Friday, July 30, 2010

Tibetan Monk Hand Clapping Debate: Qinghai, Day 16

Lungwu Monastery, Tongren, Qinghai, China:

Yesterday evening I was exploring this sprawling Tibetan Buddhist monastery and came upon 250 yellow hat sect monks chanting in the fading summer light and seated in a beautiful outdoor courtyard. After about 45 minutes, the orderly formation broke up into a wild scene of shouting and hand clapping as pairs of monks practiced their traditional form of debate.

Listen to hundreds of monks debate in this 40 second sound clip, then fade into deep throated leader and group chanting.

Debate is an important part of a Tibetan monk's training, and is said to help expand the mind, increase mental sharpness, develop analytical skills and help gain mental clarity.

The debates follow a strict form, with the standing questioner challenging the thesis of the humbly sitting defender. As the questioner raises doubts, the exchange becomes increasingly animated, with exaggerated body language, lunging, hand slapping and loud shouting. The defender mostly sits quietly and looks away, occasionally making a counter point by waving his arm.

During prayer time, I noted the younger monks, some just boys, doing most of the chanting, gathered close to the gravel voiced master up front, with monks in their 20's to 40's fanned out in a large horse shoe shape. Maybe they were more senior and did not need to chant, or were simply seated farther from authority, as they quietly chatted and joked together, or made quick and curious glances at visitors.

This is probably my last post from this province in China's north west. With just 6.5 million of the country's 1.3 billion, it's strong ethnic Tibetan and Muslim ethnic minority population, has given me some amazing photographs and sounds.

I also enjoyed making new Chinese photographer friends at the Qinghai Three Rivers Photography Festival, and along with colleague Nancy Brown of our South Florida chapter of the American Society of Media Photographers, had a blast helping to judge the 6,000 entries.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stupa & Dalai Lama Objects Of Veneration: Qinghai, Day 15

Sangge Shong Monastery, Rebong, Qinghai, China:

The Stupa of Kalachakra is an amazing technicolor object of veneration, at six stories tall it's a long way from the original simple mounds of mud that are thought to have housed the remains of the Buddha several millennia ago.

A monk of the Tibetan Buddhist Yellow Hat sect carried a large ring of keys yesterday evening as he opened giant red wooden doors at the stupa's base, and  led us clockwise up the layer cake of ramps and steps, circumambulating to a tiny chapel housing a multi-armed and multi-headed goddess.

I noticed a small photograph, about 3 by 4 inches, of the Dalai Lama under the goddess, and when we visited several other temples within this large monastery complex near Tongren, I saw the Dalai Lama's portrait on every altar.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet's portrait in Temple of Tsongkapa last night.

While in China these past weeks I've noted photographs of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama of Tibet in every Tibetan temple, and have wondered if his difficulties (to put it mildly) with the Chinese authorities are somehow thawing in a small way. I've read that visitors should never give his portrait as a gift as possessing one is a serious offense for Chinese citizens.

Taoist Temple A Hidden Corner: Qinghai, Day 14

Wenchang Temple, Guide, Qinghai, China:

I've always marveled how China provides an amazing experience around every corner, even those off the beaten track corners that don't exist in any guide book and the only reason you're there is because you turned left instead of right.

Listen to Taoist priest in this 32 second sound file pray, play a silver bell and paddle drum, a large bell rings, and birds chirp in the quiet garden.

Yesterday we decided to turn left and see if a small temple mentioned in town would turn into one of those corners. You bet it was, with chanting Taoist priest, worshipers ringing bells, fascinating art work and animal offerings.

Taoist priest leaves temple, above, while below, fierce looking sculpture of an Immortal looks down on visitors.

Below, animal scull and entrails offering mix with incense smoke in temple courtyard.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Hui People Practice Islam: Qinghai, Day 13

Guide, Qinghai Province, China;

While traveling these past weeks in China's northwestern province of Qinghai, I've been meeting many Hui in addition to Tibetans, both among China's officially recognized 56 ethnic groups. Traditionally the Silk Road passed through Qinghai and Gansu, bringing Central Asian influences including the Muslim religion to China.

Above a grandson looks on as his grandfather and relative play a board game over tall glasses of herbal tea outside Quilian.

