Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Wengen to Männlichen in the Bernese Alps

A day trip from Geneva to the Swiss Alps

We boarded the train at the in Geneva bound for the Lauterbrunnen valley under the Junfrau region of Switzerland. Our train left the Garre Cornivan central train station around 8 am and it accelerated rapidly and glided across the Swiss countryside along the banks of Lac Léman. From here we could see snow capped mountain peaks in the far distance.

It took us 1 1/2 to get to Bern, another hour to Interlaken and another hour going up the mountain pass of Lauterbrunnen. We arrived in Wengen just after noon only to find the entire town closed due to it being a Sunday. It was strangely quiet but also quite peaceful exploring the car free town of Wengen. The sharp, high white mountains coupled with the low deep green valleys are an amazingly beautiful sight everyone should witness at least once before they die.

We strolled around the quiet, deserted town for an hour or so then took the Wengen to Männlichen aerial cable up to the nearest mountain peak.

The weather was perfect and the views as majestic as I remember. Fresh soft snow covered the mountain peaks as far as the eye could see.

 It was the first time my wife had seen snow so she was naturally very excited. She struggled walking in the snow due to her poor choice of winter shoes but made it to the top eventually none-the-less.

From the Männlichen peak we were rewarded with views across towards Grindelwald as well as the Lauterbrunnen valley.

We wanted to go all the way up to the glaciers at Jungfrau but due to the distance from Geneva and limited time we have saved it for the next occassion.

We left on the 5pm train and did the reverse trip back to Geneva arriving by 9pm. The next time we visit this region I will plan to spend a couple of weeks based in the Swiss mountain villages exploring the scenery by foot, train and cable car. I really enjoy travelling in this part of the world.

View Larger Map Wengen–Männlichen in Bernese Alps

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Phuket Vegetarian Festival เทศกาลกินเจ

Nine Emperor Gods Festival / 九皇爺 / เทศกาลกินเจ - The vegetarian festival is mainly celebrated by the Chinese Thai community during the ninth lunar month of the Chinese calendar. A couple of my visits to Phuket coincided with this event so I thought I would post some images of the things visitors may encounter. It is truly an amazing experience. There is nothing I have every seen which compares to the Phuket Vegetarian Festival. The event for this year will take place from 4th - 14th October 2013.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

Known in Thailand as the "Tetsagan Gin Jay/เทศกาลกินเจ" and elsewhere as the 9 Emperor Gods Festival it is usually held over a 10-day  period around September or October.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

During this time, local residents strictly observe a vegetarian or vegan diet as well as perform sacred rituals at various shrines and temples.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

The vegetarian festival is widely celebrated around the country but only in the southern provinces around Phuket will you find these bizarre rituals.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

There will be specific ceremonies at Chinese temples and shrines all around the island. You can usually find the events schedule online a month or so before it begins. I've included this information at the bottom of this post.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival © 2013 Michael LaPalme

The are many groups of devotees and each has its own temple or shrine to support. The nature of the event can be quite graphic involving quite a bit of blood.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

Each morning at dawn the ceremonies begin and devotees are pierced at mutilated. After which, they parade many kilometers through the streets to Phuket town.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

Tens of thousands of people converge upon Phuket town and the crowds gather quite thick along the parade routes.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

From dawn till dusk you will hear nothing but firecrackers and fireworks all over Phuket. The sound can be quite deafening and whole city streets disappear completely in the smoke they leave behind. It is  reminiscent of a disaster or war zone if you didn't know it was a cause for celebration.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

The Mah Song 

Only the Mah Song (ม้าทรง) perform the piercings and bodily mutilations. They believe that their bodies become the vehicle for the spirit gods. Many believe that the gods skewer the cheeks of the mah song with sharp instruments in order to absorb negative energy as well as to help other people by freeing them from bad karma, illness or sorrow.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme
Mah song ม้าทรง are the people who invite the spirits of gods to possess their bodies. Mah ม้า is the word for horse in Thai, and the name mah song refers to how the spirits of the gods use the bodies of these people as a vehicle, as one rides a horse. Only pure, unmarried men or women without families of their own can become mah song. At the temple they undergo a series of rituals to protect them for the duration of the festival, during which flagellation and self-mutilation is practiced. The mah song tradition doesn't exist in China and is believed to have been adopted from the Indian festival of Thaipusam. 
Source: Wikipedia 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

Each "Mah Song" is usually surrounded by a group of family and friends who encircle and protest them from the large crowds. Some people pierce themselves with extremely large items such as bicycles, furniture, appliances and even the kitchen sink. If it is not bolted down, chances are it will end up skewered through someone's face.

