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January 2014
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Thaipusam - an eye opening festival with new friends


Thaipusam - 2014 


Thaipusam is a Hindu festival to celebrate and to give thanks to the Hindu God, Lord Subramaniam (also known as Lord Murugan) son of Lord Siva.  It is a celebration of faith and atonement, of family and friends, and of devotion.



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This is my third year going to the Thaipusam festival in Singapore.  Last year, D, Helena, and I were invited to walk with a family where it was the young man's first time participating in the walk as a devotee (click here to see photos).  It was an amazing experience, but unfortunately we did not exchange information so we lost contact with the family.



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In the beginning of this year, I received an email from Vans' (the young man we walked with last year) sister (Kas)... he had been looking at photos on the Internet and found some of himself.  When he clicked on the photo, it took him to our blog!  The family not only asked us to walk with them again, but they also invited us to their home two nights before the walk for a special vegetarian meal.  During the evening, they honored lord Murugan with fruit, and blessed Vans' headpiece and spears.  Their mother cooked all the food and it was delicious.






Lord Murugan is regarded as a destroyer of evil and preserver of good and the festival marks his victory for conquering evil.  He is usually depicted with a spear or vel.  This is why the devotees pierce silver spears or vels in various sizes through the skin of their back, cheek, and tongue.   



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Before the walk - preparation at the temple


Here Vans is with his posse.  They are close friends who will help him through his devotional walk.  As a devotee, Vans had to grow his beard.  This year, he had two of these friends play drums.



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Vans' father is helping him prepare to carry the kavadi, which means, "sacrifice at every step". 




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Next all of the spears are put in place.  Family and friends do the piercings.  And they do go through his skin.  Most devotees pierce themselves, as they believe it will please Lord Murugan and he will fulfill their wishes. 



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I really like this photo of Vans.  It was taken shortly before he underwent the piercing to his tongue.  Devotees pierce their tongue and cheeks to help them meditate and to stay silent.






The piercing, which I have now seen many times, still amazes me ... how there is not any blood.  And they do not leave any scars.  Holy ash is placed on the needle before the piercing.  They say it is the sacred ash that prevents pain, bleeding, scarring, and infection.  Some say it is made of burnt cow dung, which has medicinal features and contains a styptic, similar to the shaving pencil that constricts blood vessels to stop shaving cuts from bleeding. 



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 It is truly a family affair; his sister decorated his kavadi with a little bling.



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Their neighbor, who was also at the dinner we attended, was next to Vans, preparing for his own devotional walk.  I have some really good photos of his piercing on last year's post.



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The photo below shows Vans as he begins to balance his kavadi.  They are usually decorated with flowers and peacock feathers, but you will see other things.  Vans' weighed 50 pounds!




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Some of the kavadis can be quite tall and weigh up to 100 pounds.



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It is believed that carrying the kavadi washes away sins through self-inflicted suffering.



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The procession starts at the Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple and ends at the Sri Thendayuthapani Temple.  It is a 3-mile walk and everyone, including us, must go in bare feet.  There is one other option, to walk it on spiked shoes.  It took us about 5 hours for the entire walk.







All ages walk in the procession demonstrating many different forms of worship.  I have to say, we felt very special, as we did not see any other westerners in the actual parade.



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There is quite a bit of chanting and singing as you walk along the procession.  This is to help support and encourage the devotee through his pilgrimage.  I think Vans' dad (below) sang and danced the most.  I even got into it this year - yes dancing and singing!


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Each devotee will also dance along the way, especially when they pass by a temple.  Here is a clip of Vans dancing and all of us singing!






Limes, which are hung from hooks on the devotee backs, represent protection by the deities.



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Other devotees fulfill their vows by carrying Paal Kudam (milk pots), which or represents the burden they are carrying either for themselves or their family.  In the end, the milk is given to the temple as an offering.












The family carried the jug pictured below.  Helena and I even had our turn at carrying it.  At the very end, we all ate a handful of the special fruit mixture their father made.  The mixture is called panchaamirtham and it means five immortal substances and includes five special ingredients  - dates, cashew nut, banana, honey, and ghee.






Devotees usually wear yellow, which is said the have been Murugan's favorite color.  It is also the color worn to mark any religious festival in Hinduism.



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The big hooks below are for pulling a chariot.








The chariot is the green structure, they are very heavy.



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The forehead is considered the center of the mind and by piercing it, devotees refrain from evil thoughts.






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Women, Children, and Family


Very few women pierce.  I was talking to one young woman who did it last year but her Hindu boyfriend told her he did not want her to do it again this year.



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Clean-shaven heads covered with sandalwood paste is a symbol of humility and atonement.  Sandalwood is also depicted as purity.



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Many devotes, especially families, will each carry a pot of milk on their head to show devotion and love to the god.  Most hold them up with both hands and they never put their arm down for a rest.  This young girl was behind us in the procession and she kept her eyes closed the entire time.