Today I met this Hui woman selling red and green peppers in Guide's market, and this Hui butcher took a break from chopping up mutton to pose for a photograph.

Unlike many other ethnic minorities here, the Hui mostly do not speak their own language and speak Chinese. The Hui are very similar culturally to the Han majority, except they practice Islam and retain their cultural identity through worship and dietary laws.

The Muslim influences I've seen are the distinctive caps for men and scarves for women, golden mosque minarets peaking above city skylines, and lots of spicy mutton at meals.

Below, a young Muslim woman rides her scooter to work while wearing a sequend head scarf, photographed yesterday in Wulan.

For more photographs from China please visit Tom Salyer Photography.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Self Confident Chinese Women: Qinghai, Day 12

Wulan, Qinghai Province, China:

Today I awoke in Wulan, a small dusty town that could pass for dozens of other Chinese towns I’ve been in ... a wide modern boulevard lined with shops and restaurants, people riding bikes and scooters to work, cooking smells wafting about. No quaint architecture or chic shopping district in Wulan, it sits on the edge of Qinghai’s western desert and is off the main highway.

As often encountered in China the sidewalk I was strolling on was a construction site, no warning barriers of course, just a four foot deep trench where a sewer line was going in. Carrying the bricks and mixing the mortar for support walls were these two women laborers. Posing for me with their protective scarfs lowered, I was impressed with their easy relationship and self confidence.

Heading east, as we entered the Qinghai Nanshan Mountains, the landscape turned to rich green grasslands and we climbed to about 10,000 feet. At this altitude families of Tibetan herders were tending their yaks, sheep and goats and were camping in summer tents.

Just inside the door of one tent I met another very self confident subject, a Tibetan girl about six or seven years old who proudly showed off her festive costume.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Sand Dune Camel Chaos: Qinghai, Day 10

Mingsha Sand Dunes, Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China:

With their prosperity growing along with their world dominating economy, the Chinese are visiting the far corners of their country as tourists, and today it seemed to me that a goodly percentage of this nation of 1.3 billion had descended upon the same sand dune. What makes the scene even more fun are we were all mounted atop lumbering, grumbling camels.

Listen for tinkling camel bells, shouting camel drivers, bellowing beasts and the shouting chaos of a happy tourist crowd in this 32 second sound clip.

I’m visiting the Mingsha Shan Sand Dunes just outside of Dunhuang, a small oasis town in Gansu Province that once prospered as the last stop on the Silk Road. Here the ancient trade route split north and south to skirt the Taklaman Desert. I’ve read that Taklaman roughly translates to “you go in, you don’t go out”.

After leaving Qinghai Province yesterday, we drove west 700 km ( 350 miles ) across Gansu’s stony desert, which must be the bleakest territory I’ve ever seen. And hot, 39 degrees Centigrade, which I really don’t need to convert to Fahrenheit to know it’s crazy to be out in the noon day sun on top of a camel on top of a giant sand dune. But hey, the camels and tourists don’t seem to mind.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Horse Hair Temple Musical Riot: Qinghai, Day 8

Arou Ba Temple, Quilian, Qinghai Province, China:

The crisp staccato of finger cymbals cut through the musical riot emanating from the monk’s instruments, two high pitched reed horns, a seashell and the long low blasts from a six foot long bass horn. The chanting weaved under, over and around the music, the two dozen monks filling the horse hair tent temple with worshipful sound.

Listen for horns and cymbals in this 36 second audio clip, then brass teacups and chanting.

Today we stopped by a dusty little temple complex situated in the treeless highlands in far northern Qinghai Province, in China’s northwest corner, and way in the back the chocolate colored tent was set up to let warm summer breezes enter through open sides.

While chanting each monk, of the Tibetan Buddhist yellow hat sect, filled several dozen brass teacups on a small table, then emptied them, wiped them dry, and poured tea again.

While kneeling on the ground, one young monk rolled his bass horn toward my microphone and blasted me, to the amusement of all. Another pulled a point-n-shoot camera from his robes to snap my photo. I enjoy the personal touch such small monasteries provide and feel close to a culture very different from mine.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Tibetan Heritage Festival: Qinghai, Day 6

Haibei, Qinghai Province, China:

Today I attended a Tibetan heritage festival complete with singing contests, amazing costumes and jewelry, all spread across a green grass meadow dotted with wildflowers. At the top of the hill prayer flags quietly flapped in the breeze.

