Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Pink Crocs, a Matchbox Car, and a Monk's Bowl

As I was walking up the stairs of the Zhiyun Monastery, this little monk was also making his way to the temple. In one hand, he carried his bowl; in the other, a toy matchbox car.  
Nearing the top, he paused momentarily to spin the wheels on his car. How much time, I wondered, did he and the other young monks receive to play? What kinds of chores and responsibilities did this young boy have? When did he last see his family, and how long would he be at the monastery? 
What is his story?

The moment of playfulness quickly evaporated and the little boy with the crocs quickly proceeded up the stairs and into the shadows of the buildings.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Zhiyun Monastery - A Grand View

Although the intricate details of the Zhiyun Monastery captured my attention, I was also drawn to the grand view that presented itself at different points while walking up its different levels. I particularly loved this view,  an incredible combination of red/golden doors with the distant Lashi Lake landscape. A great blend of artistry by God and by man.

A similar view to the photo above, minus the frame of the door. Here we can see more of the mountains near Lashi Lake.
The saturated yellow of the monastery, alsong with some prayer flags

A symmetrical composition of the monastery living quarters, with the mountains and wide-open skies beyond the flags.

The temple buildings in the upper section of the monastery. Some areas were under repair, due to recent roof leaking.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Rainbows of Zhiyun Monastery

Temples are a feast for the eye. I feel like an explorer, discovering all the incredible details contained within them. A feast for the eye. Not constrained by the limits of the number of film exposures, time was my challenger. 
Despite suffering destruction during the Cultural Revolution (only 6 buildings of the original 13 are still around), there still was plenty to see. 

The monastery had several of these intricate door handles and rainbow braids. The creatures on them looked sort of like dragons, but their snouts were more like the trunk of an elephant.

In addition to rainbows and bronze, red dominated the hues of the walls. This website says that the color red in Tibetan Buddhism is associated with life force and preservation. The rainbow connotes the highest state prior to achieving nirvana.  

I'm so grateful for having the opportunity to visit such incredible places. So different from the little dairy farm on which I was raised. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

A Bit of the Naxi and Tibetan Elements

Upon entering the Zhiyun Temple, I felt transported back to Dharamsala, the Indian enclave for Tibetan refugees. Prayer wheels of varying sizes where rotated by devotees who looked more Tibetan than Chinese. Rainbow colors adorned the walls.

Santu, Naxi god of fighting and agriculture
 However, there were visual elements that differed from that of the Tibetan temples of Dharamsala. My guide explained that Zhiyun Temple, built in 1727, also includes elements of the Naxi, Bai, and Han people. Himself a member of the Naxi ethnic group, my guide told me that the sculpture above was Santu, the Naxi god of fighting and agriculture.

Cycle of Incarnation
This menacing looking figure displays the cycle of Incarnation. The commoners depicted in one section of the wheel wore the traditional clothing of the Bai people. The large lower section on hell-like suffering contained some rather gruesome illustrations. Full of symbolism, I did later recognize the same tiger skin displayed at the Mu Family temple in Lijiang.
Incense and smoke filled the air.

Murals filled the walls, adorned with guardians, gods, and other imagery, all depicted in curvilinear, colorful styles. I would have loved to have learned more about the imagery on the walls and elsewhere in the temple. Alas, we had to move on.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Soccer Players below the Prayer Flags

After saying good-bye to the elderly guesthouse couple in Lashi village, we traveled to Zhiyun Monastery. Typical of Tibetan monasteries, rainbow bands of prayer flags welcomed us, fluttering in the breeze. Beautiful stonework, similar to the style I saw at the guesthouse, adorned the walkway.

With around 74 young monk apprentices, the Zhiyun Monastery was not tranquil. These saffron-clad youngsters took advantage of the flat space to play some soccer.

Entrance to the Zhiyun Monastery

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Displaced Yi People in Lashi Village

Although the blue caps of the Bai people dominated the Lashi village in the Yunnan region of China, there were others who now also called the village their home. These were people of the Yi ethnic group, who became displaced due to the building of a water reservoir. 

The ladies of the Yi group wore long, colorful pleated skirts. Adorning their heads were pieces of fabric. One elderly lady looked rather dignified as she posed in front of their valuable shaded crop. 

Although I did not sense any tension between the Bai people and the Yi people who recently joined the village, I can imagine that things weren't necessarily easy. Even if some compensation was perhaps given by the government, starting over in a strange village dominated by people of other cultures must be difficult. I wish I had the time and language ability to talk to the new residents.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Residents of the Lashi Village

After another rainstorm, I went for a walk in the Lashi village. It was a very quiet, local village - no tourists to be seen. Splotches of manure and straw dotted the paved and unpaved narrow lanes. Roads meandered in different directions, making it important to make note of my route so I could get back to the guest house. No business card (or even address) to show anyone. Thankfully I have a good sense of direction.

Even in this small village, gates were a prominent feature. Some walls had painted murals, while others were on ceramic tiles. 

