Daytrip to Perpignan

When you are in Catalunya, Perpignan is probably the closest French city after crossing the Pyrenees. That’s why we decided to do a daytrip to Perpignan during our stay in Barcelona. After a couple hours driving through the mountains, you arrive at a little Southern city which still has some marks of the neighboring Catalunya.

A historic provincial French town

Mitchy in front of the Castillet
The building in front of which Mitchy poses is the Castillet, now a museum of Catalan art.

The history of Perpignan is far more prestigious than one would think. In the XIIIth century, Perpignan was the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca, created by the sovereign of Aragon for one of his children. This “golden age” for Perpignan saw it reach its peak in terms of importance, with its population and geographical extension expanding fourfold.

After the black pest decimated the city around 1346 AD, the city never truly regained its past importance. It became instead the frontline of the confrontation between France and Spain on XVth century until it was annexed by France, two centuries later. In the XIXth century, the great military defensive works that protected Perpignan, erected by the French military architect Vauban, were destroyed by the municipality to allow for the expansion of the city. Only some old parts of the ramparts as well as the Castillet (featured above) serve as reminders of the past military importance of this city.

A canal in Perpignan
A canal in Perpignan

Photogenic outdoors

La Bassa in Perpignan
Mitchy posing on the banks of La Bassa, the small canal flowing through the center of Perpignan

Perpignan conserved some very photogenic outdoors, which are excellent backdrops for portraits. The city is very nicely decorated and lovely to walk through, as the historic center just spans a very small distance.

Plane tree avenue
A very atmospheric plane tree avenue in Perpignan

This plane trees avenue with its tormented branches provides a great atmospheric feeling, almost haunting. It is also a great backdrop to shoot portraits.

Mitchy in Perpignan
Mitchy before the plane tree lane in Perpignan

Shopping in Perpignan?

For a provincial city, Perpignan has some nice department stores, like Fnac (for books, or gadgets) or Galeries Lafayettes in the center, near the Castillet.

If you go there during the winter sales period, you may find some bargains to be had on clothes or housewares. Sadly, books are seldom if ever on sale. As far as gadgets are concerned, for someone living in Hong Kong, it just does not make sense to go and buy them from the FNAC.

In conclusion, if you are in Barcelona, and if you are self-driven, it might be worth taking a daytrip to Perpignan to see part of the old historic Catalan territory.

A new look for Visions Of Asia

As you may have noticed, I am slightly changing the overall look of the blog. Being a blog mainly dedicated to photography, it made sense to make photography really central to the presentation.

Photography is central

You may have noticed that the homepage is now focused around a central photo, which showcases an article on which the focus is at the moment. This is in line with the idea of really putting much more photography at the heart of this blog. Similarly, the content is now more legible due to a different background and more legible fonts.

The new look of Visions Of Asia

Recentering of contents

With constant updates on my latest barefooting adventures, the contents of the blog have become a bit too tipped off towards barefoot running and hiking, to the detriment of its other important component which travel and photography. I will try to rebalance this, especially as there are also a number of stories in the pipeline around my latest trips, which i did not have the time to post.

Of course, I will keep updating about my barefoot experience, but this blog is named “Visions Of Asia”, and it aims also at sharing this vision of Asia and of the world.

Traveling together

Finally, a blog is also a way of talking to the readers. But I am also keen on hearing from you, so please do not hesitate to get back to me with your comments or reactions. There is always a place for dialogue on this blog, and I would be glad to see readers indulge into it.

In the “Golden Prague”

Last May, I was in Prague to participate to a meeting organized by my company. I seized the occasion to have my wife and daughter fly with me to the “Golden Prague” or the “golden city” as the Czech capital is known, occasion of seeing one of the most beautiful cities in Central Europe.

Reaching Prague

There are many ways to reach Prague from Asia, but we took Finnair, as it was the most convenient way of reaching the city. My wife and daughter enjoyed the business class on board the Finnair flight to Prague.

Business class of finnair
Mitchy and Maria-Sophia in the business class of Finnair

It was an excellent flight, with the habitual excellent food of Finnair. Mitch and Maria-Sophia both enjoyed this short but agreeable trip.

