ultramarinus – beyond the sea

Posts tagged “culture

LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India

Another journey begins…

Bounded by Himalayas to the south and Karakorum/ Kunlun Mountains to the north, for 900 years Ladakh had been an independent kingdom deeply rooted with influences from neighboring Tibet.  On one hand, the jagged, mountainous Ladakh was a profound Tibetan Buddhist society where lamaseries flourished in almost every corner.  On the other hand, centuries of being a trading outpost along the Silk Road between Tibet, Xinjiang and Central Asia opened Ladakh to other Asian influences especially the Islamic culture.  It is the charm of such a unique melting pot of traditions and cultures of Central Asian highlands that led us to make a short trip to this high-altitude desert in Jammu and Kashmir State of Northern India.  Ladakh’s breathtaking scenery of arid moonscapes, snow-capped mountains and picture perfect blue sky was just another reason why we were so keen to reach this magical “Land of High Passes”, a remote snow county in India where thick snow and -40 temperature virtually close off the region for many months of a year.  After years of dreaming to visit India, we finally made up our mind to take Ladakh as our first taste of the Indian Subcontinent.  It was late June when much of India was baked in Pre-Monsoon heat of 40+ degrees, except high up in the Himalayas where even forces of the mighty South Asian Monsoon cannot reach.  For six full days, we stationed at Leh, the ancient capital of the Ladakh Kingdom, and explored the landscapes and nearby lamaseries in the Indus Valley.

mapLocation of Ladakh in Northern India.

6_DSC_3575Like many travelers, we took the ancient city of Leh as the base to explore the nearby villages and monasteries of Ladakh.

5_DSC_4771_01Throughout Ladakh, we saw how the traditional local culture cope with the modern age.

3_DSC_4484Outside Leh, Tibetan lamaseries rise above the Indus River Valley against the dramatic backdrop of Ladakh’s arid mountains.

4_DSC_3936_01Inside each lamasery, Tibetan Buddhist monks continue their century-old traditions to pursue for a simple way of life and spiritual enlightenment.

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Other posts on 2016 Ladkadh & Delhi:
Introduction – LADAKH – The Land of High Passes, India
Day 1.1 – ENROUTE TO LEH, Ladakh
Day 1.2 – WALK TO MAIN BAZAAR, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.3 – LEH PALACE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 1.4 – HOTEL LADAKH GREENS, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.1 – NAMGYAL TSEMO GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.2 – LALA’S CAFE AND TIBETAN CUISINE, Leh, Ladakh
Day 2.3 – SPITUK GOMPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 3.1 – MONASTERIES OF THE INDUS VALLEY DAY ONE, Ladakh (with map)
Day 3.2 – THIKSEY GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.3 – CHEMREY & TAKTHOK GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.4 – HEMIS & STAKNA GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 3.5 – MATHO GOMPA & SHEY PALACE, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.1 – ON THE ROAD WEST OF LEH, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.2 – LAMAYURU GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.3 – ALCHI & LIKIR GOMPA, Indus Valley, Ladakh
Day 4.4 – FORT ROAD IN THE EVENING, Leh, Ladakh
Day 5.1 – SHORT HIKE NEAR PHYANG, Ladakh
Day 5.2 – PHYANG VILLAGE, Ladakh
Day 5.3 – NOMADIC WOOLLEN MILLS & BON APPETIT, Leh, Ladakh
Day 6.1 – ZINGCHEN GORGE, Ladakh
Day 6.2 – SHANTI STUPA, Leh, Ladakh
Day 7.1 – LEH AIRPORT TO RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.2 – RED FORT, Delhi
Day 7.3 – JAMA MASJID, Delhi
Day 7.4 – FAREWELL OLD DELHI, Delhi
Day 7.5 – UNITED COFFEE HOUSE, New Delhi

 

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1933 SHANGHAI (老場坊) , Shanghai, China

Located in Hongkou District, Shanghai 1933 was our next destination of the day.  After seeing photographs of this magnificent building on the Internet, I longed to visit Shanghai 1933 since months before our trip.  Built in the year 1933, Shanghai 1933 was purposely designed as a livestock slaughterhouse for the city.  It was designed by British architects, and some of the cement material was also imported from England. Throughout the years, the prewar slaughterhouse had been converted to host other functions.  A few years ago this unique building went through a major restoration and has once again gone through another identity transformation.  This time, it has become a hub of shops, restaurants, event spaces and studios for creative industries, a cool new representative of Shanghai’s creative and commercial scene.

