Friday, 31 January 2014

Japan's New Fruit Craze - Pentagon Oranges!

Fruit farmers in Ehime Prefecture, Japan have created pentagon-shaped oranges which they named "Gokakukei Iyokan". A mix of mandarians and oranges; "Iyokan", sometimes called a "Japanese Summer Orange", and "gokakukei" which means "pentagon." 

But this special fruits's name is a pun. You see, Japanese word "goukaku" means "successfully passing an exam", and "ii yokan" means a "good premonition." Combined, they'll be written like "goukaku ii yokan" (sounds like "gokakukei iyokan"). It means "to have a good premonition of exam success." Thus, this citrus fruit is the best way to say, "Good luck on your school exams!"

Next month, 300 of them are going on sale at a local festival, reports Asahi. Courtesy of Asahi News and website Pouch, here are more photos of the pentagon-shaped fruit as well as how they are grown into that pentagon shape. The farmers have been working on this for years. 

Source: Kotaku | Image credits: Asahi News, Pouch 

The Church of Saint Simeon The Stylite

In the early fifth century, a Syrian monk named Simeon wandered out into the desert where he found, near modern-day Aleppo, an abandoned column rising up out of the sand. Simeon climbed the pillar, and would remain aloft on it for the next thirty-seven years (though he did eventually transfer to a much taller pillar nearby).

From the pillar, he preached sermons to those who sought out his wisdom and his example, though history has not treated his vocation well. Edward Gibbon wrote of Simeon, “This voluntary martyrdom must have gradually destroyed the sensibility both of the mind and the body, nor can it be presumed that the fanatics who torment themselves are susceptible of any lively affection for the rest of mankind.” His odd life later became the subject of a scathing satire by Luis Buñuel, Simon of the Desert.

He was not the only pole sitter (known as a “stylite”) but he was the first and the most famous, and after his death this church was built on the site of his pillar to honor his ascetic devotion. The church was huge, over 5000 square meters, rivaling Hagia Sofia in size, though it has long since fallen into ruin and now comprises only part of the large complex of ruins known as the Dead Cities of Syria. Saint Simeon’s pillar, surprisingly, still stands, though it’s been whittled down to just a few meters from centuries of relic seekers who’ve carved off small shards for themselves.

Source: atlasobscura | Image credits: 1 2 3 4 5 6

Thursday, 30 January 2014

Nakagin Capsule Tower - Japan

The Nakagin Capsule Tower was the first capsule architecture design, the capsule as a room inserted into a mega-structure, built for actual use. The Capsule Tower realizes the ideas of metabolism, exchangeability, recycleablity as the prototype of sustainable architecture.

Located in the Ginza area of Tokyo, the Nagakin Capsule Tower, was originally designed as a Capsule Hotel to provide economical housing for businessmen working late in central Tokyo during the week.

The 14-story high Tower has 140 capsules stacked at angles around a central core. Kurokawa developed the technology to install the capsule units into the concrete core with only 4 high-tension bolts, as well as making the units detachable and replaceable.

The one-man-room capsule, a modified (4 x 2.5 meter) shipping container, has a circular window, a built-in bed and bathroom unit, and is complete with TV, radio and alarm clock. The capsule interior was pre-assembled in a factory then hoisted by crane and fastened to the concrete core shaft.

Elegant as an abstract concept, and beautiful in design to other architects, the tower turned out to be almost unbearable to its inhabitants. Tiny apartments, they were constantly cramped, and the giant concrete shell was ugly and dehumanizing. In addition, maintenance costs started to pile up, and the value of real-estate in the center of the famous and expensive Ginza district began to plummet.

The future of the building is at the moment uncertain. In April of 2007 it was slated for demolition. The notion caused an uproar in the international architecture community, which still considers the building a masterpiece. Kurokawa led the campaign for its preservation until the end of his life. He even suggested the replacement of the original capsules with a smaller number of more spacious modules. The financial crisis has provided a temporary salvation for the building, as investors for the replacement haven't been found yet.

Sources: arcspaceatlasobscura | Image credits: 1 2 3 

The Magnificent UFO-shaped Buddhist Temple

Wat Phra Dhammakaya is a Buddhist temple of humongous size in Khlong Luang District, 16 kilometers north of Bangkok International Airport in Bangkok, Thailand. It is the center of the controversial Dhammakaya Movement, a Buddhist sect founded in the 1970s, that has been attacked for its unconventional religious teachings and commercialization of Buddhism. The unorthodox $1billion religious monument looks more like a spaceship, or a sports stadium or even a UFO rather than resembling a traditional Thai temple.

At the center of the structure is a huge dome (the Dhammakaya Cetiya) covered with 300,000 gold-coated bronze statues of Buddha -- another 700,000 are nestled inside the temple. The golden dome is the Memorial Hall of the sect’s founder, Phramonkolthepmuni. This is surrounded by a massive circular concrete platform which functions as the Meditation Amphitheatre. The entire complex is located on a thousand-acres piece of land.

