Saturday, February 25, 2017

A few more snapshots of THONBURI

The Chao Phraya River (the' River of the Kings')
The right bank of the Chao Phraya River in Thonburi remains a hideaway from the hustle and bustle of Bangkok city life. A quick ferry ride across the river transports you into another sphere. Quiet, quaint with no car around, it makes you feel you are miles away out in a country village. 
The new look of Wat Arun
The sitting Buddha at Wat Kalayanamit
Built by a Thai-Chinese nobleman in 1825, Wat Kalayanamit is a mix of Thai and Chinese culture. The main Thai viharn has a huge Buddha image which is 15.44 meters tall.
This section of Thonburi is inhabited by Chinese descendants. This is why there is also a traditional  Chinese temple nearby called Kuan Yin Shrine dedicated to the Goddess of Mercy. It has some exquisite murals and has kept its original Chinese atmosphere.
Kuan Yin altar
Temple side door
Wall decoration at Kuan Yin Shrine
Street scene at Kudichin
The nearby Kudi Chin Community is another quaint, historical area. They are the descendants of the Portuguese community that came to settle here after the fall of Ayutthaya. The Church of Santa Cruz - the oldest Portuguese church in Bangkok - stands in the middle of this settlement. The newly opened Baan Kudichin Museum keeps this heritage alive. Talking with one of the community descendants, she recalls her 236 years old ancestry making her the 6th generation.
The narrow sois (alleys) of this community remain an interesting sight to enjoy and explore. 
Still further away, there is another landmark worth seeing: Wat Prayoon (1828). Its huge white chedi is 80 meters wide at the base and is said to contain relics of Lord Buddha himself. Although this temple is still not a UNESCO World Heritage site, it has received a special award from the cultural organization (UNESCO-Award of Excellence 2013 ).
Wat Prayoon interior structure

Inside the chedi of Wat Prayun
Wat Prayoon has another asset: an enclosed garden designed as a blend of Eastern and Western architecture. It is called Turtle Mountain and is in the shape of a melting wax candle. The pond around the central rock is home to hundreds of turtles waiting to be fed by visitors.
Turtle Mountain
House built above a khlong (canal)
Other existing Blog links on Thonburi:

Friday, February 24, 2017

A day's walk in Bangkok

« The City of Angels » is undoubtedly a great city to live in. It is not simply historical and full of inestimable landmarks, it is also a vibrant, state-of-the-art city that, in many ways, makes it such an enjoyable place to be. I think it is accurate to say too that most foreigners living here enjoy its constant Asian atmosphere still pervading through its atmosphere: street markets, night markets, street stalls, street-foods or simply the cart vendors selling delicious foods at competitive prices.
Walking in Bangkok can provide an invigorating feeling of joy and surprises. You rarely walk without encountering a scene that will leave you indifferent, unless you are one of these blasé blokes, who favor a bar atmosphere.

This morning, as I was walking on my daily route along Ratchadaphisek, I witnessed a series of unexpected events. Thinking about this chain of coincidental incidents, I decided to share it in writing because they are a mirror of everyday's life in Bangkok these days.