Meal on finnair business class
Meal on Finnair business class

The landing was smooth with the lovely Czech countryside developing for miles before the landing.

Landing in Prague of flight AY 1224

The “golden city”

Prague has often had the nickname of being the “golden city”, for its sheer beauty and baroque rooftops. Upon our arrival, we set out thus, to go and see for ourselves the beautiful city. My hotel was at the King’s Court, a very centrally located hotel in the old city of Prague. It allowed us to take a stroll immediately in the pedestrian center of the city.

Pretty Czech girls
A snapshot of a couple of pretty Czech girls in Prague’s historic center

We dropped our luggage and set off exploring the beautiful city of Prague right away

The Prague Castle

The obligatory passage of any visit in Prague is the Prague castle, of course. After meandering through the streets of Prague, we came across this magnificent IXth century castle, which is also the official seat of the President of the Czech Republic.

Maria-sophia before St. George basilica
Maria-Sophia before the St. George basilica in the inner courtyard of Prague Castle

While the IXth century St. Vitus cathedral presents undoubtedly gothic features, the surroundings of the cathedral have been heavily influenced over the centuries by various constructions and particularly in the baroque style, such as the St. George basilica featured above.

View over rooftops of Prague
This gorgeous view over the rooftops of Prague is available inside Prague castle

The best part in Prague castle is probably the magnificent view over the rooftops. To get this view, you must enter a little coffee shop which offers an excellent package of coffee + strudel for about 5 €. Unbeatable for the magnificent views.

Photo ops

Most people decide to take pictures on the ramparts of the castle, and that’s what we did with Maria-Sophia too.

Maria-Sophia over the ramparts
Maria-Sophia posing over the ramparts of Prague castle

We eventually came back to Prague castle on our last day for more photos. It is worth pointing out that Asian tourists (and particularly Korean couples) seem to affection Prague, both at the castle and the Charles bridge for prenuptial pictorials.

Asian prenup pictorials at Prague castle
Asian couples often come for prenuptial pictures at Prague castle

Besides couples, you have also a lot of Asian tourists visiting this historical city.

Two Asian tourists in Prague castle
Two Asian tourists in Prague castle

Heading to the Moldau

You have two ways to go back to the Moldau. The first is to climb through the Wenceslas vineyards, which offer also a magnificent photo backdrop.

Wenceslas vineyards
Maria-Sophia on the path of the Wenceslas vineyards

The other part involves exiting the castle at the opposite point of entrance and going down stairs in the old city. Many Asian tourists chose to take this route, just as these two Chinese tourists.

Chinese tourists climbing stairs to Prague castle
Two Chinese tourists climb the stairs to the Prague castle

Of course, we also had our own photo sessions on these stairs.

Maria-Sophia before the Prague castle stairs
Maria-Sophia poses on the stairs climbing to the Prague castle

Once we came back down to the historical center, we meandered again to the Charles bridge. This place is an absolute nightmare filled with tourists at any time of the day. The best moment to visit it is probably during early mornings, where fewer tourists are around.


The Charles Bridge

The Charles bridge is also famous for the saint who reportedly was executed on this bridge in the Middle Ages, namely Saint John of Nepomuk. Executed because, allegedly, he refused to betray the secret of the confession, it seems rather this execution was orbiting around the Western Schism. Saint John of Nepomuk supported a candidate wanted by the Roman Pope against the wishes of King Wenceslas for the attribution of a very rich abbey. This might be more of a motive than the romantic legend of refusing to violate the secrecy of confession.

As a reminder, the Western Schism was between the supporters of the Pope in Avignon, infeodated to the King of France and the Pope in Rome, who maintained the supremacy of the Church over earthly sovereigns. In short, the short-lived fight around theocracy, which came to an end under Pope Boniface VIII. This schism ended dividing European kingdoms across support for one or the other Pope, and sometimes even ran lines of divide within some nations, such as in present-day Czechia.

Today, a statue is erected on the Charles Bridge, at the place where the saint was thrown in the river.