The five-storey concrete building is remarkable both aesthetically and functionally.  The complex is comprised of a circular tower at the centre, and a rectangular ring of chambers around it, with open atrium spaces between the two components.  Narrow footbridges and concrete braces connect the two main components, while ramps and stairs link the levels.  Visually, the complex seems like a concrete labyrinth as if a modern realization of Piranesi’s imaginary prison.  Functionally, the former slaughterhouse is an excellent example of the former meat processing system when cattle was brought into the feeding halls at the outer ring and gradually proceeded upwards via the concrete ramps until reaching the high levels.  Then the animals would cross the narrow footbridges into the central circular tower and advanced through the slaughtering process.

After getting off the taxi, we were immediately attracted by the rich architectural articulations on the building facade and columns.  Reminding us of this highly globalized era, we could see the signage of Starbucks before we even entered the building.  Once inside, we wandered around the atrium spaces to take photographs and gradually worked upwards via its ramp network.  We didn’t pay much attention to the shops.  After strolling for a while,  we sat down at a Sichuan noodle shop and had a late lunch.  After the delicious meal, we wandered for another bit, enjoying ourselves with photographing the unique architectural spaces and also other visitors who came to Shanghai 1933 posing for all sorts of photo shoots.

DSC_1037Signage of 1933 Shanghai at the main entrance.

DSC_1045Interesting architectural articulations are visible everywhere, including the columns at the entrance arcade.

DSC_1059Footbridges at different levels of the complex greatly contribute to the labyrinth feel of the experience.

DSC_1062Visitors walked in the ring of atrium space between the circular tower and the rectangular outer chambers (shops).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWalking up the ramp overlooking a series of narrow stairs (probably for working staff back in the old days).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAEven the concrete balustrade was created with a sense of organic fluidity.

DSC_1119The round edges of the architecture reminded us of the former streamline slaughtering process.

DSC_1108A narrow bridge linking the circular tower and the outer wing.

DSC_1127A group of children in vivid colours stood out from the monotonous concrete environment.

DSC_1144Watching people enjoying different corners at Shanghai 1933 was delightful.

DSC_1153Watching people enjoying different corners at Shanghai 1933 was delightful.

DSC_1160Some came for their wedding photos.

DSC_1206A few visitors seemed to be models for fashion photography.

DSC_1220Others were simply groups of young people looking for an interesting selfie spot.

DSC_1199We could see either someone was being photographed or someone taking photos of another person almost anywhere at Shanghai 1933.

DSC_1227Looking down from the highest level.

123It was empty inside the circular core tower except some artwork display when we were there.

DSC_1262Footbridges and visitors both provided the most interesting components in any scene of the complex.

DSC_1259Concrete patchworks are visible throughout the complex.

DSC_1270Looking out the main entrance as we exited the complex.

DSC_1282The main facade of Shanghai 1933 as viewed from the canal of Shajing Port.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOther interesting former industrial buildings in the area.

DSC_1290Leaving Shanghai 1933 behind, we found our way to the nearest metro station.

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Read other posts on Shanghai 2016:
0.0 SHANGHAI, 2016
1.0 SUZHOU MUSEUM, Suzhou, China
2.0 HUMBLE ADMINISTRATOR’S GARDEN, Suzhou, China
3.0 LION GROVE GARDEN, Suzhou, China
4.0 SOUP DUMPLINGS AND MORNING STROLL, Shanghai, China
5.0 ROCKBUND, Shanghai, China
6.0 M50, Shanghai, China
7.0 1933 SHANGHAI (老場坊) , Shanghai, China
8.0 POLY GRAND THEATRE (上海保利大劇院), Shanghai, China
9.0 FORMER FRENCH CONCESSION, Shanghai, China
10.0 POWER STATION OF ART, Shanghai, China
11.0 LONG MUSEUM (龍美術館), West Bund, Shanghai, China
12.0 THE BUND (外灘) AT NIGHT, Shanghai, China
13.0 TIANZIFANG (田子坊), Shanghai, China
14.0 CHINESE HAND PRINTED BLUE NANKEEN GALLERY (藍印花布博物館), Shanghai, China
15.0 LUJIAZUI (陸家嘴) OF PUDONG (浦東), Shanghai, China


POON CHOI – A Brief Visit of Ping Shan in Yuen Long, Hong Kong

An unexpected opportunity came up.  I found myself tagging along my cousin to participate in a traditional poon choi dinner at the Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan, a rural area between the new towns of Yuen Long and Tin Shui Wai.  Poon choi is a traditional dish originated from the villages of the New Territories.  It was believed that poon choi was invented in late Song Dynasty (late 13th century) when villages in the New Territories gathered their best dishes available together in large wooden washbasins to serve the exile Song emperor and his army.  Today, poon choi is often served in large stainless steel or ceramic bowls for everyone to share around the table.  The food served in poon choi varies, but usually it is a combination of seafood and meat.  Throughout the centuries, poon choi has become a signature dish for communal gatherings and celebrations in many parts of the New Territories.

