Thursday, May 6, 2021

India: Making History, Virtually!

- May 6, 2021, Thursday.

- Be part of India's history in the coming days! Although virtually, and in the comfort of our own homes, we can still take part in various activities held in whichever part of the world! India's Chinmaya Mission, in cooperation with its international branches, is celebrating the 105th birthday ("jayanti") of Swami Chinmayananda by launching a video series from May 8 to 25, 2021 through the Chinmaya Channel on Youtube (click here)! This will be done daily at 9:45pm-10:30pm Philippine time (7:15pm-8pm Indian time). Swami Chinmayananda, via newly-restored videos from the archives, will be discussing the 7th chapter of the Bhagavad Geeta. Most importantly, the online release of these videos will be inaugurated by the current prime minister of India, P.M. Narendra Modi.

- The Bhagavad Gita (sometimes spelled as "Bhagavad Geeta") is one of the holy books of Hinduism, and mainly shows discussions between the warrior prince Arjuna, and the god Krishna, initially disguised as a charioteer. The Gita, as it is fondly called, is part of the Mahabharata. The Mahabharata is one of the two main epics of India, the other being the Ramayana. The 7th chapter of the Bhagavad Geeta in particular discusses the nature of god and how one can know god to supplement one's faith. For those who might not be Hindu but consider themselves spiritual or enthusiasts of spirituality, learning from other scriptures can be a good exercise to see what other bodies of thought say about something as profound as the divine. 

The Bhagavad Gita
The Bhagavad Gita.

- So what about Swami Chinmayananda? Why celebrate him? Born as Balakrishna Menon on May 8, 1916 and passed away as Swami Chinmayananda on August 3, 1993, he was a journalist turned spiritual leader who was responsible in reviving world-wide interest among Hindus to study Hindu scriptures deeper. In the case of overseas Hindu Indians, the Chinmaya Mission that Swami Chinmayananda established was able to not only bring them closer to their religion, but also their culture, and other members of their local Indian community. Although the movement is generally Hindu, activities of the Chinmaya Mission are open to open-minded people (pun intended heehee), who may not necessarily identify as Hindus.

Swami Chinmayananda.

- In our current pandemic-stricken world, you might be one of the people who think they need a dose of spirituality to provide some peace and calmness to the senses. If this is the case, and if you are curious to know what Swami Chinmayananda himself says about knowing god through the Bhagavad Gita, do consider being part of this historical virtual event!  

Sunday, March 21, 2021

My Pandemic Chinese New Year!

- Feb. 13, 2021, Saturday.

- Holy crap it's been a year since I last wrote something here!! In case you're reading this from the future, I'd like to remind you that a pandemic swept through the world in early March 2020 that halted everything. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to stay at home, which included education and work, and going outdoors was, supposedly, mainly for doing errands. Leisure trips outside have been strongly discouraged with the rising cases of those affected by the virus, and some establishments like cinemas and other non-essential entertainment facilities have also closed down. Among the many industries affected by the pandemic, the travel industry was one that took a big took blow since borders have closed and non-essential travel are mostly not allowed. Since there are only a handful to no tourists roaming around, businesses like transportation, hotels/accommodations, souvenir stores, tourist spots, and other attractions have either closed temporarily (or worse, for good!) or they had to lay off so many people. While I am bummed that I can't travel like most people - and as in the past few years, this is the longest I've stayed in Manila without going out of the region - frankly I'm just happy to be alive and well right now.  

- Despite all the negativity happening in the world today, I was still able to sort of "celebrate" the Lunar New Year. I went to Lucky Chinatown Mall for errands the day after the Lunar New Year, and noticed that the mall was not crowded despite it being a Saturday. I also noticed that there were nice photo spots set up around the mall, and some usual photo spots had have been there for years but never really got to have a photo taken there.

The rows of lanterns at the third-floor walkway.

They've always been there and I've always admired them, but I guess I was always too busy to roam around to have a photo taken here.

- Since I didn't really plan a photoshoot here - and why would I in the middle of a pandemic - I didn't bring a tripod, so I had to ask people to take my photos. Thankfully they turned out well. Also, face masks and face shields are necessary when going outside the house to protect oneself. Plus, social distancing is a must. 

The second-floor walkway overseeing the sea of lanterns outside, plus the Macau-looking facade of the mall buildings.

