Asia: Past and future

My Lord Buddha, Royal Palace, Bangkok, 2018. Phra Borom Maha Ratcha Wang. I think Phra means holy. I’ve seen it associated with royalty, princes, temples, Buddha. The palace was built in 1782 by King Rama 1st. Note that in a oh-so Buddhist country as Thailand, Kings are called Rama, a Hindu god, the 7th avatar of Vishnu. (Seventh? How can they keep track?) Rama or Ramachandra (Chandra = the moon) is the ultimate example of chivalry. See the “Rama-yana”, the shortest of two epic poems in Sanskrit composed between the 3rd century BC and the century AD. Only 48,000 verses. If you want longer go to the Mahabharata… 🙏🏻 3rd century BC in the West? Hmmm. The last lights of Greece, the rise of Rome.

“My own” little Buddha. (One of a few) A copper Chinese version, a gift from my brother. He found it in a flea market in Paris. How did this Chinese Buddha come all the way from Asia to France in the sixties? He now sits on my window sill, or on a shelf with his friends Lakshmi, Sarasvati or Mother Durga. (I will do a post on them. “Ona” these days.) Has the Buddhist culture played a role in Asia’s spectacular growth in the past 30-40 years? Likely.

A very cute little Matisse, at our Airbn’B in Penang, Malaysia, in 2017. Kam sia to our hosts Szu Zen and Cheong. They remodeled an old Peranakan shophouse in Georgetown with exquisite taste. I found it interesting that they should put a Matisse (copy of course) next to a Feng Shui pot with plants and fish living together in water. Matisse is universal.

Back to Bangkok, 2018. Royal palace. 183 Demon guardians stand guard for eternity. They are called Yaksha. I understand there are many demons in Thailand. Rooms inside the houses are separated by a short vertical plank at the bottom of every doorway, so demons can’t cross the threshold. The same “steps” are found in Angkor’s temples, blocking the path of demons in the temples of nearby Cambodia.

El “chingón”, China house café, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia, Asia… “Chingón ” is a uniquely Mexican word. Can be someone very talented and/or intimidating. Must have been a Mexican passing by who painted this in the China House. Great food, great pastries… A must in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia.

Ta Som temple at Angkor Wat, Cambodia. I’d just sprained my ankle in a spectacular fall on the last stairs of the previous temple. Found some ice and wrapped it on the ankle. Hopped and tuk-tukked our way to the last temple of Ta Som, couldn’t miss it could I? Top left, the four Buddhas (or Vishnus, or Brahmas?) I find it fascinating how Asian cultures mix so many layers. Statues of Hindu gods becomes Buddhas. The Hindu Ramayana is at the core of Indonesian culture, a Moslem nation now. In Ta Som, the wild trees hold the Gods and the temples together.

Thai fashion and creativity, Bankgok, 2018.

Naga, the cobra god who gave shade to Buddha in one of his meditations. Penang street art, 2017. Nagas are associated to water and prosperity. I stay away of cobras. “Met” a couple in my life. Always give them a wide berth. All snakes. 🐍 (And some humans too.)

Rickshaw at the Blue Mansion, Georgetow, Penang. This is a “modern” version, with a bike attached. Rickshaws are the ancestors of tuk-tuks. Or could we say Tuk-tuks are avatars of the rickshaw? They always remind me of Tintin’s Lotus bleu, one of the very best Tintin albums. The Blue Mansion is a very old Peranakan (Straights Chinese) house in Penang. It was used for shooting parts of the movie “Indochine” with Catherine Deneuve. Very nice restaurant BTW.

Wat Arun temple, Bangkok. Literally the God Aruna’s temple. Aruna is the driver of Sunya’s chariot, Sunya being the Sun God of Hindu mythology. Since we’re spreading culture thin (an old French saying involving jam), Aruna is Garuda’s brother. (Again, I don’t know how these guys keep track). Garuda is a mythic bird. Carries another God. Garuda is a V.I.G. (Very Important God) in Indonesia and South-East Asia. (Research is giving me a slight headache). In short, Wat Arun is the Temple of Dawn. Magnificent.

A few blocks after Wat Arun… we dropped our crazy tuk-tuk driver, (He tended to drive on the right-hand side of the street and ignore all traffic signs) and walked to the royal barges. Much farther on foot than we thought. And Bangkok is a maze. This is as far as we got to – not – see the Royal barges. Darn. Too far. But, lo and behold:

My parents had gone to Bangkok on a business trip in 1957, leaving us kids in Cambodia, brother, little sister and yours truly, to the care of our Chinese Ayah. I Just salvaged this old slide my father took of a royal Thai barge. A bit grainy but one can recognize at the prow a cousin of the Yaksha demons guarding the palace. Must be a demon family business. All 183 of them.

