Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Wednesday, 21 December 2011
Thursday, 22 December 2011 00:00

San Wang Ye: A god goes back home!

Last month,  a very special event happened in my street: my neighbor, the god San Wang Ye (三王爺), decided to travel back home for his birthday!

The god San Wang Ye is originally from Tainan, a city around 300km south of Taipei, and he had arrived in Taipei a long time ago, so long ago that I don't remember!

I had been wondering for a long time what the temple in my street was all about: this small, unassuming, but well taken care of temple, that you can hardly see by day, but is always shining and often holds events at night. Some lanterns are usually hanging, a vague reminder that a god lives there. Day after day, I had made up stories of mafia and gangsters, of witches and weird spirits, stories of everything that could happen in this mysterious temple.

But I was wrong. When I met the people who take care of 三王爺 (San Wang Ye), I could immediately see that this god is a good god as he protects people around in exchange of some attention, and doesn’t ask much, only to go back and see his family once a year. I was also told by the disciples that he likes to be talked to. I could see that he smokes cigarettes, not only incense; he also likes to drink milk tea, and dresses rather conservative. He has a good relationship to its neighbors, too: in front of his temple, a very old japanese house, dimly lit, is shelter to an old man who lives in peace with the God. When there is a ceremony, it is probably the only time a year he opens his house, in a mark of recognition.

The ceremony for departure of the god lasts 2 days. On Saturday everyone travels to Tainan, spends there the evening celebrating, eating, and they all go back on Sunday. 三王爺 (San Wang Ye) has about 10.000 followers: among them, around 400 made the trip to Tainan, this is already quite impressive. More people were to join in Tainan, where he is popular.

Having heard about the event the night before, and together with a friend, we decided to go and attend the departure ceremony. From 4.30am to 7.00am, the main followers prepare the Gods, and double check the organization. The gods are brought out; it seems like the main God has invited some fellows from his family to join. Dancers and fighters repeat their moves, the encense is burning, the drums start to play. Waking up at night, entering this somehow different world, is a strange feeling. At this time, people start to leave a nearby disco, adding to the feeling; they watch incredulously the world of Gods as alcohol seems to make all things look plausible to them. They seem to be satisfied and they resume their path in the wide night.

Then, suddenly, at dusk, the ceremony starts. The ceremony master is a strong robust lady who directs the participants. She sets a fire on the road, then waits for the long queue of dignitaries to come and bend before it, then jump above the fire, and turn back normal again. During the procession most people seem possessed, it is an impressive demonstration. The lady-ceremony master also beats herself with some kind of axe. The drums are playing heavily, there are firecrackers and smoke everywhere. After everyone has come, it is the God’s turn to cross the fire, and I could almost see him smile, delighted to leave soon for the South, and to have so many friends.

There is a market nearby, a typical old place that will probably be destroyed soon, God knows why. It has been deemed too old by the municipality, and this is only one step in the fight that opposes the day forces such as business and money, to the Gods of the night and the ancient culture of Taipei. Alas, I think I know who’s gonna win this one…

First published on Litanies.net.

Click here to see the complete set of photos.

All photos by B. Girardot

Wednesday, 21 December 2011 17:25

Napa Village

The district of “Shangri La” (formerly called Zhongdian, before a name more prone to attract tourism was adopted in 2001…) is located on the north of Yunnan province, on the southern side of the Tibetan Plateau. The district is located on the frontiers of Yunnan, Sichuan, and Tibet, with an altitude of about 3380 meters above sea level.

Besides a renowned temple and the ruins of another one, the township proper has not much to offer the passer-by. But its surroundings are full of stunning human and natural wonders. One of them might well be Napa village, about 12 km from the township. It is in the middle of a natural reserve, set up by the government in 1980. There are 41 families, farmers and hunters, totaling a little less than 300 inhabitants, whose houses are grouped together. A gate signals the entry to the village. The lake below it is called “Napa Sea” and is renowned for the back-neck cranes that spend the winter there. It is not even a lake actually, but rather a depression, totally filled with water during the rainy season.

The primary school in Napa village stops at the third grade. Volunteers, coming mainly from Shanghai, have been offering summer courses for a few years already. Whenever possible, teachers supported by outside funding try to offer courses during the year, so that children may get a more advanced education. The same volunteers’ team also offers physical check-ups and other services aimed at local, sustainable development.

Ascending the mountains that surround the village, visitors can discover the enchantment of Tibetan forests and pasture. Now more open to the outside world and mastering the Mandarin language, young villagers act as guides, slowly developing an “eco-tourism” from below. Still, the life is far from being rosy: young girls are still carrying heavy loads of wood in prevision of the harsh winter months. Though eco-tourism is on the rise, the illegal cutting of trees occurs on a large scale. Paradoxically, it is even on the rise, because of the boom on constructions in traditional Tibetan style coming from the rise in tourism activities. Like in the whole of southwest China, the model of development is still debated, and a choice has to be made between rapid enrichment and the preservation of resources that prove to be rare and precious, even in the privileged natural environment of Shangri-la.

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