- Initially I planned to remove my mask and shield as my photo was being taken (and only during those moments,) but I thought it would be better to keep my mask and shield on as a reminder to my future self that there was once a time in the world when we had to wear all these things when going out to do simple tasks. (This, of course, is me being optimistic that the world will be normal once more and that people can do regular things outdoors without masks and shields, and without any fear of getting a pandemic-level virus.) Since it was Lunar New Year, I did not fail to wear something cultural significant - what else but one of my casual Chinese attires. Even though you can't see my face, at least I'm still recognizable through my clothes.

Not really sure what kind of aesthetic they were going for, but this was part of the Chinatown Museum promotions. The museum is located in the annex building of Lucky Chinatown Mall.

I'm a piece of art too.


- It took me more than a month to finally write this - not only because I've been busy with doing research in the middle of a pandemic - but also because I initially thought that my trip to the mall for errands was something significant. However, I later thought that it has come to this point that going out of the house for errands like buying groceries or going to the bank has become "exciting" for me since those are the only times I can go out and have some break from "cabin fever." I try to be responsible and only go out when necessary though. In a way, my trip to the mall during the Lunar New Year has become my temporary definition of an "adventure" since I really have nowhere else to go. I am still hoping that the world will go back to normal soon, though it's easier said than done.  

Thursday, January 23, 2020

(Part 10) Traversing Turkey: New Year in Istanbul

- January 1, 2020, New Year.

- What better way to start the new year than having an adventure! As they say, whatever you do on the new year will pave way to whatever you're doing for the whole year. Though I don't necessarily believe this fully, I do hope for more travels and adventures this 2020!

- I began my new year by visiting the 16th-century Sokullu Mehmed Pasha Mosque, which, although a small mosque in the hidden alleys near my hotel in the Fatih District, was made by the Ottoman Empire's grand architect, Mimar Sinan. I actually did not have any intention going inside this mosque; I was on my way to another mosque, but since the mosques looked alike, I went inside this one by mistake. It was a good mistake though, but it does say something about the rather homogenous appearance (from structure to, at times, color) of Ottoman-Islamic architecture.

Sokullu Mehmed Pasha Mosque.
- My intention was to visit a less-visited mosque hidden in a semi-residential area further away from the center, but is also an interesting place to visit if one has a bit of extra time. The Kucuk Ayasofya ("ku-chuk aya-sof-ya") or "Little Hagia Sophia" shares much with the actual/big Hagia Sophia at the city center apart from their appearance. It was built almost the same time as the big Hagia Sophia in the 6th century, and both started out as Byzantine churches before being converted into mosques during the Ottoman Empire.

Kucuk Ayafoya.
Main dome.
At the entrance.
From the side.
- Later on we rode the tram from Sultanahmet station to Karakoy station, and once more rode the funicular up the hill to the Beyoglu District. I once again visited the Galata Mevlevi House Museum, but not to watch whirling dervishes again like what I did the day before (click here), but to learn more about the lives of the Sufi whirling dervishes.

Streets of Fatih District.
Back in Beyoglu.
- The Mevlevi House was built in the 1400s as a lodge for members of the Mevlevi Sufi Order, which originated in Konya by none other than Rumi himself (also known as "Mevlana;" click here to see my visit to his grave in Konya here). For me, this museum had more extensive exhibitions compared to the museum in Konya. The main difference is that in Konya, the living quarters and Rumi's grave (of course) were the focus, while the Mevlevi House highlights the things used by the dervishes (pens, books, documents, and musical instruments.)

Dervish things.
Plenty of hats!!
The base of their hats is made from camel hair.
A dervish work area.
The main hall during its quiet times.
This is what I'd look like if I were a horn.
Different traditional stringed instruments.
- After visiting the Mevlevi House, we walked around Istiklal Street for a bit before finding a restaurant to have lunch. The most interesting restaurants for me are those that look like cafeterias, where you just point to a dish you like and they'll serve it for you. (In Filipino, "turo-turo.") The food there seem less touristy and more varied than eating in a regular restaurant - the price is also more reasonable, I think.

Cafeteria-like restaurants.
- Finally, I decided to have a last visit to the Grand Bazaar, near Beyazit tram stop, for a last shopping trip. To be honest I really didn't get to buy much since most of the stores sold the same things (we Southeast-Asians like to call it "same same but different.") Still, it was nice to see the bazaar in its maze-like glory. The pastel-like hues of its antiques, carpets, jewelry, costumes, fabric, and shoes are definitely a feast for the eyes of the creative mind.