Mass rituals and meditations are held everyday, helped by thousands of volunteers. During Sundays and major religious festivals, nearly 100,000 worshippers congregate at the complex. Already a community of 3,000 monks, novices, laymen and laywomen live within Wat Phra Dhammakaya making it the largest temple in Thailand in terms of inhabitants.

Despite outlandish ceremonies and national coverage of these events through television channels, Dhammakaya has managed to keep under the world's radar. The four-decade old religious cult has only recently scaled up to a spectacle that it’s now, with a two-week nationwide retreat held on Dec. 25, 2010, where an estimated 200,000 people attended.

Source: amusingplanet | Image credits: 1 2 3 4 5 

11 Things You Should Know About Lunar New Year

Red packets of money will change hands and dragon dances will roar through the streets as people around the world, predominately of Chinese descent, usher in the Year of the Horse.

Beyond the usual Lunar New Year traditions, however, is a holiday full of interesting quirks and customs.

1. Locals don't call it Chinese New Year
In China, the festivities are known as spring festival (春節) or Lunar New Year (農曆新年) -- the new year is determined by the lunar calendar. And the Chinese aren't the only ones who observe it. From late January to mid-February, Korea, Vietnam, Japan and other countries celebrate Lunar New Year.

2. Traffic is chaos
Lunar New Year is basically like having an entire country throw a family reunion -- all at once. Traffic Armageddon inevitably strikes. In China, the Spring Festival travel rush period (chunyun) is the country's, if not the world's, biggest season of human migration. Whether pushing their way into packed buses, buying black-market tickets from scalpers or standing for hours on a crowded train, travelers do whatever it takes to see loved ones.

3. It's not just one day
Lunar New Year lasts 15 days, starting from January 31, 2014. This year its last day falls on Valentine's Day. It's an action-packed holiday -- you can bet on horse races, watch parades, bargain in bazaars and fight for prime worship spot at the temple.

4. It's a season of superstitions
During LNY, you live like a college student on the first day -- which means no showers, laundry or cleaning. Above all, there's no taking out the trash -- doing so is said to wash away your luck and prosperity. You hang out with family (especially in-laws) on the second day, which is considered the beginning of the year. On the third day, visiting friends and family is frowned upon, because it's a day prone to arguments. On the seventh day, it's time to party in celebration of everyone's birthday.

5. You can rent a boyfriend
Lunar New Year can be rough for singles, especially females. Many family reunions are highlighted by dreaded interrogations of singles who haven't settled down. Now there's a solution -- boyfriend rentals. China's largest online retailer, Taobao, has a section for fake boyfriend rentals, so parents and relatives can finally stop nagging. Renting a bogus marriage prospect ranges from RMB 500 ($82) to 8,000 ($1,321) per day. The package comes with "a free embrace, hand holding and a goodbye kiss on the cheek," as well as a list of additional specific service charges.

6. Odd linguistic customs are observed
In Parts of China, there are a few things you can and can't do over the Lunar New Year holiday -- simply because of how they sound. Footwear purchases are off limits for the entire lunar month, as the term for shoes (haai) sounds like losing and sighing in Cantonese. You can however, turn the Chinese character for luck (fu) upside down to make "dao" (which sounds like arrival) and put it on your door to bring in good fortune for the new year.

7. Firecrackers are for scaring away monsters
Legend says the half-dragon, half-lion monster "Nian" comes out of hiding and attacks people (especially children) during the Lunar New Year.
His weakness? Sensitive ears. In the old days, people would light bamboo stalks on fire to frighten the monster. Nowadays, you can watch spectacular fireworks display along the Hong Kong waterfront or play with firecrackers in a Beijing hutong.

8. Red undies are critical for some
Red is associated with luck and prosperity, but it's used mainly for protective purposes. In addition to being spooked by loud noises, "Nian" is frightened by the color red, which explains all the red you see on Lunar New Year decorations. For those born in the Year of the Horse -- turning 12, 24, 36, 48, 60, 72, 84 and 96 this year -- red undergarments are a must. Not because that pesky LNY monster has X-ray vision, but because red undies supposedly fend off misfortune in this unlucky year.

9. It's a time for sweets
Food is central to all Chinese festivals, but sugary snacks are especially important for LNY, since they sweeten up prospects for the coming year. Traditional holiday treats include nian gao (rice pudding), babaofan (eight treasure rice), jau goks (crispy dumplings), candied fruits and seeds.

10. It has its own movie genre
China and Hong Kong have a film genre called "hesuipian" devoted to Lunar New Year. The films are usually illogical, uplifting comedies, with a focus on families and happy endings to make viewers feel warm and fuzzy. Similar to Christmas movies, really. Holiday favorites include the "All's Well, Ends Well" series (the 1992 classic stars Stephen Chow and Maggie Cheung), "Fat Choi Spirit" and "It's a Mad Mad World."

11. Customs are flexible
Customs and superstitions aren't set in stone. There's room for flexibility in interpretation and application. Banning shoes for the entire lunar month? That depends on how you read the rules -- the word for shoe might sound like sighing, but it also sounds like harmony (hexie). Not showering for the sake of Lunar New Year? Many pass on that for obvious hygienic reasons. In the end, Lunar New Year is really about having a great time with family and friends, so many opt not to sweat the details.