Maria-Sophia at the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk
Maria-Sophia pays respect to the statue of Saint John Nepomuk

The Charles Bridge, in itself was closed to circulation after WWII, as its age and multiple damages from flooding had weakened its structure. Its modern-day restoration which ended in 2010 is strongly criticized for failing to respect the ancient character of the bridge and mixing older and newer materials.

The Charles Bridge in Prague
The Charles Bridge in Prague

Along the Moldau

I guess that when you come to Prague, you suddenly understand the famous “Moldau” symphonic poem by the Czech composer, Bedřich Smetana. The river and its flow do really evoke the powerful and peaceful music of Smetana, and for a classical music lover, it is quite an emotional moment.

“The Moldau”, by Smetana
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau
Maria-Sophia on the banks of the Moldau

Prague is also the birth city of another great Czech composer, Anton Dvorak.

A golden city… with disagreeable people

After our travel to Prague, we came to the conclusion that while the city is magnificent, Czech people instead are mostly disagreeable and lack common customer service sense. The general attitude was rather rough and rude in shops or cafes, not to mention there is none of the friendliness we encountered for example in Finland or Spain.

Street Food in Busan

One evening, on returning from my excursion up a mountain, back in December 2017, I decided to do something differently, and have my dinner outdoors at one of the roadside stalls of the place. It was my first experience of street food in Busan.

Roadside stalls with hygiene

Contrary to what you would expect in Thailand, for example, the Koreans do take hygiene at heart. So, vendors do use plastic gloves when handling food and all of their dishes are single-use.

Busan street food
Busan street food

Rice cannelloni

Most of the dishes were simply some form of rice cannelloni as can be seen on the pictures. The sauce was pretty good and in the cold evening of Busan, it did provide a refreshing change from habitual food (although I must say I tried also some delicious kimchi).

Most people just eat standing.

Atmosphere

Indeed, one of the lovely things about street food in Busan is also the atmosphere around. The night lights, the stands and the street’s setting combine to give it a homely atmosphere. Eating out should be done more for sharing in the atmosphere of locals. One local student helped to translate for me my order and was quite curious to know from where I was. Koreans have always been welcoming and helpful everywhere I went, and Busan was no exception to the rule.

Atmosphere in Busan
Atmosphere in a street where roadside vendors have set their stands

Finally, if you prefer eating in a restaurant, there are many places where you can eat kimchi or a full set meal for a very reasonable price.

For once, I truly enjoyed “going local”. But then, Korea is a place where even foreigners are gladly welcomed to share the local life. Probably one of my best experiences traveling around Asia. Busan, itself, has a more “rough” feeling to it, but locals are quite friendly and nice.

Bangkok, a cosmopolitan city?

Bangkok is at the crossroads of Asia and the Western world. As such, you would think that Bangkok would be the most cosmopolitan city in the world. Pictures such as those of local Japanese residents shopping in kimono and walking besides Thai locals would understandably make someone believe so.

A country very dependent on tourism and foreigners

An inconvenient truth for many Thais, is that their country has become quite dependent on foreigners, either foreign companies and foreign tourists. For  a country always proud of boasting they were never colonized , this can be an insufferable truth.

Tourists at Chiang Mai Bazar
Tourists at the Chiang Mai bazaar

Because Thailand’s economy is mainly based on production for export and because the population has a pretty low skills level, a foreign presence in Thailand is very visible. Admittedly, with time, the situation is slowly changing, but the Thai education system is not helping. With the exposure to travels and to foreign marketing, even foreign culture can impregnate the country (although mostly from fellow Asian nations). A sizable foreign population come in for teaching and to support business of foreign companies, in leadership roles. A less fortunate population of neighboring countries (mainly Burma and Cambodia) is more often called to work in menial or manual labor (and their condition is truly not enviable).

Nevertheless, the cosmopolitan impression of Bangkok is soon lost. Foreign residents, just like tourists, are always seen as an external body to the country, who are never bound to stay. The whole legal framework and practice around foreigners is so created as to discourage foreigners from staying or from ever being part of the population.

