Monday, June 22, 2009

Beijing 2009 - Temple of Heaven

The Temple of Heaven was one of the most important buildings among all as this was where the emperors came to pray for a good harvest for the ensuing year. This is actually the most important function of an emperor, for if his prayers were not answered positively and the people go hungry due to a poor harvest or famine, the emperor could suffer the wrath of the people and be overthrown. This has happened countless times in Chinese history. 

We bumped into a group of monks from Thailand. They have also caught up with digital camera technology.

I took this picture of the monks having a rest - it reminded me of some old Chinese painting.

An old artist from Japan was sketching the temple.  He is over 80 years old and still going strong.

Beijing 2009 - Forbidden City

Our first stop is the Forbidden City. Actually this was our second stop - the first was the National Theatre which I am saving for a later post. You can't help but being awed by the Forbidden City. The scale, opulence, and sheer audacity if it just gets you from the first moment. 

This is amazing architecture, but somehow I can't help thinking about the unlimited power which the emperors wielded, and the sacrifice it must have involved to get something like this built. According to Wikipedia, it took 15 years and more then a million workers to build the first part of the Forbidden City during the Ming Dynasty.

Some architectural details.

The Forbidden City is not just popular with foreigner tourists.  You will come accross a lot of local Chinese visitors as well.

Beijing 2009 - First Impressions

I went to Beijing in May this year, and it was quite a memorable experience. Taking a red-eye flight from Kuala Lumpur, we arrived at 6.00 a.m. in the morning. Having had no sleep at all as I am terrible at sleeping on planes, I was naturally a bit groggy. 

I was expecting Beijing to be a BIG city, but wasn't prepared for how big it actually was. Another big surprise was how well-planned and systematic every thing seem to be. The roads were great, and landscaping is really amazing - it seemed like every square inch was covered with planting of some sort. The pre-Olympics sprucing up must have done wonders. Another great thing was we had about 3 days of blue skies on our 7 day trip, not a bad average for Beijing which is infamous for its haze.

Cars, pedestrians and motorbikes co-exist quite well in the city. There were a lot less bicycles then I expected.

Some parts of the city is like any big metropolis in the World.

Gawai Dayak 2009

Gawai Dayak is a festival celebrated by the ethnic communities of Sarawak on 1st June every year. It is like their new year, a time for celebration and renewal of old ties. During this festival, those who have moved away will make it a point to return to their kampungs to visit friends and relatives. Like other communities in Malaysia, the Dayaks will also have their open house to receive guests. The Gawai celebration will last for several days.

This year I was invited by a colleague to his in-law's house for Gawai. He is an Iban married to a Bidayuh. Bidayuhs traditionally lived inland and are mostly from the southern part of Sarawak. The Ibans traditionally lived near the sea and rivers, and have settled throughout Sarawak. 

The in-laws' house is about 25 km from Kuching. They have made it a point to prepare some traditional food for the guests, so we were in luck.

Guests would usually be served some cakes and titbits first. Due to the multi-cultural influence, these are a mixture of sweets from various communities. At the front are "Honeycomb Cakes", a Malay cake made with caramel and condensed milk. The texture is a bit chewy. The green and orange cakes at the back are "Kek Lapis" or Malay layered cakes.

Various types of cookies and titbits.

These are "Ayam Pansuh", chicken cooked with local herbs stuffed into a bamboo stem. It is essentially a steaming process, and the chicken meat is tender and infused with a bit of fragrance from the bamboo. Very yummy !

My friend told me this is a traditional Bidayuh salad, but to me it looks quite modern and even a bit Western. It is made with small cubes of pineapple and tomatoes in a herb and lime juice dressing. Very nice. 

The ubiquitous chicken curry.

Stewed pork leg with mushroom. This is more of a Chinese dish.

The inlaws' house. There is an annex built in a traditional Bidayuh "Baruk" shape, and that's where the food is served.

My colleague's daughters put on their traditional costumes for the occasion. On the left is the Iban costume, and on the right is the Bidayuh costume. The silver belts are quite heavy and you need to have good stamina to last through the day !

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Dalat River Kampungs

As in Mukah, most of the local residents in Dalat live in the nearby kampungs. In Dalat, as I discovered, most of the kampungs are built along the rivers. The river provide the main means of transport, and is also the water source and sewer. As you will see later, it is also the public swimming pool.

Houses here are linked through a network of wooden plank walks.

Boats are like cars for the residents here. Every house has one, or three. 

This is a floating toilet. Conveniently everything goes into the river. But this is also their water source !

The local kids here love to have their photos taken.

Having fun in the river. These kids were quite happy to mug for my camera.

Dalat - Another Riverine Town

Dalat is about 20 km from Oya, therefore around 40 km from Mukah. Like Oya, it is a riverine town depending very much on the river for transport, although nowadays the road system provide a convenient alternative. I was told that Dalat used to be very much like Oya, a couple of rows of wooden shophouses next to the river. The wooden shophouses were burnt down some years ago, and have been replaced by modern concrete and brick structures. It has lost it's old world charm, but I guess you can't complain against progress.

The new town centre. There is even a just-completed new Town Square.

A view of the river. The whole Dalat waterfront is being redeveloped.

The old Chinese Temple next to the river have been completed rebuilt into a shining new building.

These floating petrol stations are where the boats get their tanks filled.