Crossing Rama IX at the Ratchadaphisek intersection, I was surprised to come across a large police street-show regarding road security. “This is good”, I thought. I noticed they were distributing helmets. As a matter of fact, it was happening near the motorbike taxis near the MRT exit. And I immediately noticed that TODAY passengers were provided with a helmet! “Fantastic!”, I reacted. Now, most motor-bikers do wear a helmet within the city limits these days. Some time ago, all motor-bike taxi drivers were registered and had to wear an orange vest and a helmet. But this did not apply to their passengers! … So what was happening was a clear novelty to safety. Well, wait till I finish the whole story...
Proceeding northwards on Ratchadaphisek, I walked across the road on a pedestrian bridge (another great safety way as pedestrian crossings remain hazardous). On the opposite side, there were a few mobile vendors on the sidewalk. I saw there was a small group of policemen as well. One or two were taking pictures with their mobiles. I slowed down and watched like a few other passer-byes. One of the policemen, probably an inspector due to the way he was dressed, was pausing for a photo in front of the vendors. Then he nodded to the other cops, then grabbed a standing parasol he confiscated to clear away and put it into the nearby police pickup.The vendors got the message and started to close their business to roll their carts away. All this happened silently... I couldn't help reading on the dismayed face of one of the female vendors, probably a poor woman struggling to make a living like so many other people in this country.
Later on, back on Ratchadaphisek, I was walking to Esplanade shopping mall for lunch, when I heard the sound of a braking vehicle. A pickup truck had just collided with a passenger van. Nothing serious, though; mostly front bumper damages for the braking vehicle. I saw that the drivers dealt with the mishap courteously. It was a simple reminder of the road security in the country (the 2nd most dangerous in the world after Libya).
This was the third event of the day. How strange!
But now, wait till you hear the follow-up for today's first story. Back to the Ratchadaphisek/Rama IX intersection, I walked past the motorbike taxi stand again at the MRT exit. The police had gone long ago and among all the passengers who were riding, I saw only one wearing a helmet. Where were all the other passenger helmets? It looked like it was business as usual!...

What you see or read in the official papers is not always a true account of reality. This may well be the “land of smiles” but sometimes you must look beyond. Some more the Asian smile needs to be interpreted. It is not always a mark of happiness. Traffic security remains an issue. The authorities are well aware of the situation. But it is not simply a matter of decision-making and spectacular public show-off. It is an education implementation to fight against what appears to be a cultural habit, which by the way many 'farangs' adopt at their own risks! It starts at school with younger children. Meanwhile, it needs to be implemented rigorously.
As for the current official trend of clearing the streets, I am not certain this should be a top-notch priority for both Thais and visitors. On the contrary, for most visitors, this is a sight that makes Bangkok and Thailand so attractive, so charming. As long as this has no implication with security measures, why would you get rid of a cultural identity that makes the livelihood of so many impoverished people?
About two decades ago, Singapore was much criticized for its lack of cultural identity. It became such an embarrassment that the local authorities decided to alter their choice. Today, Singapore has adopted a highly cultural resolution.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Wat Sri Suphan, Chiang Mai (The Silver Temple)

Thailand is the land of many beautiful temples. Bangkok alone shares this Palmares with Wat Pho & its reclining Buddha, Wat Arun (the Temple of Dawn) or Wat Benchamabophit (the Marble Temple). Pattaya has Prasat Sut Ja-Tum, the Sanctuary of Truth, known as the Wooden Temple. Chiang Rai has an iconic temple, Wat Rong Khun, known as the White Temple, which is perhaps one of the most famous wat in the country.

Yet, after the glittering beauty of Wat_Phra That Doi Suthep with all its gold-like copper plates,
Entrance to Silver Temple
Chiang Mai has just added another amazing monument to the list.
Wat Sri Suphan, or the Silver Temple, is another unusual site. The construction started in 2008 and it took four years to complete the work in the silversmith tradition of the Lanna culture. The interior is decorated with scenes of Buddha's life. The silver-work is so massive that it provides the atmosphere of a cave. However, according to a Lanna tradition, ladies are prohibited from entering the ubosot (ordination hall).
Wat Srisuphan was created in order to preserve the silversmith tradition of the Chiang Mai area that was initiated two hundred years ago under the Lanna king Kawila. It is still a rather unknown wat but is certainly worth a detour while in town.

Christian Sorand
Sitting Buddha inside the Silver Temple
Night view of the Silver Temple

Sites amazighes de la région d'Ouarzazate, sud marocain

La région située au sud du Haut Atlas entre le col du Tizi-n-Tichka (alt. 2260 m, ⵜⵉⵣⵉ ⵏ ⵜⵉⵛⴽⴰ ,'col difficile') et Ouarzazate (du tamazight ⵡⴰⵔⵣⴰⵣⴰⵜ, signifiant 'sans bruit') est un terre berbérophone de la tribu des Chleuhs. Les vallées voisines du Drâa et du Dadès jalonnent les itinéraires des agences de voyage et sont des hauts-lieux touristiques.