Despite largely renovated in recent years, the original Tang Ancestral Hall in Ping Shan was built over 700 years ago by the Tang Clan.  Today it is still used regularly by the Tang Clan in Ping Shan for rituals and gatherings.  In 1993, the government established the Ping Shan Heritage Trail to promote tourism in the area.  The trail connects a number of historical sights and an interpretation centre housed in the former Ping Shan Police Station.  The Tang Ancestral Hall is one of the star attractions along the trail.  With an entry courtyard, a central hall for reception, and an inner hall to house the ancestral alter, the Tang Ancestral Hall is a typical example of a traditional ancestral hall, which in ancient times functioned as the social nucleus of a clan village.

Before dinner, we had a chance to stroll around the area.  We walked by Tsui Sing Lau, Hong Kong’s only historical pagoda dating back to 600 years ago, an old well that once served the villagers for over two centuries, and the entrance to Sheung Cheung Wai, a walled village constructed more than 200 years ago.  Despite drastically transformed from the heydays, clan villages and walled communities are still common in rural areas of the New Territories.  Many walled villages, like Sheung Cheung Wai in Ping Shan, were once heavily fortified with high walls and deep moats for self-defense against pirates.  Moats were filled and cannons removed, but many wall enclosures survived to the present day.
ImageWith its 700-year history, the Tang Ancestral Hall is the star attraction of Ping Shan.
ImageDining tables were set up at the semi-open central hall of the Tang Ancestral Hall.
ImageWarmed with a portable gas stove throughout the dinner, the poon choi was the centre piece on the dining table.  The wine-marinated chicken and duck soup on the side were equally impressive.
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The Tang Ancestral Hall has been undergoing major renovations in recent years.  Scaffolding has been set up at the inner hall where the ancestral altar is located.
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Many farmlands in Ping Shan and its surroundings have been converted into parking lots and new housing estates, including the new town of Tin Shui Wai.  The land where Tin Shui Wai occupies was mainly marshland a century ago.  Villagers then converted the marshes into rice paddies and fish ponds.  As the economy changed, most rice paddies and fish ponds were abandoned and the government finally stepped in to transform the land into the new town of Tin Shui Wai in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
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ImageThe Tsui Sing Lau pagoda originally contained 7 storeys.  It was used for the worship of the star constellations for academic achievement.
ImageThe 200-year old well
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Sheung Cheung Wai remains as a example of the traditional walled villages in the New Territories.


BUN FESTIVAL – Cheung Chau’s Reinvented Festival, Hong Kong – Part 2 of 2

The Buddha’s Birthday on the 6th of May was a public holiday in Hong Kong.  It also marked the final day of the 2014 Cheung Chau Bun Festival.  On this day, the festival highlights included the Parade of “Floating Colours” in the afternoon, followed by the ghost rituals in the evening, and the bun-snatching race at midnight.  I arrived at Cheung Chau at around 6:30pm.  The first thing I saw was the enormous crowd lining up at the pier, who were waiting for the city-bound ferry after watching the afternoon parade.  That evening I stayed on the island for about 6 hours, in which 4.5 hours were spent in queue for the bun-snatching race that lasted for only 3 minutes.  Luckily, before I was trapped in the queue, I did stumble upon the interesting ghost rituals at the waterfront.

The bun-snatching race has always been considered the climax of the Bun Festival.   Originally the race was restricted to the communities of Cheung Chau.  Over a hundred participants would race up one of the three bun mounts to snatch as many buns as they could from as high up as possible.  Each bun they gathered represented good fortune; the higher they reached to the top, the better the fortune gained for the community.  In 1978, a bun mount collapsed during the race and injured many.  The event was consequently banned until a much-modified version reemerged in 2005.

