We may have been visiting a few too many temples recently. JD got up the other day and built his own altar before Jiajia and I had even woken up. So far his prayers have focused on Mummy turning into a fairy, and all of us returning to the water slide at Phuket!
I read about XuNing Temple online last week and realised it's not so far from my University. So yesterday I drove up the hill slowly on my e-bike for a look-see. It's a large complex with great views over Kunming. Plus, there was no more than half a dozen people there and it's ticket-free. I hope to take JD there at the weekend as I'm sure he'll enjoy the huge dragons.
We're back in Bangkok. Ava has been keen to visit the Erawan Shrine; not the largest temple in Bangkok but the most famous. She said she wanted to pray to the Buddha there (depite me pointing out that it was actually a statue of Brahma, a Hindu god!). Beside the shrine are a groups of musicians and dancers who will perform for a fee as you pray. It was fun to watch them, but they must get so bored!
I'd read that the Erawan shrine was the target of a bombing last year, killing 27 people so, when I saw an unattended backpack on a bench, I thought it wise to alert one of the guards. He rather sheepishly explained it was his bag and quickly moved it out of sight. Better safe than sorry!
JD and I visited YuanTong Temple today. It was buzzing with activity as tomorrow is Ghost Festival in China - a bit like Halloween in the West. Ava has already bought various fake banknotes and paper items to burn in memory of her grandmother. I was intrigued to see that the money is issued by the "Hell Bank"! With the recent worldwide financial crises you might feel they need to be more specific...
Ava, JD and I spent a lovely morning at the Golden Temple yesterday along with my friends/colleagues Cindy and Martin, their daughter Liv, and two of their Chinese friends. Liv and JD love each other's company and it's a shame that Cindy and Martin are heading back to Australia in a few weeks. We've really appreciated their support and friendship.
When I pointed out how long JD's hair was getting the other day and offered to give him a quick buzz with our shaver, I was told he just needed a trim. So I snipped off a few of the longer bits myself and left it at that. But when I returned home yesterday, I found he'd been taken to a hairdresser by our Nanny to be given a crew cut. Drastic, or what? If I didn't know it would grow back pretty quickly, I might have got slightly annoyed.
My fears were heightened however, when my wife whisked him off today to the Bamboo Temple to meet the monks. Was the haircut a means to enrol him in the holy order? Thankfully, a quick blessing and some sightseeing photos later, they returned home.
Does the scene above look a bit nativity-like to you? I spotted it in the Chen Clan Temple in Guangzhou yesterday. It's a Buddhist Temple, but famous for its western influences and quite unlike any other Chinese temple I've seen. It's "only" 120 years old but the ornate and coloured decorations have survived really well and the courtyard is full of ancient and more modern artwork. Jiajia and I visited it during a free half-day we had here in Guangzhou following our visa application visit.
We are staying with a lovely couple whose empty flat in Shenzhen Ava uses when she is buying stock there every month. It helps (me) that they both speak great English, so I can converse easily with them. Yesterday evening, they took us on a walk from their flat to an amazing pedestrianised area on the banks of the Pearl River. The surrounding skyscrapers were beautifully lit. The central one below is the "Four Seasons Hotel" and, pretending to be guests, we took the elevator 70 floors up for a free look-see. A very memorable evening.
Dave and Esme have had surprisingly little jet lag and have been keen to get out and about during their first full day in Kunming before heading on to other cities, towns and villages. They started today with a visit to the house to meet JD, ma-in-law and our Nanny. JD quickly forged quite a bond with Esme and was very happy to be held and played with for as long as she had the patience. Then off to Green Lake Park to see impromptu dancing and singing, followed by the more tranquil, YuanTong Temple [shown here, with umpteen turtles]. It's Kunming's largest and most active temple and we enjoyed exploring the various sections. We were also lucky enough to stumble across 25-30 local ladies (and a few men) chanting and hitting various bells and drums as part of one of their services.
Jiajia and I took JD out for an outing this afternoon. We had seen a small road leading up a mountain about 15 mins drive from our house and had been told it led to a forest/park. The road got smaller and smaller until we hit a locked car barrier. We thought about getting out the baby stroller, but then spotted 100 steps leading further up the mountain. So we took turns to carry JD and trudged on up, stopping off at various small pagodas to catch our breath. We seemed to be the only people there - maybe it wasn't public after all?
At the top, we stumbled on the half-finished "LianHua Temple", due to be finished by the end of the year [see artist's impression above]. The people overseeing the work there were very friendly. They opened up an office to let us have a rest and started plying JD with apples! JD, meanwhile, was much more interested in the attention of two puppies who enjoyed chasing him round the courtyard.