Foreigners are just temporary visitors

The visibility of this foreign presence often irks the more nationalist Thais.  Thais take some pride in thinking they are independent from foreign influence and don’t need foreigners. Police and immigration also considers roughly all foreigners as would-be criminals.

This practice translates in the Thai laws, which have installed some pretty irksome processes such as the obligation for foreign residents of Thailand to present their passports every 90 days at the immigration if they don’t exit the country in the meantime. The whole process makes no sense for people with dependent or business visas except as a vexatory reminder that they are just there on a provisional basis. Never mind if they have a business visa.

Nationalism will not stop at the administration. Some Thais can be so convinced of knowing better on local matters, that they will (at least in my experience) always try to do things their way (and often the wrong way!) just to prove they can take care of Thai affairs by themselves. Logic and common sense often lacks and explains why a foreign presence is required. Often, this is justified by saying that foreigners cannot understand “thainess”.

What is Thainess?

A central question is that of “Thainess”. Put shortly, “thainess” is an excuse Thais use to justify any behavior or practice they cannot rationally justify even to themselves. Thainess among other myths, also builds on the idea of a global centralized idea of a nation, which is only very recent in historical terms. Many ethnic minorities and tribes are being force-fed into the Thai mold and obliged to abandon their identity.

Interestingly, the case of the 13 youth rescued from a cave shows that the society might be slowly evolving as many of the kids are stateless.

Dependence on Chinese tourism has increased tenfold the last few years, but to some degree, this is not so alien for Thais, as a sizeable part of the elites are Thai-chinese.

Foreign cooperation is however vital for Thailand. It was never more acutely shown than in the case of the rescue of the 13 kids of Tham Luang caves. In that case, basically the whole country rooted for the kids, regardless of their origin or nationality. Somehow, even the army and Thai medias conscripted them as “Thais”. The big question now is whether the kids will ever get a Thai passport and once the media attention is gone, the focus on their ordeal will probably be also gone.

At any rate, despite its initial focus on nationalism, the Thai Junta has pursued a policy which is more of appeasing tensions and addressing real issues. There have even been some small attempt at making the country more welcoming to foreigners.

 

The Thai smile

So, is Bangkok a cosmopolitan city? Somehow, and despite the desire of the Thais, themselves, it is a huge hotch-potch of different cultures and populations with different cultures.

While it is often talked about “tolerance” of Thais for the weird behavior of some foreign tourists, such a tolerance is only skin deep. Deep below, there is a huge feeling of misunderstanding between Thais and foreigners. Just like the reputed “Thai smile”, “tolerance” is only in appearance and only as long as it is linked to a source of money for the Thais.

Bangkok may look cosmopolitan because of the various populations that cross themselves in the city, but it is not a place where cultures intermingle and enrich each other. Thais stay in their own “Thainess”, foreigners stay among themselves, and both populations live aside, but never really assimilate or influence each other.

 

Gamcheon Culture Village in Busan: between art and local life

On my visit to Busan, one of my targets was the Gamcheon Culture village. While being the first place I visited after the Gwangandaegyo bridge, I have waited a while to write about it. In fact, the place is very famous in Busan and the beauty of the setting is so lovely, that it requires some effort to give it justice.

The history of Gamcheon

Originally, Gamcheon did not really have an artistic legacy at all, but was placed in a very interesting spot, against a mountain, with the associated curves and complex turns. Interestingly, most of the inhabitants are refugees from the Korean war and followers of the Tageukdo religion. The Tageukdo is the symbol which is part of Korea’s flag (also known as the yin and the yang).

Taegeuk in Naju Hyanggyo
The Tageukdo symbol (origin: wikicommons)
 Nowadays, the followers of this religion are few in Gamcheon. Since 2009, the city of Busan attempted to redevelop this area by focusing on making about 300 empty houses the center of street art. This gave a new  impulse and made of Gamcheon one of the symbols of Busan.

Art in the street

The beauty of Gamcheon is that the redeveloped art project is closely mixed to the city life of the inhabitants. You can walk along the main street which circles all around the little village. Or you can delve into the city and try some shopping, like for these cute little bears (3,000 KRW each).