Source: CNN | Image credits: 1 2 3 

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Gong Xi Fa Cai, Red envelope please!

Chinese New Year is the longest and most important celebration in the Chinese calendar. The Chinese year 4712 begins on Jan. 31, 2014.

Chinese months are reckoned by the lunar calendar, with each month beginning on the darkest day. New Year festivities traditionally start on the first day of the month and continue until the fifteenth, when the moon is brightest. In China, people may take weeks of holiday from work to prepare for and celebrate the New Year.

Legend has it that in ancient times, Buddha asked all the animals to meet him on Chinese New Year. Twelve came, and Buddha named a year after each one. He announced that the people born in each animal's year would have some of that animal's personality. Those born in horse years are cheerful, skillful with money, perceptive, witty, talented and good with their hands.

At Chinese New Year celebrations people wear red clothes, decorate with poems on red paper, and give children "lucky money" in red envelopes. Red symbolizes fire, which according to legend can drive away bad luck. The fireworks that shower the festivities are rooted in a similar ancient custom. Long ago, people in China lit bamboo stalks, believing that the crackling flames would frighten evil spirits.

In China, the New Year is a time of family reunion. Family members gather at each other's homes for visits and shared meals, most significantly a feast on New Year's Eve. In the United States, however, many early Chinese immigrants arrived without their families, and found a sense of community through neighborhood associations instead. Today, many Chinese-American neighborhood associations host banquets and other New Year events.

The lantern festival is held on the fifteenth day of the first lunar month. Some of the lanterns may be works of art, painted with birds, animals, flowers, zodiac signs, and scenes from legend and history. People hang glowing lanterns in temples, and carry lanterns to an evening parade under the light of the full moon.

In many areas the highlight of the lantern festival is the dragon dance. The dragon—which might stretch a hundred feet long—is typically made of silk, paper, and bamboo. Traditionally the dragon is held aloft by young men who dance as they guide the colorful beast through the streets. In the United States, where the New Year is celebrated with a shortened schedule, the dragon dance always takes place on a weekend. In addition, many Chinese-American communities have added American parade elements such as marching bands and floats.

Source: infoplease | Image credits: 1 2 3 4 5 6 

Bokor Hill Station - A French Ghost Town in Cambodia

Bokor Hill Station is a French ghost town in Preah Monivong National Park, southern Cambodia. Construction started in 1921 on Dâmrei Mountains, about 20 km as the crow flies West from the town of Kampot.

The town was built as a resort by the colonial French settlers to offer an escape from the heat, humidity and general insalubrity of Phnom Penh. Nine hundred lives were lost in nine months during the construction of the resort in this remote mountain location.

The centrepiece of the resort was the grand Bokor Palace Hotel & Casino, complemented by shops, a post office, a church and the Royal Apartments. It is also an important cultural site, showing how the colonial settlers spent their free time.

Bokor Hill was abandoned first by the French in late 1940s, during the First Indochina War, because of local insurrections guided by the Khmer Issarak, and then for good in 1972, as Khmer Rouge took over the area. During the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, Khmer Rouge entrenched themselves and held on tightly for months. In earlier 1990s Bokor Hill was still one of the last strongholds of Khmer Rouge.

Now abandoned, with the exception of the old post office, most of the buildings are still standing. The strategic importance of the location is underlined by the fact that the Cambodian authorities maintain a Ranger Station on the site. The only other "inhabited" building on the site is a small temple. There is also a waterfall which tends to be dry in high season and in full flow during rainy season. About 10 km before on the way for Bokor Hill Station there is the Black Palace (Veang Khmao). It was a little summer palace of King Sihanouk, abandoned some decade ago.

The site is owned by the government but is now under 99–year lease to the Sokimex Group who are undertaking to relay the road and redevelop the site, repairing the old hotel and casino along with new buildings. The project was announced on Jan 19th 2008, road construction is underway. The subsequent re-development is budgeted over the next 15 years after which a further application may be submitted to create a larger Bokor city, the plans for which are unknown. 

Sources: wikipediaasiaobscura 

The Beautiful Haedong Yonggungsa Temple in South Korea

Haedong Yonggungsa Temple is located in the north-east of Busan. The Buddhist temple was built beside the shore which is quite unique as most temples are built in the mountains. The temple has a long history which dates back to the Goryeo Dynasty in 1376. Haedong Yonggungsa Temple was destroyed during the Japanese Occupation of Korea. The temple was reconstructed in 1970 and the utmost care was taken using the original colours and designs.

The temple is located on rocks that are facing the ocean. Scattered around the temple you will see many different statues, sculptures and a stone pagoda. There are also four statues of lions which represent joy, anger, sadness and happiness.

Many people visit Haedong Yonggungsa Temple on New Year’s Day to pray for their families wellbeing and to get a glimpse of the first sunrise of the year. In March / April many events are held for Buddha’s Birthday and the temple is covered with lanterns.