown where decaying colonial buildings from the British era mingled with bustling daily activities of the locals, and the Shwedagon Pagoda, the religious heart and biggest tourist draw of the city.  Before that, we decided to first get a taste of the Burmese culture through sampling the local cuisine.  We weren’t particularly hungry, but would want to try out a well known noodle shop: 999 Shan Noodle House.  It was a half-hour walk to the noodle shop.  What’s better to get a quick Yangon impression than wandering its lively streets?

DSC_2547Venturing out of the Loft Hotel, we headed east towards the north-south thoroughfare Alan Pya Pagoda Street.  Local shops lined along one side of the street, while the opposite side was dominated by the large Park Royal Hotel.

DSC_2552One of the first building we encountered on Alan Pya Pagoda Street was Thamada (President) Cinema and Hotel.  Opened its door in 1958, Thamada was Rangoon’s most prominent cinema with a fully air-conditioned hall and a great example of the cuty’s Modernist architecture.

DSC_2555A number of snack vending carts were stationed in front of Thamada Cinema.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther than skewers or salad, fruit is also common snacks in Yangon.

DSC_2559Renovated a few years ago, Thamada Cinema remains as a popular cinema in the present, drawing sell out shows from time to time.

DSC_2564Further down the road we reached the intersection of Sakura Tower.  Built in 1999, Sakura is a 20 storey building built by Japanese investors and architects.  It offers office spaces up to international standards, with a restaurant at the top floor.  While the top floors struggled to find tenants in the first several years, Sakura is now totally full as Myanmar opens up in recent years.

DSC_2569Next to Sakura Tower, the 1910 Bible Society of Myanmar (British and Foreign Bible Society) was the heart of Christian evangelical society in the early 20th century.  In the 1960s, the foreign missionaries were expelled from the country, and was restructured in 1964 under national organization.

DSC_2572The strip of Bogyoke Road at Sakura Tower was known as Rangoon’s “Cinema Row” in the past, a designated entertainment district.  The Nay Pyi Taw Theatre with its iconic patterned facade was built in 1961.  Movie was and still remains big in Yangon (formerly Rangoon).  The modernist patterned facade was popular back in late 1950s and early 1960s in Southeast Asia.

DSC_2577Further down we reached a busy intersection of Sule Road and Anawratha Road where a network of pedestrian overpass allowed us to gain a raised overview of this part of Downtown Yangon.

DSC_2578The overpass was occupied with vendors.  Pedestrians loved to stop by the railing for a look at the changing surrounding skyline.  Looking north, the top of Sakura Tower perched over the tree crown in the middle, and the Sule Shangri-La (Trader Hotel) dominates the the left side with its 500 rooms.  Built by Japanese and Singaporean architects, the hotel never really fulfilled its tourist potentials due to the West’s boycott on the junta government.  Rooms were sold at discounted prices. interestingly, it did attract a number of NGOs and UN agencies to set ups their offices here, and so as foreign journalists and some tourists.

DSC_2583At the southwest corner of the pedestrian overpass, a new 20 storey office building was under construction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFurther south we could see one of the city’s most important monument, the Sule Pagoda.  It is known to be one of the oldest monument site in Yangon, some said around 2600 years old.  Sule Pagoda has been and still is considered to be the heart of Downtown Yangon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter a moment above the streets, it was time for us to return to the busy street scenes.

DSC_2599.JPGAs we approached 999 Shan Noodle House, we began to explore the network of small side streets behind Yangon City Hall.

DSC_2605.JPGAll side streets were flanked by buildings dated back to British Rangoon.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt took us several minutes to reach the right side street of the noodle house.  It was fortunate that we had portable wifi device and mobile phone which we could get on Google Map.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFood vendors could be seen on many of these side streets.  Groups of children monks were also a common sight.

DSC_2612After a little over half an hour of walk, we finally reached our destination – 999 Shan Noodle House.  999 is a famous restaurant in Yangon specialized in dishes from the Shan and Kachin States at Northern Myanmar.  These states border with Yunnan Province of China, which is also popular with rice noodle dishes.

DSC_2618The pig knuckle noodle soup was tasty, and the pork texture was just right.

DSC_2619Stir fry rice noodle with local spices was also a popular dish at 999 Shan Noodle House.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter lunch, we continued to walk down the side street towards Yangon City Hall.

DSC_2626At the end of the street we again passed by a food vendor.  They seemed to be everywhere in Downtown Yangon, especially at the end of side streets.

* * *

Blog posts on Myanmar 2017:

Day 1: Yangon, Myanmar
DAY 1: INTRODUCTION OF A SHORT BURMESE CHRISTMAS VACATION
DAY 1: WALK TO 999 SHAN NOODLE HOUSE
DAY 1: SULE PAGODA
DAY 1: COLONIAL ARCHITECTURE
DAY 1: BUSTLING STREET LIFE
DAY 1: GOLDEN WORLD OF SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A PLACE FOR PEOPLE, Shwedagon Pagoda
DAY 1: EVENING MAGIC OF THE GOLDEN SHWEDAGON PAGODA
DAY 1: A FESTIVE NIGHT
Day 2: Bagan
DAY 2: SHWEZIGON PAGODA, Nyaung-U
DAY 2: HTILOMINLO AND UPALI THEIN
DAY 2: ANANDA PAHTO
DAY 2: SUNSET AT OLD BAGAN
DAY 2: SILENT NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 3: Bagan
DAY 3: MAGICAL SUNRISE, Old Bagan
DAY 3: NYAUNG-U MARKET, Nyaung-U
DAY 3: SULAMANI TEMPLE
DAY 3: DHAMMAYANGYI TEMPLE
DAY 3: THATBYINNYU TEMPLE
DAY 3: NAPAYA, MANUHA AND GUBYAUKGYI, Myinkaba
DAY 3: SUNSET No. 2, Old Bagan
DAY 3: FINAL NIGHT IN NYAUNG-U
Day 4: Farewell Myanmar
DAY 4: FAREWELL BAGAN FAREWELL MYANMAR