Cute Korean bears
Some cute bear dolls in Gamcheon Culture village

 

You can find some murals such as the “wall of love”.

The Wall of Love in Gamcheon
The Wall of love in Gamcheon Culture village

There is also a lot of subjects for detail shots in the village. Such as an old and worn out roof.

Worn-out roof
A worn-out roof in Gamcheon culture village

When looking at details, the tightly packed houses make also for interesting photographic subjects.

Houses in Gamcheon culture village
A detail of the tightly interspersed houses in Gamcheon Culture village

Gamcheon Culture village
Gamcheon Culture village from the photo viewpoint

Selfie in Gamcheon
A selfie in Gamcheon (as you can see, it was quite cold, despite the sun!)

You can also check my periscope account to find a live video I made walking through the village.

How to get there?

Gamcheon is not a lost place, but I elected to walk up there instead of taking transportation, and it was a quite strenuous climb.

Climbing to Gamcheon Culture village
Climbing to Gamcheon Culture Village

You must first take the metro to Toseong station and take exit 6. From there, either you catch a minibus, or you can climb all the way to the top. It was frisky on that day, so a good day for a walk! Taking the minibus down sets you back about 1,000 KRW, but the driving is quite vertiginous in those steep streets!

 

The death of “Karaoke Street”?

It was announced and it finally came: it seems all but certain now that the Sai Yeung Choi south street in Mongkok will be closed to entertainers. In fact, in a previous post, we mentioned that the decibels were causing a lot of complaints. In a recent vote, the District Council of Yau Tsim Tong passed a motion to close the pedestrian area of the famous Mongkok “Karaoke Street”.

Performer on Sai Yeung Choi south street
A singer performs for her mainly mature audience at Sai Yeung Choi South street on Saturday 2 June

A predictable outcome

In fact, complaints about the noise and disturbance in “Karaoke street” are not new. Local businesses have been complaining about the impossibility of carrying out business with increasingly louder karaoke installations.

The complaints reached a new threshold as the performers kept bringing out louder speakers and more professional material, such as TV’s, generators and mixing tables.

The “professionalization” of the peforrmers and their competition meant that you had people placed at just ten meters of each other, competing to be heard by passersbys witih increasingly louder volumes of sound.

Despite this, the vibe of “Karaoke street” was absolutely contagious, as can be reflected in this video and several periscopes I made at the same place over the years.

 

 

Political consequences

Sai Yeung Choi South street in Mongkok, is known as a hotbed of local popular culture, but also the last refuge of localists. In fact, among the performers, the last remnants of the “Umbrella Movement” found a refuge on that street. The famous Mongkok riots of 2015 also took place in that area. As of today, the area has become one of the last places to observe the typical Hong Kong culture and mostly older residents who enjoy their free time on week-ends.

Suppressing this area might thus trigger other political consequences. That is probably the reason why the HK government was not in a great hurry to offer a timetable for the eviction of the pedestrian zone.

In fact, the district council has no power to edict legislation, and it can only offer recommendations to the HK government. The said government promised it would act “as soon as possible” on the recommendations.

Nevertheless, the conflict of interests and the complaints of local businesses have given rise to an interesting situation in Hong Kong. How to reconcile the desire for entertainment and the needs of local businesses?

Karaoke street performer
A performer pushes up the decibels to get the attention of passerbys

A middle way solution?

As always, the solution might be in the middle. Why not enforce a tougher regulation of sound levels among performers? Why not continue allowing this lovely entertainment area and participate in giving this extra vibe to Hong Kong?

Performers must be reined in, but it is certain that if Sai Yeung Choi South is closed as a pedestrian area, a lot less people will be circulating there. Some editorials have tried suggesting such a compromise, but given how high tensions can rise in that area, it is not sure what approach the HK government will retain, but more than ever, Mongkok promises to be a tricky area to administer. So, as long as they are still there,  I will keep documenting the performers of Sai Yeung Choi South… Hoping to see them still for a long time.

