Thursday, December 31, 2015

Fire Worship at Dashashwamedh Ghat, Varanasi

After Sarnath, we went to Varanasi, the place that I most wanted to visit in India.  A tricycle took us to Dashashwamedh Ghat, the main ghat in Varanasi.  It is a huge flight of steps leading down to the waters of the Ganges.  A legend says that Lord Brahma created it to welcome Lord Shiva.  Another says Lord Brahma sacrificed 10 horses here. 

A Hindu ceremony was going on - it is probably the “Agni Pooja” (Worship to Fire). The ceremony was spectacular, with fire (naturally), smoke, bells, chants, and more.  

Thousands of people were watching from the steps. Most of them were Indians.  But there were also many foreign tourists, like us.  Many people were busy snapping photographs, or taking videos.

Many were watching from the boats on the river.

There were, of course, cows in the crowds.  Many people touched the cows with their hands, and then touched their foreheads.  A young boy sat with the cows.  A family passed by, the mother took out a variety of foods, wrapped the food in a pancake, and gave to the boy, as well as to another man.  

There were also many colourfully-dressed beggars - charity is apparently an important element of Hinduism.  

All in all, a wonderful introduction to Varanasi.  

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Sarnath (鹿野苑), India

Sarnath was the first stop for our trip to India.  It is ~10 km from Varanasi (瓦拉納西, 古代迦尸國首都) on the Ganges.  This was where Gautama Buddha (釋迦牟尼佛) taught the Dharma for the first time after achieving enlightenment, ~500 BCE.   The most prominent relic today is the massive Dhamekh stupa (佛塔), which was built ~500 CE.  When we were there, many groups sat listening to monks preaching.   Around the stupa, there are many raised platforms where monks used to sit and meditate.  We were told that it is now forbidden to climb onto these platforms.  But some people do it anyway, perhaps they do not know any better?

There are some deer in a fenced-off area.  They are perhaps kept here to remind us that this place is worthy of its name?

Many groups of various nationalities come and worship.  Among them, the most numerous seems to be the Chinese.  

Most of the structures are unadorned.  But patches of gold foils have been plated on some of the surfaces.  I was told that the practice is forbidden - but many of the Chinese worshippers do it anyway.  

The grass looks dry, perhaps because this is the dry season.  But there are few weeds.  This is why - an army of women painstakingly bend their backs to remove the weeds by hand.  

This seems to be happening a lot in India.  Very often we see women working, while the men sit and talk, and drink tea. 

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Diversity in Philadelphia

Diversity is everywhere in Philadelphia.  Just inside the north entrance to the city hall, there are intriguing sculptures of people that seem to be from many different ethnic origins: Caucasians, American Indians, Chinese, Blacks, …  They may be stereotypical.  But at least they are publicly displayed. 

Directly across from city hall is a grand Masonic Temple.  Even today, they project an atmosphere of mystery. 

There is a old German Catholic Holy Trinity Church. 

Nearby is a Jewish synagogue.  

There is a First Reformed Church that publicly proclaims diversity.  They have a nativity scene set up in the courtyard, with real goats and a donkey.

In China Town, a Chinese Society sits on top of a Vietnamese-Thai restaurant. 

China Town also offers a Philadelphia to New York City bus service at the cost of a hamburger.  An American friend says he takes theses buses regularly.  

Inspite of her many faults, American does accommodate much diversity. The same cannot be said of many other countries. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Old Town Philadelphia

The old town of Philadelphia is perhaps one of the oldest in USA.  It has many quaint old houses with entrances to cellars on the sidewalk. 

People carefully cleaning books outside a book store - you won’t find such a scene in Hong Kong. 

Beautiful houses with trees growing on the walls - how much effort went into that? 

Beautiful but sad-looking just-fallen leaves. 

Houses with fire escape outside the building - do people actually use them?

A shop with a cat - on the sign.

A hospital advertising the Good Samaritan. 

An Art-in-Wood shop with an appealing facade.

I like Old Town Philadelphia.

Monday, December 14, 2015

An airplane attacking a street lamp?

At first it was just a tiny dot on the horizon.

Then I realised it was an airplane. 

It got bigger,

and bigger, … and there was a street lamp right in front of it!

Was it going to crash into the street lamp?

Was it?

Sunday, December 13, 2015

George Washington’s Seat

Wandering around Philadelphia’s old city, I stumbled upon a church that looked old.  Outside, there were some marked graves.  Some belong to signers of the American Declaration of Independence.  

It turned out to be Christ Church, where many of the leaders of the American Revolution worshipped.  

I sat down in one of the larger pews to soak up the atmosphere.  

Only when I read the shiny brass plate did I realise that this was George Washington’s place when he worshipped here.  I was sitting in Washington’s seat.  Amazing. 

In 1754, this church was the tallest building in North America.  It is still a beautiful functioning church. 

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Philadelphia Food Trucks

Just a sampling of the food trucks near University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University.   The have Indian,


heese things,






... and a lot more.   Would they work in Hong Kong.  I doubt it, with our narrow roads, myriad parking restrictions, street-vendor-unfriendly traffic cops, …, it will be difficult for the food trucks to operate where the people are.