Off in the distance I could see the town of Haibi, the birth place of China's atom bomb, a very strange juxtaposition indeed.

No story telling today, the long days are catching up with me, and we are off tomorrow to travel away from the capital city of Xining through Qinghai Province and into Gansu Province, all the way west to the silk road. I will post when I have internet access ... what did Marco Polo do without it ?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sun For Embroidery Buddha: Qinghai Day 5

Kumbum Monastery, Huangzhong, Qinghai Province, China:

Today dozens of monks struggled up steep steps carrying the long rolled Thangka. Accompanied by blowing silver horns and clanging cymbals, hundreds of pilgrims struggled to touch the giant embroidery. Once unrolled and it’s yellow silk protective cover removed, a magnificent Buddha covered the entire hillside.

Once a year this beautiful embroidery Buddha is given sunshine at the Kumbum Monastery of  the Tibetan Buddhism yellow hat sect, and is the centerpiece for an elaborate devotional service. With incense burning, pilgrims throw scarves, paper prayers and money onto the Thangka, which is then rolled back up hill by dozens of shouting young monks.

As the Qinghai Photography Festival winds down this weekend colleague Nancy Brown and I had the option of visiting a Tibetan cultural museum, or break away to follow up a tip we received several days ago chatting with a Chinese student practicing English on us. I’m glad we skipped the museum.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Yellow Hat Monks & Parasols: Qinghai Day 4

Kumbum Monastery, Huangzhong, Qinghai Province, China:

Today I visited one of the six great monasteries of the Yellow Hat sect of Tibetan Buddhism again, as did thousands upon thousands of  Tibetan pilgrims,  Chinese tourists, and several hundred photographers attending the Qinghai Photography Festival.

But in spite of the multitude I was struck by two things: 1) the monk’s daily routine and worship probably haven’t changed for centuries, such as these three wearing their distinctive yellow hats and pleated crimson robes, and 2) Chinese ladies are capable of wearing six inch heels to climb stone temple steps and simultaneously carry dainty lace parasols for sun protection.

More photographs from China may be viewed at my portfolio site.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Call To Prayer In Muslim China: Qinghai Day 3

Dong Guan Grand Mosque, Xining, Qinghai Province, China:

Thousands of men were streaming from the mosque onto busy Dongguan Street after Friday afternoon prayers, greeting friends with warm handshakes and stopping to chat. Most had beards and wore embroidered white caps, and ranged from young teen boys through middle age and beyond.

58 second audio clip of the Muslim call to prayer recorded today:

I was visiting the Dong Guan Grand Mosque in Xining, capital of Qinghai Province where several hundred thousand Chinese pilgrims worship during Ramadan. Qinghai has a large Muslim population as historically Central Asian influences have infused this northwestern corner of China since the ninth century.

Visitors are encouraged to enter the mosque’s surrounding grounds, and Chinese tourists in small groups were being shown around by men who were explaining the tenets of Islam. They spoke at great length with strong voices and obvious conviction, answering the occasional question. I speak no Chinese, but the word Mohammed came through loud and clear, as did their calls to prayer.

More Miami Multimedia Photography may be viewed here.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Laughing In The Street Market: Qinghai Day 2

Mo Jiajie Market, Xining, Qinghai Province, China:

I was busying myself photographing the usual suspects, pigs feet, live fish, delicious looking fresh vegetables stacked chin high in the stalls when the young baker beckoned me over to show off his beautifully baked round bread just out of the oven. We didn’t need to speak each other’s language to see the pride in his eyes. He wanted me to take his photograph, which I did, sharing the results with him on the camera’s screen.

I was walking through the Mo Jiajie Market in the center of busy Xining, the capital of Qinghai Province, nestled up against Tibet and Sichuan and Gansu. I hope to blog a photo or two and several paragraphs every day I have internet access.

Further down the street I saw a large crowd gathered outside a music store, the laughter rolling out and into the market.  It was coming from the shoppers and the television set outside on the steps playing a comedy show. Everyone was transfixed with smiles on their faces.