Before the bun-snatching race was reintroduced in 2005, a popular HK-produced animated film in 2001, My Life as McDull,  uses the bun-snatching race as one of the central themes to reflect on HK’s collective memories and spirit.  My Life as McDull  depicts the pure and simple life of a piglet character named McDull in Hong Kong.  In the film, McDull constantly fails to achieve his goals but he never gives up trying and dreaming.  Inspired by Olympic gold medalist Lee Lai Shan, one of McDull’s dream is to participate in the Olympics, and his chosen sport is the bun-snatching race.  The story portrays how McDull trains hard to master bun-snatching techniques, and also illustrates how his mother writes to the IOC with her limited English asking them to consider bun-snatching as an official sport.  Many considered the popularity of McDull as the main driving force behind the government’s decision to revive the bun-snatching race after a 26-year ban.

Unlike the community-based event prior to 1978, the reintroduced bun-snatching race since 2005 has been a government-run event aimed for tourism.  From the first glance, the new event resembles a rock-climbing competition contested by well-trained climbers, many of which are actually police or firefighter from other parts of the city.  The original three bun mounts have been reduced to one, and the number of participants has been cut down to a dozen.   Steel replaces bamboo for the mount structure, and plastic buns substitute the traditional fresh home-made buns.  To many, the biggest drawback of the reinvented event is the fact that the race is no longer a community event of Cheung Chau, but a commercialized tourist spectacle emphasized on showmanship, sponsorship and order.  No wonder the biggest criticism has come from nowhere else but Cheung Chau, where many saw the new race a poor appropriation and a pillage of their own heritage.

ImageLion dance went from one shop to another to chase off evil spirit and welcome good fortune.ImageLong lineups at the ferry pier waiting for the city-bound ferry services.ImageWorshipers at the waterfront performed rituals dedicated to the ghosts.ImageImageImageImageLanterns, incenses and snacks dedicated to the lost spirits were neatly placed at the waterfront.ImageImageImageThe three traditional bamboo-supported bun mounts were erected for display only.ImageThe steel-supported bun mount at the centre stage was equipped with climbing ropes and safety mats.ImageThe bun snatching race was at the mercy of the unpredictable weather.ImageDespite the long wait and great anticipation, the actual race lasted for only three minutes. It was like a performance on stage which lacked the spirit of the actual community.
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BUN FESTIVAL – Cheung Chau’s Reinvented Festival, Hong Kong – Part 1 of 2

Held every year in the fourth month of the lunar calendar, Cheung Chau’s Bun Festival, or “Tai Ping Ching Chiu” in Cantonese, is comprised of a series of Chinese religious rituals, a massive street parade, and a bun-snatching race.  I never got a chance to experience the Bun Festival in person; but the old photographs of the bun-snatching race, in which dozens of strong men climbing madly up to the top of a multi-storey high bun mount collecting the white buns, have captured my attention since I was a child.  Unfortunately, due to an accident in 1978 the race was banned before I was even born.  In 2005, the government reintroduced a new bun-snatching event known as the Bun-Snatching Carnival, and has since then promoting it as the regional cultural event in Hong Kong.

Dated back to the 18th century, the Bun Festival is a religious event dedicated to the Taoist deity of Pak Tai, whose power was credited for stopping a devastating plague and chasing off evil spirits.  Every year the forecourt of Cheung Chau’s Pak Tai Temple is transformed into the main festival ground, where gigantic bun mounts are displayed, a temporary stage for Chinese opera is set up, and a bamboo shelter is erected to house three huge papier mâché deities.  On the weekend before this year’s bun-snatching festival, Cheung Chau was already packed with visitors who came to check out the preparation of the festival, the bun mounts, lion dances, Chinese opera performances and other religious rituals that officially kick-start the festival.

ImageReligious crafts donated by local families were displayed in front of the Bai Tak Temple.

ImageTraditional lucky wheels, the  popular merchandises at the festival ground.ImageCommunity groups were busy setting up the bun mount displays.ImageThere were many actions around and a group of men unexpectedly running towards my direction from nowhere with the huge papier mache deities which were being relocated into a bamboo shelter at the festival ground.

ImageThe temporary stage for Chinese Opera would become a focal point after sunset.ImageDonor recognition wall at the back of the temporary stage for Chinese opera, with each name and donation amount handwritten on bright orange papersImageAfter sunset, the lights at the festival ground unveiled a romantic ambiance.  The three huge bun mounts looked even more impressive with the floodlights.