Shangaï style. Not Gang-nam style. Vintage Chinese “pin-ups”. Penang, I believe.

Street art, Penang. 2017. Georgetown is really a fab place. Great food. Lots of history. Plenty of art. Not too sure who are the subjects here. Does any one care? (If so, I can do more research)

Hanuman, China House café, Penang, 2017. Hanuman is the king of monkeys. He fights along I don’t remember who, against demons, in the Ramayana, or Mahabharata. Must be Rama. Look it up. The plot is to save Princess Whats-her-name (Sita) from the demons. More than 183 in that story.

Wedding portrait of a Peranakan (Chinese) couple in Singapore, early 30’s. Singapore Museum, courtesy Mr. Chris Koo, Esq. Note the English “Christian” name, many Chinese from South-East Asia to Hong-Kong adopt an English first name. Practical. (And part of the “fusion” culture. I understand some Baba Nyonyas in Malaysia and Singapore still use the traditional garb in today’s weddings.

Today’s attire. (Bangkok transportation system) Note: I have neither shares nor beef with Huawei. 😉 Or Samsung, or Apple.

Traditional Chinese house, Singapore. 2017. Ancient buildings have been well preserved in Singapore.

Marina Bay Sands. Singapore, 2017. The top structure is like a ship floating in the air.

In short, we were stunned by Asia. The West would do well to try and understand Asia better. There are many avenues for the future of the world there.

Zàijiàn. (Goodbye). To be continued….

80 thoughts on “Asia: Past and future

  1. An interesting post Brian. Perhaps there were multiple mentions of the Indian Gods and our epics that hooked me to your narrative. By the way, Garuda is the vehicle of Vishnu and Hanuman fought for Rama against Ravan in the epic Ramayana. Wonderful to see Indonesia and Thailand through your lens.

    • One never knows how a reader will be hooked, right? (yeah, I remember who flew on Garuda and who Hanuman fought with, though I haven’t read the Ramayana. I just felt I’d put too many gods in one post? 😉
      As for Buddhism, I believe Hinduism has a strong influence on the culture that produced it. So many gods. You can have gods everywhere, in everything. Or as a great writer of yours put it: “The God of small things”?
      Take care…🙏🏻

  2. Interesting post (as usual) – laughing at the idea of a family demon business and the blue mansion seems to be a nice photo opp.
    Now when it comes to Matisse – I am almost always on the fence with whether or not I like his work! I used to teach art and lady with purple robe and a couple others were used for teaching standards and elements of art – anyhow – the one your AirBnB had was new to me and it sounds super cool next to a “Feng Shui pot with plants and fish living together in water.”

    • Family demon business? One of those things that pop through your head…
      On the fence? It’s fine. I wasn’t too sure about Matisse for many years, but now I am. He was a huge artist. (I prefer him to Braque) (But then I’m picky) (and a snob) 😉
      You taught art? How wonderful? What made you do that? Tell more.
      The “mixture” in Straights Chinese (Peranakan or Baba Nyonya) Is fascinating. When the Europeans came in the 19th century, they were taken aback. Then decided to take the best of both cultures. East and West “fusion” is the term they used. And I’ve seen a few examples. They’re at ease in both cultures… A good example to follow.

      • I can see why you appreciate Matisse – 😉 and mixtures
        And whew – u
        I started typing my brief bio and it was taking way too long – so I will share more later – but i taught art on and off to K12 and psychology and business in Higher Ed –
        And will share more later about my art teacher days – I am setting up a site to highlight some of the things – anyhow – cheers to our shared love for art!

      • Fascinating. (What’s K12?) HIgher Ed is from undergrad on right?
        Psychology and biz is a good combo. I used psychologists a lot for qualitative market research. (I had a market research agency for a long time)
        Look forward to that site.
        Cheers back.

      • Your past business sounds really cool
        And it is pretty interesting how life unfolds / we plan and then – well —- we roll with the changes and all that!
        Have a great day and as always – enjoy comment sharing and love all the art you bring to blogosphere

  3. Wonderful. All the places I will never see. Really lovely. The blue on the blue house is such a beautiful color and all the art, statues, just excellent. Had a great time, thank you for the trip.

  4. I’d love to visit Indonesia and Thailand more so after reading your post. My brother’s friend at University was from Singapore they funded his studies in return he took an officers position for a certain number of years after graduation in their Navy.