I saw several older people sitting near a large gate - perhaps it was the gathering place for locals, or maybe it was a place to catch local transport. I spotted several people I was interested in photographing. After a smile and gestured greeting, I pointed to my camera and asked if I could take their photo. What kind faces. I wish I would have had some language skills to talk to them.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

At the Lashi Village Guesthouse

After departing Shaxi, my next destination was a small village near Lashi lake. I was the sole guest of an older couple of the Bai ethnic group. They didn't speak any English, and I spoke no Chinese. We communicated through gestures and lots of smiles. 
After I took my stuff up to the room on the second floor, the woman motioned me to sit down at the table on the porch, past the assortment of mishmashed furniture. She already had an assortment of fruit out for me to eat as well as some dried tea leaves in a cup. Taking the large silver canister on the floor, she filled my cup with hot water. After a bit, she refilled the cup. With the bathroom in a small building across the courtyard, I made a note not to drink too much, particularly as evening came. 

The elderly Bai ethnic couple who ran the guest house
Courtyard at the house
 The woman busied herself with tending to the garden and also to the animals in the barn, located on the back side of the unfinished building across the courtyard. The barn had a water buffalo and three pigs, one of which had a number of piglets.
The already quiet village became silent at nightfall, with the exception of the crickets. With no internet access, I spent some time before bed uploading and naming photos from the trip.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Dragons Chasing Phoenixes, Shaxi

Perhaps the most iconic landmark of Shaxi is the Kuixing Tower and Theater, located on the market square on Sideng Street. Built during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), it is also one of the biggest buildings in town. Unfortunately, it was closed during my stay. Once restorations are completed, I'm sure it will be quite splendid. 
The wooden cupola below one of the theater tower's sloped roof contained a beautiful panting of a phoenix and dragon.

Colorfully painted phoenixes and dragons could also be seen protruding from the building.
It's rather unusual for a theatre to be situated directly across from a Buddhist temple. The Bai ethnic people of Shaxi (who also worked on the restoration) believe that theatrical performances would be quite enjoyable for Buddha.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

A Hairy Deal

One of the more unusual "stalls" at the Shaxi Friday market was this one, consisting of two bags of hair and a scale. Quite likely, this purchased hair would be made into wigs. I wonder how much the seller received for the hair. Would she receive a higher price for longer pieces, or did it go simply by the weight?

It made me think of the large amounts of hair that is generated at Hindu temples (most Hindus have their head shaved at least once in their lifetime and some donate it multiple times to show their piety).

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Yujin Qiao Bridge

Follow the east gate out of Shaxi, and you will encounter a bridge along the river.  This classic humpback stone bridge marks the same path that traders used on the tea-horse trail.

The shape of the bridge reminded me of the 400 yr old bridge in Mostar, Bosnia - the largest single-stone bridge in the world. Although both bridges are set amongst a picturesque scene, the Yujin bridge was very quiet  and was not a tragic victim of a civil war. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Me and My Goats

Along with the Friday Market, there also was a bit of action happening outside the gateway to Shaxi. Here, a livestock market was actively underway. Men and women were actively engaged in inspecting and haggling over cows, goats, and pigs.

Some of the pigs were not too pleased about the transaction. The large pigs protested as they were loaded up onto the trucks by their ear.  Despite the pigs' complaining, it did appear that the livestock were healthy and well cared-for.

As with the market in town, the livestock market felt very local and authentic - exactly what I wanted to see. 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Shaxi Friday Market

A woman from the Yi minority group sets up her produce
 Visiting the markets in a town is a highlight for me. Produce and goods, transported on the backs, heads, livestock, and overburdened vehicles of vendors, reveals so much about the locals. Some traverse for quite a distance over difficult terrain to sell and buy. I love looking at the costumes worn by the locals and marvel at how they present their goods, no matter how meager the amounts.
Simple scales are still used
Colorful produce, some I've never seen before, are carefully arranged. A variety of fragrances intermix, further assaulting the senses. People struggle to be heard over the noise of chatting, bargaining, animals, and vehicles. 

Woven baskets, particularly used by the Bai people, are sold.
Although the tea-horse trading between Tibet and China no longer exists, the town of Shaxi, the last remaining market town on the Tea Horse trail, becomes alive during its Friday market. People from the Bai and Yi ethnic minority groups come down from their mountain villages to trade goods. Some came on foot or motorbike; others piled out of the back of small trucks or public vans. 

Both tropical and temperate produce tempted the eyes. Buyers had an overwhelming variety of mushrooms from which to choose. Local honey, hand-made rope, and cow bells competed for space with lightbulbs, traditional and machine-made clothing. Women carried woven baskets on their backs, while others hauled slaughtered pigs in a wheelbarrow. Emanating from a small radio, "Gangnam Style" competed for attention over the exchange of commerce and gossip.
Pork, including the snout, offered by a vendor
Care for a couple of eggs or a dozen?