Cantopop singer
A singer performs on Sai Yeung Choi South street receiving banknotes as thanks for her performance.

 

Barefoot biking from Shatin to Plover Cove… an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscape!

Last week-end, a friend of mine, Matthew, took me around on a bike ride, from Shatin to Plover Cove. The interesting part of this bike ride is that the whole ride takes place on biking lanes and in a very lovely seaside atmosphere. It is also an occasion to shoot some marvelous landscapes on the way, as the whole area has some gorgeous views.

Renting a bike

Renting a bike is very easily done near the river, in Shatin. The total price is about 60 HKD for a whole day. You can also rent “family bikes” (sort of 4-wheeled bikes for several persons to ride). All you need to do is to leave your id card information.

As I run and hike now more or less regularly barefoot, I decided to go for biking barefoot. Obviously, the pedals of a mountain bike do leave a dent, but my feet have become sufficiently conditioned now, not to suffer an exaggerated inconvenience.

After that, as long as you follow the coastline, it is an easy scenic ride along Tolo Harbour. Along the way, you can come across some interesting sights. Like for example, the wonderful Tsz Shan monastery.

 

Tsz Shan Monastery

This monastery is quite recent, as it was completed only in 2015. Its main feature is the statue of the goddess of mercy, Guan Yin. At 76 meters tall, this white bronze statue towers now over the Tolo harbour, being a recognizable landmark. The monastery is quite popular, to the point that it enforces a strict online booking policy to visit it. If you want to enter, bookings must take place at least one month in advance.

Tsz Shan Monastery
The statue of Guan Yin at Tsz Shan Monastery

The other way of taking a peak inside this monastery, is to fly a drone above or around, which is what I did with my Mavic Pro. The monastery was built thanks to financing from Li Ka-Shing, one of the richest men in Hong Kong. It was even rumored that the Guan Yin statue would be his tomb in the future, but he denied the story.

I also filmed the various places we visited, from Tsz Shan Monastery to Plover Cove:

 

Plover Cove

Plover Cove is another interesting spot, pretty much at the end of the 30-kms ride from Shatin. Originally, a piece of Tolo Harbour, this portion of the sea was drained in order to make it a reservoir of freshwater for Hong Kong. Its dam is reputed for having been the greatest such work at the time of its construction (in the 1960s). Today, the place is an ideal vacation spot for many hongkongers who enjoy riding bicycles on the dam, or flying kites.

Plover Cove reservoir
Plover Cove, with on the left the freshwater side and on the right the sea

Of course, I had to take a “dronie” with Matthew on that occasion.

Plover cove dronie
A “dronie” of Matthew and me on Plover Cove reservoir dam

Tolo Harbour is also used for quite a number of nautical sports. Some people use a sailing board, others prefer waterskiing. Here, you can see a group practicing sailing board with the Tsz Shan monastery appearing in the background.

Tolo Harbour
Sailing Board in Tolo Harbour

 

Getting back

After the exhilarating 30 kms ride to Plover Cove, now came the time to ride back! Although the path was as flat going as coming back, of course, muscles started feeling the effort.

Also, if you can do it at all, do leave in the morning. In the afternoon, plenty of people who do not know to ride start appearing and are a real hazard on biking paths. In that, the return was rather more stressful than the first leg of the trip.

Once we got back to Shatin and returned the bikes, my feet were slightly tender from biking for several hours barefoot. I thus decided to go home barefoot. And obviously, this involved the challenge of taking the MTR… barefoot!

Barefoot in the MTR
The escalator does not feel painful at all, contrary to what you might expect.

I went barefoot all the way, until home. Most people didn’t look at my feet, those who did, didn’t care. I was in a sportive attire, so I guess this attracted less attention too.

The reason for doing this was partly to challenge my own comfort zone, partly also to test my limits too. I did use a public toilet in Shatin, but I wore my sandals (could not conceive walking in the urine of others).

Nevertheless, the whole experience was interesting and liberating. I might swear I had more looks from other bikers on my biking barefoot than while in the MTR!

