Perhaps it is a cliché however whenever I am in Asia I feel quite powerfully a stark sense of contrast. There is the ever-present visual proximity of rich and poor where tarpaulin markets and street stalls are metres from streamlined, glistening marble and chrome shopping malls. Temples of various kinds to various Gods co-exist….and the daily act of genuine spiritual worship and practice is nestled amongst sky scrapers and apartment towers that stretch for miles. Here feels the tug of East and West, the values of family and community versus the individual and the aspirational. At times one sees almost a parody of Western cultural traditions and imagery and their new-found Asian expression.
The arts in Hong Kong feel a bit-player alongside the cut and thrust of a global city and business centre. Super-scaled venues with a swathe of International stars and acts cater to the flashy, more showy aspects of culture as an expression of wealth and status. One senses contemporary arts is finding and also seeking a new expression in a post-colonial world as China reasserts its control and power in Hong Kong.
I wander through ultra slick and sophisticated perfumed shopping malls and hotel lobbies into the sweaty, smoking corridors of local temples, then out again onto bustling packed streets where hawkers, beggars and consumers sell, seek, search and hope amongst the rush of all forms of traffic which feels an ever constant hum. I find myself asking what do I want? What am I seeking? buying? looking for? Why am I here at all? It is hot, it is humid and I walk and I walk…’mad dogs’ and all of becomes an inner irony swirling in my head…
|A bus has a message of a kind|
|Old meets new wherever you look|
|Fab architecture, Kowloon side|
|Super efficient, super cool, super fast..and they just go on and on...|
|Old and new|
On Ghosts and being ghostly!
My Asialink residency project involves in part researching the traditions around the celebration of the Ghost Month or Festival, and the related stories and tales of ‘hungry ghosts’. (particularly how this is recognised in Taiwan)
As I step in and out of various temples it is I who feels ghost-like. Observing, while trying to be unobtrusive, so obviously ‘other’, separate and apart from the various rituals of making offerings, incense burning, chanting that is a constant human flow.
At Tianhou temple I walk up stone stairs, through gates and gateways into darkened smoke-scarred corridors. In this red-gold world there is so much I do not understand, and most of what is written on the walls is in Chinese (naturally). Stand fans whir making barely an imprint on the heat as sweat gently rivers down my back. I let impressions wash over and wonder at ceilings of incense bell-shapes gently smouldering, silver bottomed and inscribed. I see rows of doll-like figurines; ancestors? warriors? temple leaders? In amongst statues to various Gods are towers of glowing discs, each with a message, a request (some I am told are solely for children, yet to be born). There are tables of food and flowers of all kinds. Incinerators burn paper parcels, sacks and joss-paper twisted shapes. What messages? What requests? For forgiveness, mercy, hope or good fortune? Or the more pragmatic options; a decision to be made, an examination to be sat, a new job? relationship? bills to be paid…all are encompassed. And so I hover, watch, listen and then silently move through and on…
|Early Photo - Tian Hou Temple|
|Rows of figurines|
Guanyin (Kuan Yin)
On my travels I find myself drawn to a particular figure in a temple hall side room (at the Bhuddist temple known as the Chi Lin Nunnery near the Nan Lian Garden) and begin a conversation that is set to continue.
Guanyin (originated Avolokitesvara Bodhisattva, known as also Kuan Yin) the Goddess of Mercy is sitting on a lotus seat on a rock in the midst of the ocean pondering the reflection of the moon in the water…(a symbol of the impermanence and illusory nature of life). I find her seated stance open, grounded, elbow gently resting on her knee. Her expression benevolent (not surprising) and yes, she is powerful.
Guan Yin is the ‘holder of the lotus’ and assumes many forms (both male and female I discover). She embodies the compassion (mercy & forgiveness) of all the Bhuddas. She is the protector of women, children, sailors and fishermen and those who are imprisoned…She invites us to be compassionate with each other and ourselves…. she is definitely my kind of goddess. And she will also begin to show up in other spaces and places as I travel onto Taipei…
|Nan Lin Garden|
|Chi Lin Nunnery|
|There is always a gate way|