ImageThe three papier mache deities were displayed at a temporary shrine.ImageA woman came to check out the donor list.  ImageThere were a few spots for deities worship within the festival ground.ImageThe forecourt of Pak Tai Temple and the adjacent basketball courts were transformed into the main festival ground for the Bun FestivalImageBoth the huge and small bun-mounts were made with real Chinese buns.ImageThere is always lion dance performance for large Chinese celebration. ImageImage


CHEUNG CHAU – An Urban Retreat, Hong Kong

Just 45 minutes of ferry from the Central Ferry Piers, the Island of Cheung Chau is one of the last fishing communities in Hong Kong.  As a grown up who has come to terms with the ever-changing cityscape of Hong Kong, visiting the island’s narrow laneways, fishermen marinas, historical temples, crumbling buildings, shabby souvenir shops, and cluttered seafood eateries is like wandering in an atmospheric film set of Hong Kong decades back in time.  Cheung Chau has always been a highly popular weekend getaway destination among families with kids, teenage groups, young couples, and amateur photographers.

Cheung Chau was one of the earliest inhabited spots in the territory of Hong Kong.  Spending most of their lives on boats, the early settlers originated from various fishing communities in Southern China.  Living off the sea is no longer the case, but the people of Cheung Chau nowadays still maintain a unique seafolk culture.  Perhaps it is no surprise that the island was the birthplace and training ground of Lee Lai Shan, the first Olympic gold medalist of Hong Kong who made history by competing in the sea for windsurfing.  A little further back in history, Cheung Chau was also the legendary “treasure island” of pirate Cheung Po Tsai, who roamed the waters of South China Sea with his 50,000 strong followers in the early 19th century.  Each year around early May, the people in Cheung Chau is busy preparing for its annual cultural celebration – the Bun Festival.

 

ImageLife remains casual with a sense of community on the island.  It’s common to see public space being taken over by private use. In this case, seafood eateries have their table clothes hanging on the concrete balustrade for drying under the sun.ImagePeople visit Cheung Chau for various reasons with noon would argue the sense of tranquility in a low dense streetscape on the island  is a rarity in Hong Kong.ImageThe shabby looking guesthouses along the beaches don’t seem very inviting. ImageBuildings such as this abandoned cinema are in crumbling conditions but preserve a sense of history.ImageThere are a number of century old temples on the island where tourists rub shoulders with local worshipers.ImageTraditional street stall selling assorted groceries is still a common sight on the island.

ImageThe fishballs from Kam Wing Tai are popular local specialties made on the island.ImageDry seafood of various kinds can be found everywhere on the island. ImageImageImageNo visitors would leave the island without feasting at one of the local seafood eateries along the waterfront.ImageThe islanders are getting ready for the upcoming multi-day celebrations of the Bun Festival.Image

 


JCCAC – Factory-Turned Art Centre, Hong Kong

Throughout much of the 20th century, Hong Kong has undergone massive economic development and urban transformation, from a small trading port before WWII to one of the most successful industrial capitals in Asia in 1970s.   From 1980s on, most of the city’s manufacturing industries have moved to either China or elsewhere in Asia. Today, large numbers of industrial buildings that once housed almost half of Hong Kong’s work force have been given a “second life” and converted into various spaces for light manufacturing, creative industries, storage facilities, or small offices for all kinds of businesses.  JCCAC in Shek Kip Mei is a recent example of adaptive reuse of former industrial building in Kowloon, Hong Kong.

Opened in 2008, Jockey Club Creative Arts Centre (JCCAC) is a “multi-disciplinary arts village and art centre”, providing affordable studios and exhibition facilities for the art and design community.  The centre welcomes the public to visit the shops, studios and café within the complex 7 days a week.  From time to time, JCCAC would host shows and design fairs to further engage the public and the immediate neighborhood.

I visited JCCAC during its annual handicraft fair. Much of the ground floor atrium was turned into a market fair, while many studios on the upper floors had their handicraft shops open to the public.  The open roof was animated by various activities.  At one corner, a patio was packed with stalls selling vintage clothing, housewares and books.  At the other corner people were lining up for henna art.  On the wall adjacent to the main stair was a photo exhibition with the theme on local community.   A local band brought in live music to create an upbeat atmosphere.  Looking out from the roof parapet, layers upon layers of apartment blocks seemed never ending.   Recent effort by the housing department to upgrade or redevelop the old housing estates in Kowloon was clearly visible from the vivid new paint colours on the apartment facades, planters with local flora, and new green roof design.

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