Trois sites principaux glorifient l'héritage culturel amazigh :
-La Kasbah de Taourirt (XVIIe): Située sur une colline au dessus de l'oued Ouarzazate, cette kasbah a été l'une des nombreuses résidences du glaoui. Elle comporte deux parties : une kasbah (fort) flanqué de tours carrées et dentelées de créneaux, portant des décors géométriques, et d'un ksar, village encore habité. L'emplacement de l'ancienne synagogue est encore visible.
Vue générale de la Kasbah de Taourirt à Ouarzazate
Décor d'une tour

Kasbah de Taourirt
Les dessins géométriques de la Kasbah de Taourirt
Tifinagh de la synagogue de Taourirt
-La Kasbah de Tiffoultoute : Perchée sur une colline rocailleuse au dessus d'une oasis de l'oued Ouarzazate, cette forteresse fut également une résidence du glaoui.
Kasbah de Tifoultoute
L'oued Ouarzazate depuis la terrasse de Tifoultoute
-Le Ksar d'Aït-Benhaddou [ⴰⵢⵜ ⵃⴰⴷⴷⵓ]: Il s'agit d'un des plus beaux ksour ('ighrem') du sud marocain. Ce village fortifié sur le bord d'un oued est adossé à une colline, au sommet de laquelle se trouve un agadir (grenier collectif). Il est situé à l'entrée de la vallée de l'Ounila, au sud de Télouet. En 1987, l'UNESCO a classé le site au patrimoine mondial.
Vue de la vallée d'Aït-Benhaddou


Mur défensif du village

Une route permet de relier Aït-Benhaddou au col du Tizi-n-Tichka par Télouet. Cette route étroite et accidentée traverse une région encore peu connue, offrant des points de vue spectaculaires.

-La vallée de l'Ounila : Une cinquantaine de kilomètres séparent Aït-Benhaddou de Télouet, mais
étant donné l'état de la route, cette distance paraît bien plus longue. La route a été refaite jusqu'au sud de Télouet. Elle est en passe de construction dans le dernier tronçon et devient mauvaise entre Télouet et l'embranchement de la route principale vers le col du Tizi-n-Tichka.
Cette route suit le cours d'une rivière de montagne dont le paysage rappelle celui des Aurès, en Algérie ou le massif de Tamerza en Tunisie. Les villages Chleuhs se succèdent, surmontés parfois de Kasbahs, parmi des cultures en terrasses perchées sur les bords d'une étroite vallée faite d'oasis de montagnes ou de profonds canyons. Cette route était autrefois le passage des caravanes qui reliaient Marrakech au Sahara.

Village de la vallée de l'Ounina
Les gorges de la vallée de l'Ounina
Terrasse d'un village Chleuh de la vallée de l'Ounina
Au terme de cet itinéraire situé un peu hors des sentiers battus, il n'est peut-être pas inutile d'apporter quelques précisions linguistiques.
Les trois mots suivants s'appliquent à l'architecture amazighe (berbère) du sud marocain. Le tableau permet de clarifier ces termes s'appliquent d'ailleurs à d'autres régions d'Afrique du Nord:

[ graphie tifinagh / ⵜⵉⴼⵉⵏⴰⵗ]
Ksar [sg: قص] / ksour [pl:قصور ] Ighrem [sg: ⵉⵖⵔⴻⵎ] / igherman [pl: ⵉⵖⵔⵎⴰⵏ] Un village fortifié.
Le terme arabe ghorfa (غرفة-'chambre') désigne les cellules d'un ksar (par exemple dans le sud tunisien).
Kasbah [قصبة ] Tighremt [ⵜⵉⵖⵔⵎⵜ] Une forteresse.
Une kasbah est généralement construite sur une éminence ou près d'un oued et comporte des tours de gué.
Kalâa [قلعة] ou guelâa Agadir [sg : ⴰⴳⴰⴷⵉⵔ] / igudar [pl] Un grenier collectif fortifié

Christian Sorand

Liens utiles :
-Ksar :


Nouvel An Amazigh célébré à Ouarzazate