After the exercise, my glutes were quite tired as it had been quite a few years since I had done a long bike ride (I used to ride for long distances in Belgium). But this shows the different facets of Hong Kong. A city where biking or hiking is just a few MTR stations away from the urban sprawls of the center.

 

 

Easter in the Philippines

Being a Catholic country, obviously, Easter in the Philippines is something special. With great fervor and intensity, Filipinos are known to celebrate the Holy Week to a higher degree then elsewhere. Most people have heard about the crucifixions and other shows made around people who impersonate Christ on the cross. Such practices, however, are really in minority and strongly frowned upon by the Catholic church. No, Easter in the Philippines is something else. It ranges from Good Friday processions to an early dawn mass on Easter morning.

Good Friday Processions

Of course, Good Friday is an important occasion, but far from the hysterics of the people doing repeats of the crucifixion. No, an ordinary Good Friday is simply having the family follow the Good Friday procession and the carts of your barangay (local government unit).

Good Friday procession
Good Friday procession in Lapu-Lapu

This procession takes typically about one to two hours, because there are a lot of people and it is difficult to circulate in the tight streets of the Barangay.

Each area has its own statue and cart, behind which they walk, and the atmosphere, while fervent is also good-humored.

 

Easter dawn mass

The Good Friday processions are fokloric enough, but the real core of the atmosphere and the Easter feeling can be found in the easter dawn mass.

Following an old Catholic tradition, the very first mass of the day takes place at 4 AM in the morning. Whole families, including kids come out to assist to this mass.

Easter morning mass and candles
The atmospheric light of candlight fasinates kids at the easter morning mass.

The focus of the moment is not so much on adults as on children who are literally fascinated by the candlelight, making it a magical moment to shoot pictures.

Little girl with candlelight
A little girl with candlelight

The mass starts at night, where the candlelight provides a lovely intimate setting. As it ends, and people go to communion, the daylight breaks and shines on people, with a lovely pink hue.

Communion at the dawn mass
Communion at the dawn mass

In the most popular areas, there is quite a crowd assisting to the mass. It is the occasion of witnessing the popular fervor among less favored classes. Religion is often the only steadfast security these people have in front of life’s challenges.

Some technical details

The pictures in this post were all shot in 2010, during my first travel to the Philippines, in the city of Lapu-Lapu. At the time, I used a Canon EOS 40D, a 17-85 zoom and a 50mm f 1.8. Obviously, all the night pictures were shot with the 50mm. This caused some issues with framing in such a packed setting, but I still managed to use some interesting pictures.

Lapu-Lapu is located in the island of Cebu, and is the place where the Spanish explorer Ferdinand de Magellan met his death at the hands of local tribes under the leadership of the chief Lapu-Lapu (who transmitted his name to the island). Easter traditionally is very packed with all overseas Filipinos returning to the island.



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Chinese New Year in Bangkok

Over the past five years, I managed to see a number of celebrations of Chinese new year in Bangkok. While similar to some degree to the traditional Chinese festival, they differ too. Indeed, the Thai version has a more marked Buddhist flavor to it. Of course, this goes together with the Thai syncretism and the hotchpotch of beliefs which mix Hinduism, Buddhism, Chinese traditions and animism.

 

Red is the color

Of course, wearing red is almost an obligation on Chinese New Year, as this color is said to bring prosperity.

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Even little kids dress up in quipao, the traditional Chinese dress.

For tourists, this is also the occasion to bargain to buy some traditional red garb and attempt to “blend in”…

 

A family reunion

Just like in China and in Hong Kong, Chinese New Year is mainly a family reunion. Families often go together to the temple, but mainly just like in China, it is an occasion to meet relatives.

Incense in Chinatown temple
Chinese Thais are lighting incense in a temple of Chinatown

People often go in family to the temple. Like in this case, the mother and daughter.

Chinese New year Wat Traimit
A mother and her daughter pray at Wat Traitmit on Chinese New year

The biggest event however takes place on Chinese New Year eve. Indeed on that occasion, it is believed that wishes have the best chance of being realized upon the passage to a new (Chinese) year. Hence, beyond burning incense, Thais also splurge on huge candles as can be seen in the picture below at Wat Traimit in Chinatown. Obviously, the most expensive or biggest candle is believed to bring the most “luck”.