It was the first half-finished temple I'd visited and the basic statues, in particular, were fascinating - bizarrely unfinished as they were [see below]. We plan to revisit early next year to see it in its finished form.
JD is saying half-a-dozen words now although, unfortunately, half of them are "baba". Baba can mean "daddy", "baby", "bird", "bye-bye" etc.
Yesterday I drove JD, Ava and our nanny out to Guandu, a restored "Old Town" on Kunming's outskirts. It's particularly famous for its bean-filled flatbreads called, somewhat frustratingly, "baba". And so it was that JD's baba gave his baba some baba...
It was a National Holiday, so Guandu was full of families enjoying the sunshine. As ever, JD stands out quite a lot and enjoyed some nice little interactions with Chinese babies and curious adults.Inside one temple he became quite taken with a handmade leaf-hat one girl was wearing. Once she stopped giggling, she gently "crowned" JD with her laurel headdress, which immediately slipped down onto his shoulders. JD's consequent laughter caused a few heads to turn and made the girl's day, I think. Baba!
Yesterday was Valentines Day. Ava bought me 5 new goldfish (to replace George, Margaret and Gemma who, frankly, didn't last very long!). I bought her some cacti and a cheesecake!?
It was also Lantern Festival yesterday, which marks the end of Spring Festival, and one of the many traditions associated with it is to visit a Buddhist temple and eat vegetarian food. A friend of Ava's friends offered to show us a new temple we'd not seen before, tucked away amongst a housing estate.There can't be many temples in or around Kunming that I haven't visited before, so I grabbed the chance to explore a new one. It was small and a fairly modern build I think, but the people who had gathered there to celebrate were very friendly and we had a nice meal and an interesting look round. There were no monks, as such, but it seems to be run very efficiently by a band of local elderly women. It reminded me of a community gathering in a church hall at times.
The nanny and I took JD for a walk yesterday, heading for a temple I'd seen some time ago on the hill behind my house. It's probably less than a kilometre away as the crow flies, but getting there requires a good half hour walk along the road around the hill. Ma-in-law had told me not to bother going, as it was closed today but, as we approached, we smelled incense billowing over the walls and heard the sound of a Buddhist band singing, chanting and crashing cymbals. Then I saw an embarassed nanny:
"We can't let JD go in", she said.
"Why not?" I replied.
"Because your mother-in-law thinks it's bad luck".
"But it's not bad luck. In Chinese tradition, it's good luck. And she's not here anyway. Let's go".
"Yes, I know, but she said I was to stop you."
"I'm not sure, but please leave JD outside or I'll get into trouble"
"But she won't even know"
"...she'll know. She'll find out ...please!!"
So as usual I swallowed my pride and let Ma have her way (even though she wasn't even there!) and had a look-see by myself. It was a small, but reassuringly unrestored and unprettified, temple with a group of surprisingly active and friendly participants. I intend to go back there again properly sometime soon (despite Ma's best efforts to thwart my curiousity) and investigate it in a less rushed way.
Can you see the hidden word in my photos from another temple below:
I had a day off recently and headed to the North Train Station. It only has 3-4 trains a day, serving the suburbs, but I'd been told it was quite fun watching the city traffic come to a standstill as your train passes through the railway crossing, and then seeing city gradually turn to countryside, all for a 2RMB (20p) ticket. In any case, the journey only lasts 40mins and, after shunting the engine round for 20mins, heads back. However, on arrival I found my chosen train had been cancelled and the next one was due 3 hours later.
So instead, I pulled out my map and decided to walk for an hour to TanHua Park. I'd spotted it on the map before, but never made it. The 5RMB (50p) entrance fee was a bargain - a surprisingly nice find. Old folk were sitting in the many nooks and crannies, playing cards or mahjong [see photo above], but otherwise the park was quiet and pleasantly uncrowded. At the top of the hill was an impressive pagoda tower, sadly locked [see photo right]. The grounds were well kept, though the rusting funfair rides had seen better days! Another hour's walk and I returned home trainless, tired but tanned.
Earlier this week I had dinner at the house of a Chinese teacher from my school and was fascinated by their large aquarium - home to fish big and small. Unlike many such tanks in China, it also had a nice selection of real plants, so the fish looked like they were in a more natural setting. It reminded me of my recent snorkelling in the Philippines.
But yesterday Ava and I visited a friend's house for dinner and discovered a much more unusual pet. A baby owl! It was very tame and apparently likes to fly around their large flat. But with the wife due to have a baby in a month, I sincerely hope the bird doesn't grow too much bigger or hungrier.
The other big surprise in their flat was a whole room devoted to Buddhism. The husband is a keen devotee and it felt like walking into a mini-temple with incense burning and recorded chanting in the background. Luckily, the evening meal did include some "meat for the visitors"!
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