Many devotees who do not participate in the procession will still shave their heads to honor Lord Murugan.



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The photo below is near the end... you can see the exhaustion in Vans' face.  It is very difficult when you reach the entrance of the final temple, as you have to wait in line for nearly two hours; the entire time the men countinue to support the heavy kavatis.  Many men sat down on chairs, but Vans refused to rest.  I thought for sure he was going to pass out - but he stayed strong.  It was so amazing to experience this with him. 



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When you enter the temple, the devotee does his final dance. Where they get the energy to do this is beyond comprehension.  We were completely exhausted at the end, and we did not have to carry anything (nor did we fast for 48 hours like the devotees).



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The final step in his journey was to kneel down and pray at the temple.  This concluded a long but rewarding day.   



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I'll end this post with some fun group Shots...



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New Friends



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Vans' Family Photos



Brother and Sister



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Mother and Daughter



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Proud Papa



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Mother and Son



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Thank you Vans, Kas, and your parents for allowing us to be part of your special day... giving us memories we will never forget! 

This is my favorite photo - after a grueling journey, Vans is as energetic and happy as can be!



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The magazine arrived! We are published!


A few weeks ago I shared my exciting news... that our blog, is published in the beautiful magazine Artful Blogging.  I now have a copy of the actual magazine and can share the layout with you.



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I wrote an article entitled, " May I take your Picture". 



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Magazine 3 (3)



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It is hard to photograph the pages of the magazine so I am sharing the actual photos they selected for the article.  Under each photo, I listed where it was taken.




Luang Prabang, Loas




Magazine 2 (1)

Hue, Vietnam




Magazine 1 (2)

Borneo, Indonesia




Magazine (1)

Bagan, Myanmar




Magazine 3 (1)

Hue, Vietnam




Magazine 6

 Danang, Vietnam




Magazine 1 (1)

Hue, Vietnam 




Magazine 2

The Dragon Back Rice Terraces - Longji, China




Magazine 5 (1)

Hoi An, Vietnam




Magazine 1

 Bagan, Myanmar




Magazine 3 (2)

 Borneo, Indonesia


I am thrilled to see our photos in a magazine and I want to extend a big thank you to Stampington & Company, especially Jennifer Jackson Taylor,  Christine Stephens, and the Artful Blogging team.  I think they did a wonderful job with the layout. 


Four nights in Melbourne Australia


Melbourne, Australia

January 2014



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We have not been to Australia and D had a 4-day weekend for Chinese New Year, so we decided to hop on a seven-hour flight to explore it   :   )  

We had a fun time.  We think we could live in Melbourne - cozy neighborhoods, coffee culture, and great food.  But as a place to visit - not too much to do but drink coffee and eat  :   ).  We did have THE BEST poached eggs that we have ever eaten, at a restaurant called Hobba.



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There was quite a bit of graffiti, but in isolated locations.  We even saw kids out in the day spray-painting.  We think that as long as they were in the designated areas, it was legal.





 A chalk painting. 



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Yarn Bombing is a form of Street Art in which items are knitted for unlikely objects or places throughout urban surroundings.   The good thing about this type of street art is it can be easily removed if necessary, unlike graffiti.

This one was organized through the city and created by Yarn Corner - titled "Yarn Corner Stitches Up City Square".  It was colorful and fun to see.











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Yarra Valley is a one-hour drive from Melbourne and is a famous wine region with over 80 vineyards.  We rented a car and spent the day in the area.  We took the route through the Dandenong Ranges and were surprised at how beautiful it was with unusual landscape.  The forest was stunning with unique ferns growing under the tall, tall trees. 



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The landscape varied significantly within just a few miles.




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And meticulously maintained vineyards.  It reminded us a lot of Napa Valley in California.



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The temperature reached 106 while we were there.  Pretty hot, although it was a dry heat unlike Singapore's humid environment.

We enjoyed our visit to Australia - and I did get to see one kangaroo (my goal); unfortunately, he was sleeping on the side of the road  :   (




The Philippines - the shortest trip post ever


Moalboal, Philippines - January 2014

 Rain  Rain  Rain



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We are very fortunate, with all the traveling we do, we have never had a vacation that was completely rained out... until the Philippines.

January is not supposed to be their rainy season.  There was an unusual low-pressure storm over most of the islands.  Further south there was bad flooding.  This could have been an awesome vacation - our resort was lovely.



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On the first day we had a little break in the weather mid-morning so we tried to snorkel.  I never got in the water as it was far too rough.  D was out for about 30 minutes but could not see anything.




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He did find a beautiful blue starfish, but that was in knee-deep water.




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 We created a cool Birthday greeting for our niece...




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got in a lot of relaxation and reading...



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and took one brief ride on a local taxi... too wet!



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We enjoyed a local speciality, halo-halo which is a hodgepodge of strange ingredients including shaved ice and ice cream.



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Maybe next time!



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