Vegetarian Festival in Thailand
Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalmeIn accordance with the traditions, many religious devotees will perform ritualized mutilation upon themselves and one another (with the consent of, context and understanding of all involved and the practice itself) while under a trance-like state, including but not limited to: impaling through cheeks, arms, face, legs, back etc., with everything from as small as syringes to as large as is agreed upon between all members; partial skinning (the skin is not removed, just cut and flipped over); slashing of limbs, chest, stomach and especially tongue with swords, axes and knives; bloodletting; removal of tissue (normally limited to cysts) and intentionally wrapping or standing near fire crackers as they are lit.
This is done without anesthetic, always inside or near the temples surrounded by other devotees with only iodine, petroleum jelly and surgical gloves as precautionary measures. Despite this scenario, many of the same people performing the rituals are also the people who will care for many of the people in their recovery, the actual impaling is done by doctors and physicians in the community, is planned out for weeks if not months in advance and medical teams are present in and around temple grounds for the entire time of the festival, with frequently spectators needing more help then the devotees, who remain in a trance during this process and are monitored through the entire event in case they should drop out of concentration, in which case they are immediately take to medical professionals regardless of the circumstances to minimize post trance bleeding.
 Source: Wikipedia

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

These items are heavy and the Mah Song risk having them ripped from their faces in the large crowds. They are encircled and protected by groups of family and friends.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

The Mah Song need their family and friends to support the during this time. It can be very dangerous if one of them falls or is pushed through the large crowds. You can tell they are afraid of having the items forcibly ripped from their flesh.  The risk of injury risk  of injuring themselves is very real. You will often see people who do nothing but wipe the blood from the wound of spirit medium.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

The Mah Song can usually be seen in a trance like state and shaking their heads back and forth as if under the influence of some kind of intoxicant. For the most part, they do not appear to be in pain.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

 It is all a very surreal experience. During the festival there are also many other ceremonies and activities which include fire-walking and blade-ladder climbing.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

This experience can be quite alien to westerners. Even corporations are starting to get in on the action and you can see that Volvo has even provided some sponsorship in the ceremony.

Phuket Vegetarian Festival  © 2013 Michael LaPalme

I wonder how long it will be until Coca Cola, Microsoft and other corporations sponsor their own spirit mediums. 

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Shrines

Phuket Vegetarian Festival Shrines
  • Baan Tha Rue Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, not far from the Heroines’ Monument
  • Cherng Thalay Shrine, Sri Soonthorn Road, Thalang District
  • Sapam Shrine, Thepkrasattri Road, Koh Kaeo, Phuket Town
  • Yok Ke Keng Shrine, Soi Panieng, Samkong, Phuket Town
  • Samkong Shrine, Yaowarat Road, on the north side of Phuket Town
  • Kathu Shrine, Wichitsongkram Road, Kathu District
  • Put Jaw Shrine, On the corner of Soi Phuthorn, Ranong Road, Phuket Town
  • Jui Tui Shrine, Soi Phutorn, Ranong Road Soi 4, Phuket Town
  • Sui Boon Tong Shrine (aka Lorong Shrine), Pattana Road, Phuket Town
  • Bang Neow Shrine, Phuket Road, on the south side of Phuket Town
  • Thep Rasi Shrine, Phuket Road, near Robinson Department Store, Phuket town
  • Kiew Tien Keng Shrine, Sapanhin Park, Phuket Town

Schedule for street processions of Chinese Shrines

MonOctober 07, 2013 Sapam Shrine
TueOctober 08, 2013 Samkong Shrine
WedOctober 09, 2013 Ban Tha Rve Shrine
ThuOctober 10, 2013 Bang Neow Shrine
 Cherng Thalay Shrine
FriOctober 11, 2013 Jui Tui Shrine
SatOctober 12, 2013 Kathu Shrine
 Yokkekeng Shrine
SunOctober 13, 2013 Sui Boon Tong Shrine

For more information please visit the Official Website for the schedule and other details or download the details in pdf format here.

A local expat and blogger Jamie Monk also has information and photos of the event on his site here

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