Posts tagged ‘culture’

A Wet Songkram…

Today is Thai New Year! There are water fights everywhere, people are all in a festive mood and also pretty much drenched from head to toe. A strange and very unique time that most people outside of South East Asia know nothing about. Let me educate you…

The Thai New Year, known as Songkran, is one of the most important and celebrated holidays in Thailand. The holiday is officially celebrated from April 13 to 15, with festivities often lasting an entire week.

The origins of Thai New Year combine Buddhist belief, ancient astrology and the solar calendar.

“Songkran” is a Thai word which means “move” or “change place”. It refers to the shift of the sun’s position in the zodiac, from Pisces to Aries, beginning a new astrological year.

Songkran consists of four days.

On the first day, houses are cleaned and swept.

The second day involves the preparation of food to be offered to monks the next day.

The third day is New Year’s Day and is celebrated by visiting the temple, presenting food and clothing to the monks, bathing the Buddha image with jasmine-scented water and taking part in one of the many rituals believed to bring good luck.

On the last day, homage is paid to ancestors and elders: scented water is gently poured by family members over the hands or shoulders of their parents and grandparents.

Songkran is commonly known as the “water festival” because people believe that water, a symbol of renewal, will cleanse and wash away the bad luck and sorrow from the previous year.

As a result, bathing rites for Buddha images and the monks are performed, as well as playful public water fights.

The most-talked about celebration takes place in the northern province of Chiang Mai.

During the three-day period, people from all parts of the country flock there to enjoy the water festival, to watch the Miss Songkran Contest and the beautiful parades.

April 13, 2007 at 1:41 am Leave a comment

Money to Burn…

I went for a hike the other day north of the city. The hike involved some steep climbing in pristine wilderness with great views of this part of the country which is quite mountaineous.

As I started to descend, I walked through what seemed to be an ancient burial ground. That face of the mountain was covered with stone mounds and depressions in the ground where unmarked graves may have collapsed over time. I felt a bit eerie but also serene as the whole area was overgrown with lush wild flowers and grasses. These graves obviously must have been there a very long time.

The further I went down the mountain, the newer and better kept the graves seemed. This walk eventually led to a very new looking cemetery that came complete with very elaborate, almost goofy marble grave markers and family plots. I was now in a death suburbia. The wild flowers were replaced by mostly plastic flowers and the pristine feeling I felt was gone.

At the very base of the mountain were twelve large fire ovens used for the sole purpose of burning money to honour the dead. There were twelve ovens each corresponding to a specific Chinese Zodiac sign. Most people don’t burn real money when a loved one dies, but buy fake money or other paper representations that can be found almost everywhere. Sometimes this money is called “Spirit Money”.

The Chinese believe that when someone dies, his or her spirit goes to the afterlife, where it lives on. Surviving relatives want to send gifts to make the afterlife as comfortable as possible. Aside from intricate paper objects such as houses, cars, clothing, watches, mobile phones, appliances and even domestic helpers, “Spirit Money” is the most popular. Burning sends them on their way.

As I walked away from the mountain and down the road towards the city, the noise of the car horns and chaotic sounds were again all around and the pristine quiet of the mountain had all but vanished. I then thought to myself what all these people in the afterlife are now doing with their money and things that their family are sending them?

August 21, 2006 at 10:35 am Leave a comment

Path to Nowhere?

There is something about Chinese doorways or narrow walkways that I find interesting. These old, rundown paths leading to some other unknown place are for me what makes old Chinese cities fun to walk around in.

As I walk around this city, I am always amazed at the sheer number of little passage ways, alleys, paths, doorways that exists here. These are true labyrinths that are for curious people like me quite inviting. Straying away from the “beaten path” is a great way to experience regular Chinese life and everyday culture and see places that the average foreigner would never have the chance to see.

Walking around in the new parts of Beijing, Shanghai or any other large city is like walking around any large city or North America and frankly not interesting after you have seen the major sights. There in no real soul to newly developed residential areas. One of the sad sides of modern development is the loss of these interesting places. Some parts of China are trying to preserve these traditional lanes such as the “Hutongs” of Beijing or the areas around the Suzhou classical gardens which are now major tourist draws. This is a great idea. As China develops and looks ahead, it will need to work increasingly hard at preserving its past for the benefit of its people.

July 25, 2006 at 10:29 am Leave a comment

All the Tea in China!

Tea is very much like wine. There are many different varieties of it, grown in specific types of regions with certain types of climates and soils. There are many different growing and harvest techniques, processing methods and brewing techniques. Tea has a very long history that is steeped in tradition and culture. A huge array of quality, price levels, aromas and tastes exists it is overwhelming. This site will give you a brief idea of what I am talking about:

To really know tea and appreciate it is to drink it on a regular basis and take an active interest in its complexities.

One person who has done that is my father. Since his arrival in China, he has been spending his days drinking tea, buying tea, buying teapots, reading up on tea, going to teahouses and talking with women in teahouses…

The other night I took my father out to a nice tea house nearby which had very nice traditional decor and impeccable service. We ordered a good quality Fujian Oolong tea and enjoyed the whole tea ceremony that came along with the serving of this tea. We were with my friends David and Steven who proudly explained what they knew about this interesting part of Chinese culture.

March 9, 2006 at 7:27 am Leave a comment

About Me!

Lover, father, global winemaking consultant, winemaker/exporter, hobby farmer, author and modern-day nomad...

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