A traditional drinking fountain, made of marble, in the middle of the bazaar.
Old and new Turkey.
- Alas, our trip to Turkey had to come to an end that night, as we went off to Ataturk International Airport to catch our flight back to Manila. The only thing I can say is that this trip was good enough to give me an idea of how wonderful Turkey is as a country, but because of certain missed opportunities such as not being able to ride the hot air balloon in Cappadocia, or not getting the chance to see other places due to lack of time, I definitely wish to see Turkey again in the future to see and learn more about this country between continents!!

And now, off to my next adventure!!
  - Don't forget to read about my other adventures in Turkey:

Part 1, Troy and the Trojan Horse: here

Part 2, Virgin Mary's House and Ephesus: here

Part 3, Laodicea on the Lycus and the Alien Travertines: here

Part 4, Konya: here

Part 5, Cappadocia: here

Part 6, Istanbul's Royal Old Town: here

Part 7, Istanbul Between Continents: here

Part 8, Istanbul's Secrets: here

Part 9, Istanbul on New Year's Eve: here

Sunday, January 19, 2020

(Part 9) Traversing Turkey: Peace and Party on Istanbul's New Year's Eve

- Dec. 31, 2019, New Year's Eve.

- The year 2019 was about to end, but still I was not done exploring the wonders of Istanbul! There was really much to see in Istanbul, considering I only had time to visit around two of its many districts. (What more if I spent a full week or more in Istanbul, right?)

- That morning I went back to the Topkapi Palace grounds to visit the Istanbul Archaeological Museums (closest tram station: Sultanahmet stop.) It is located in the first courtyard, just after the first security check. Do note that the way to the museums from the courtyard involves a rather steep sloped path. The Archaeological Museums is actually made up of three smaller museums (your entrance ticket is automatically an entrance to all three): the main Archaeological Museum, the Museum of the Ancient Orient, and the Tiled Kiosk that functions as the Museum of Islamic Art. The museums were built in the 1800s as a way to modernize Turkey based on what its Ottoman rulers saw in Europe.

- One part that immediately caught my attention was the courtyard that sort of acted as an open-air museum with all its ancient sculptures exhibited out in the open air. I really wonder if they won't be damaged from constant exposure to the forces of nature.

Playing hide and seek.
Who has the best bodehhh??
I believe this is similar to one of the Medusa heads used as pillar bases in the Basilica Cistern (see here.
- The Museum of the Ancient Orient holds pieces that come from civilizations from Mesopotamia up until the Anatolian Plateau. The museum is closest to the ticket booth, and in my opinion it is best to start your visit of the three museums with this particular museum. It gives an idea of the historical and cultural beginnings and developments of the region.

Museum of the Ancient Orient.
Replica of tiled art from the Temple of Ishtar in Babylonia.
Statue of a Neo-Assyrian King.
- I soon visited the Museum of Islamic Art (Tiled Kiosk,) though ideally this should be visited last as it shows the most recent forms of historical art (Ottoman era from medieval and imperial Turkey.) It reminded me of all the kiosks and halls that I saw inside the Topkapi Palace.

Turkish tiled art is really something.
Would love to have this peacock fountain at home!!
Facade. Would love to have my picture taken here but it was quite difficult to get the whole thing.
- Finally, I visit the largest of them all, the main Archaeological Museum. Although part of it was being renovated, its diverse and uniquely-themed artifacts (ex. one section was dedicated to sarcophagi) made me want to discover more about ancient Turkey.

The main museum.
The Egyptian god Bes, protector of households.
Inside the museum.
The sarcophagus of Egyptian Priest Tabnit.
Love the detail!
Hall of sarcophagi.
- After visiting the museum, we rode the tram to Eminonu for a short visit to the Spice Bazaar as I wanted to buy more things, before riding the tram again to Karakoy for lunch (Karakoy tram stop.) After taking some photos of the view from Galata Bridge, we looked for the funicular to take us up the hill.

Galata Bridge.
Do you see the Hagia Sophia?
Fat cat at a little bit of the Galata Tower.
- The funicular called "Tunel" ("tyu-nel") is just across the street from the Karakoy tram stop, and also uses the Istanbulkart (Istanbul metro card.) The funicular was built in 1875, and since then has brought the residents of Istanbul up and down the hill.

A diorama of the Karakoy and Beyoglu districts that are connected by the funicular.
The funicular (it was 144 years old in 2019.)
- Once uphill in the district of Beyoglu ("be-yo-lu",) we walked around to see the shops on the way to see the Galata Tower. Originally built in the 1300s by the Genoese to replace an older tower built by the Byzantines, the Galata Tower was meant to be an observation tower and defense tower.