    • Fair enough. I pay for your studies, you owe me a few years service… Singapore is amazing. I loved it. (So did one of my cousins who spent ten years there.) And for a singer, Asian music would be great to listen to on site… Very different.

  5. Angkor Wat is one of the places I would really like to see in person. Who knows …
    I have the same problem with keeping track with the Hindu gods. Not only do they have avatars, they also each have a light and a dark aspect (with a different name, of course, and I guess the avatars as well?). But they also have Brahman, the creator of the universe, “the single binding unity behind diversity in all that exists in the universe.” (Wikipedia) I guess we can easier relate to that. 😉
    Great photos again!

    • Angkor is worth the trip. And worth staying a while to walk slowly among the temples.
      It is a complicated pantheon… Another way to tell the story of the universe.
      🙏🏻

  6. These are amazing places and photographs. I think I said I was not terribly interested in traveling to Asia but these are enticing destinations. Singapore is especially mysterious, I once befriended a blogger from there . Thank Brian, another spectacular journey.

      • Ciao, I’ve been working full time, which comes hard after 7 years of leisure – excluding 8 months of full-on volunteering work in Thailand!
        It feels as I don’t have time to write a blog let alone visit all my favourites like yours. But, I’m not receiving WP feeds of your site anymore and one of my followers just commented she doesn’t receive mine. Hoping that WP isn’t going down the FaceBook route!
        All good but working and renovating takes up too much of one’s waking hours! Still, when stuck in Oz, work is the obvious choice for a bit… 😉

      • “Stuck in the mud?” I remember a kid’s game. Take advantage and save some money for when you go back to travelling.
        As for notifications, WP sometimes “unfollows” one. I also stopped blogging for 2 months completely. I may have been “dereferenced”. Be good.

  7. South-East Asia has such a many-layered culture. As you write, in Thailand, a Buddhist nation, kings are called Rama, a Hindu god. The Hindu epic, Ramayana, is at the core of Indonesia, the most populous Muslim nation in the world.

    I agree. The Asia-Pacific rim countries has done well indeed. That structure in Singapore is stunning, yes.

  8. Nice variety of snapshots. I’ve never been to Asia. Maybe some day.

    Chingon here looks like Walt from Breaking Bad. It somehow makes sense for Penang which I picture (perhaps unfairly) being home to a fair number of outlaws.

    Your travels as well as the number of places you’ve made your home are astounding. Thanks for sharing your riches!

    • Do consider Asia on your list. It really is another world. And a fascinating way to look at the world. As you say I’ve been around and seen many different views.
      Travel? Well, I was an Air France “brat”. I took my first flight at the age of 6 months on a DC3 or DC4 from Karachi to Paris. Trip took 2 or 3 days then. I remember the first class bunks on the Super Constellations, and the shift to jets with the Boeing 707… (I think I was born in the 19th century) 😉🙏🏻

      • I don’t recall you saying that. You are a shiny example then of why I am skeptical about the one-size-fits-all curriculums of today’s schools. I’m glad that my kids got to attend public school because I wouldn’t have known how to handle having them all being at home 🙂. I think the social aspects were also positive but I was a hardcore critic of the “expected academic outcomes” starting in kindergarten all the way through. They had some excellent teachers but there was a huge amount of tedious busywork that was unnecessary and painful. Thankfully, my kids escaped without losing their love of learning.

      • I agree about standardization. Same “treatment” to ever child however different they may be.
        My childhood was of immense freedom, and I learnt very early to organize myself and do my “homework” fast so I could go swimming. (We lived by the African sea).
        The downside, was being a bit low on social skills. (We went to the club, I had friends who were like me) but I had not dealt with classmates, teachers, good and bad… Taking notes at first was a nightmare. But I’m a fast learner. (Had to. Survival!!) Overall: I don’t regret it one bit.

    • The Shangai style was a very typical pin-up style in the 30’s I think. Where Chinese women would still wear traditional dresses (with modern cuts) and western haircuts. And God forbid, smoke!

      • Well, smoking was all the rage for women back then. It showed that they could do what men do, without infringing on the male dominated business & other worlds.
        Wearing glasses was another area women crept into, where they should not have been.
        This is all exemplified in the book, “Main Street” by Sinclair Lewis.

      • Hadn’t heard about that. Tsss. French women only got to vote in 1944 or 45. My grandmother was born in 1882. She was 63 when she first voted. Tsss. ✊🏻

      • Interesting. Although Canadian women have enjoyed the federal vote since 1918, the provinces varied. The first was Manitoba in 1916. The French province of Quebec didn’t give women the vote until 1940.

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