I quietly slid through the crowd and up and into the store to shoot out of sight as if in a duck blind. No need really, the crowd didn’t notice me until much later and then the two ladies pictured wanted to see their photos. They seemed pleased, they giggled and pinched my cheek before walking down the street. I wonder if they bought the pigs feet.

To view more photographs from China, visit my portfolio site.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Buddhist Monks, Young & Old: Qinghai Day 1

Kumbum Monastry, Qinghai Province, China:

The young monk must of been about 12 years old, and after a half dozen prostrations on the ground, he would stand back up, wipe the sweat off his face, and look around at the hundreds of Chinese tourists thronging past the steps of the temple in the pounding rain. About a minute of rest, down to his knees, hands on two cloths, he would face downward and push off until he was lying flat on the ground in complete reverence, only to pull back to his knees a moment later and repeat.

I couldn’t help thinking about the 12-year-olds living in my Miami neighborhood, what they would be doing on this same July morning ... playing with a GameBoy if raining, riding bikes or taking tennis lessons? A long way from this Yellow Hat sect monastery of Tibetan Buddhism about a half hour outside of Xining, the capital of  Qinghai. A sparsely populated province with only about 6 million of China’s 1.3 billion people. Qinghai is sandwiched between Tibet to the west, Gansu to the north, and Sichuan to the south.

On the other end of the temple platform was a monk several generations older than the young boy, so old he could only sit on the stone step and slip into his own thoughts. I wondered how many prostration prayers he made when younger.

I’ll be spending about three weeks traveling here - attending a photography festival, judging a photo contest and exploring - and will try to post a photo or two along with a paragraph or two every day I have internet service.

More photos from China may be viewed at Tom Salyer Photography.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Unscripted Audio, Surprising Multimedia (Now iPad Friendly)

When I began my audio interview of high school senior Rhod for the fourth “There’s A School For That” multimedia show, I really had no idea what the football quarterback and standout basketball player would be saying. Would I get enough good quotes for a two minute audio slide show? Would it be all about himself? Any insights into how his school shaped him? ( iPad compatible version. )

Let see, what do you think?

- “Coach Magner is everywhere really ... if you are a new student, even if you don’t look like an athlete ... he will get you out to play a sport and he will work you as if your the greatest athlete in the world, and make you be the athlete you didn’t think you could ever be.”

-  “Coach says something like this ‘you gotta get your work done across the street to be able to play over the other side of the street, you have to have the grades to play.’ ”

 -  “Coach Magner defines me as cool head and warm feet, because when I’m under pressure I never blink twice or look to do something else. My first decision is always the one I take because I’m the definition of cool head and warm feet.”

Going into each of the six student interviews at Archbishop Curley Notre Dame ( a 300-some student college prep in Miami’s Little Haiti neighborhood ) Public Relations Coordinator Katherine Doble told me in general terms each subject’s area of accomplishments - athletics, leadership, academics - but we had no predetermined script.

Rhod just started talking about athletic director and coach Greg Magner, so Coach became the show’s focus.

Freshman Silvia had only been in high school a few weeks and hadn’t experienced much yet. But when during her interview she came out with

- “And so far every morning when I come to this school I have a smile on my face, and everyone notices it, and I’m happy when I come”

we knew we had the theme for her show.

Who needed a script when, while I was recording ambient sound in the weight room, I picked up Coach Magner saying over the noise

- “Just show up to work just like your parents do every day, and you’re become successful. ”

I wasn’t even interviewing him, but I used the sound clip as a transitional bridge.

Of course working without a script creates a lot of extra hours in front of the computer editing sentences that sometimes make no sense, thoughts that trail off to nowhere, scrambled grammar. But hey, they're high schoolers, not college professors, and the unscripted gems are worth the effort.

You may now view this show on your iPad or iPhone with OS4, thanks to Sound Slides current beta. Due to Apple’s spat with Adobe, iPad/Phone owners are unable to view content Flash content, which all of my slide shows on this blog are. But now I’m able to post HTML5 versions that auto detect the cool Apple devices. Maybe my blog is the beginning of that print-magazine-to-electronic-reader revolution we are all hearing about ?

To see more Miami multimedia photography, please visit my portfolio site.