Galata Tower.
- Later on I decided to watch a Sufi sema ritual at the Mevlevi House, near the funicular station; the ticket to the show was worth 100 Lira. A sema ritual/performance is done everyday at around 5pm (but do check the schedules as they can change at times,) and is best to arrive around 30-45 minutes - earlier if possible - since there are no seat reservations.

Galata Mevlevi House.
- The sema ritual is a religious ceremony that the whirling dervishes are known for. To untrained eyes, the sema ritual seems like a whirling dance performance, and while on one hand it does appear that way, on the other hand, it should be understood that the sema ritual is a form of prayer. The ritual involves chanting of Islamic verses while being accompanied by traditional instruments such as flutes, lutes, and drums, while the dervishes salute each other before whirling. The position of the hands are also noticeable: the right hand faces upward to receive blessings from Allah, and the left hand faces downward to share these blessings.

Inside the performance hall.
Dervishes saluting each other.
Dervishes have to remove their outer cloaks before proceeding to the whirling part of the ritual.
They start whirling after getting a "go signal" from their superior.
- During the whole ritual, everyone was silent, and the only sounds to be heard are the singer's voice and the musical instruments. Although I did not understand everything that was going on apart from my basic understanding of the sema ritual (and the fact that I am not Muslim at all,) I felt that watching the dervishes whirl was quite therapeutic and I felt that I was receiving blessings as well from a divine being. Sometimes, I feel that the act of prayer can break religious boundaries. Since it was the end of the year, I guess it was what I perfectly needed: blessings of peace, love, and happiness.

Prayer in action.
I love the flowy skirts.
By the way, their hats are made of camel hair.
- After the one-hour sema ritual, I walked the entirety of Istiklal Street, one of Istanbul's main shopping streets (think of New York's 5th Avenue, Korea's Myeongdong, or Singapore's Orchard Road.) I underestimated the length of the whole street, especially since I told my family that I'd be meeting them at the end of Istiklal Street (I left them alone to shop while I watched the sema ritual since they were not interested in watching whirling dervishes.) The street was becoming a lot more crowded, with police checkpoints every few blocks, as Istiklal Street would be converted to a party street for the New Year countdown. Taksim Square, where I asked my family to meet me, was also barricaded. Taksim Square, by the way, is a public square with a monument built in 1928 to celebrate the 5th anniversary of the establishment of the Republic of Turkey.

Old trams on Istiklal Street. They're still being used.
Happy almost new year!!
Taksim Square.
Eating turkey in Turkey.
- That evening, I roamed around Sultanahmet to take pictures of the Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosquare at night. I also bought a cone of lemon-flavored Turkish ice cream (since why not while you're in Turkey.) The ice cream man did not do his antics though, I was a bit sad, but hey at least I got my cone in a second; Turkish ice cream vendors are known for their ice cream stunts, which comes off as playing tricks with their customers (pretending to give you your ice cream cone, turning your ice cream upside down, etc.)  I walked back to my hotel like a happy little fat boy with his ice cream. 

Hagia Sophia at night.
Blue Mosque at night.
Turkish ice cream. He was playing tricks on his customers as part of the experience of  buying a cone of Turkish ice cream.
He didn't play tricks on me though, he figured I'd eat him whole if he didn't quickly feed me, a fat and hungry little boy.
- As the new year was approaching, I went to our hotel's rooftop to see the fireworks from afar. As the clock struck twelve, I remembered that it was my second time welcoming the New Year in Istanbul - I also did last year, at the airport, since Istanbul was my layover from Austria on my way back to Manila.

Happy New Year, Istanbul.
- I went back to my room after watching the fireworks out in the cold; the fireworks display was much shorter than I had expected. As much as I wanted to be sentimental and have a mental flashback of things that happened to me in the past year, or perhaps write a long essay and post it on Facebook or Instagram like other people (as if everyone was part of an essay writing competition,) I still had to pack my things and prepare myself for my last full day in Turkey!

- Don't forget to read about my other adventures in Turkey:

Part 1, Troy and the Trojan Horse: here

Part 2, Virgin Mary's House and Ephesus: here

Part 3, Laodicea on the Lycus and the Alien Travertines: here

Part 4, Konya: here

Part 5, Cappadocia: here

Part 6, Istanbul's Royal Old Town: here

Part 7, Istanbul Between Continents: here

Part 8, Istanbul's Secrets: here