It is a money thing…

There is a heavy confusion among Westerners between what they see as “faith” or “religiosity”, and the own view of Thais on their practices. Thai modern Buddhism is, with some exceptions, mainly oriented on materialism and obtaining immediate material benefits. It goes to the point that some temples have been shamelessly riding the wave of greed, by posting publicity for Mercedes at their entrance! The most uanabashed Thai invitation to relinquish your money to get more money is probably the “garlands of banknotes” hung in the temples…

Garlands of Banknotes.
ON Chinese New Year eve, garlands of banknotes are hung in the temple to incite people to give more.

On some occasions, monks can be rude enough to be checking their smartphones under the nose of the worshippers…

Monk and smartphone
A monk checks his smartphone while faithfuls pray at a Chinatown temple

Probably the most outrageous was seeing a famous brand of German cars “sponsoring” a temple on that occasion:

 

Sponsorship of temples
A German car sponsor a temple in central Bangkok

 

The bigger candle brings the biggest luck…

The Chinese tradition says that you should be burning incense as soon as possible after midnight on Chinese New Year. Where in Hong Kong, this causes regularly some scuffles, to the temple, in Bangkok, things are taken way more easily. People go to burn incense no matter what the time, as long as it is done on the eve of Chinese New Year.

Candles of Wat Traimit
Giant candles set alight at Wat Traimit in Bangkok’s Chinatown

Of course, the candles, themselves make for interesting subjects at night time.

Wat Traimit Candles
Flames burn as the giant candles of Wat Traimit consume themslves

Business at the forefront

Chinese New Year is also an occasion for doing business. On that single day, the police is rather understanding with the small-time hawkers which populate Bangkok. Yaowarat road, the main artery in Chinatown becomes  a  pedestrian area on that day Despite this, the heavy crowds and the sheer number of vendors make it a very difficult area to walk through.

Crowd on CNY eve
The huge crowd pressing in Chinatown on CNY eve

Of course, among the stuff sold, you have the habitual “snake oil” peddlers as below (with English advertisement too!).

Chinatown on CNY
Chinatown in Bangkok on Chinese New Year eve

 

 

Bangkok adds a Buddhist touch to Chinese New year

Traditions, for Chinese New Year in Bangkok, are mostly similar, with incense being offered, but an interesting departure from Chinese tradition is that instead of food, the offerings are often lotus flowers as the two ladies below can be seen holding at Wat Traimit, the main temple in Chinatown.

Wat Traimit Chinese new year
A lady places incense at Wat Traimit on Chinese New Year 2017.

The meaning of the lotus flower is very Buddhist in its core, but very few Thai are aware of the roots. In fact, the lotus flower means the purity of the body, speech, and mind. Indeed, while rooted in the mud, its flowers blossom on long stalks floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire. In Thai temples, the symbol of detachment, becomes another reason to earn mone.

Lotus flowers
Lotus flowers are presented as an offering at Chinese New Year 2017 in Wat Traimit.

Within Chinatown itself, Wat Traimit, the main temple of the area hosts a 2-ton massive gold Buddha statue. On Chinese New Year eve, many Thais come to pray for favors (or take selfies in front of it).

 

Buddha of Wat Traimit on CNY
The 2-ton massive gold Buddha of Wat Traimit is particularly sought on Chinese New Year eve.

Selfie Mania

Last but not least, Thailand would not be Thailand if there was not a selfie mania on Chinese New Year. In temples, when giving offerings or anything, Thais will try to grab a selfie to post on social networks.

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How to get there?

Yaowarat is a quite long road extending through Chinatown and large parts of the area are reserved to pedestrians on Chinese New Year. Your best bet is still to take the MRT to Hua Lamphong, then to walk on foot to Yaowarat. On the way, very near to the train station, you will see Wat Traimit. To have a glimpse of the agitation and the vibe of Chinese New Year, do drop there.