Archive for the ‘Interesting Places’ category

Gaudí Revival in Vietnam: The Crazy House in Dalat

December 9, 2011

La Casa Loca en Vietnam
Photos and Captions by Zigor Aldama
Dalat Casa Loca Tree Hollow
Part of the building looks like a gigantic tree hollow.
Dalat Casa Loca Caves
Some interiors imitate the caves of Vietnam’s Halong Bay.
Dalat Casa Loca Eagle Room
The Eagle Room is designed with U.S. artistic elements in mind.
Dalat Casa Loca Pass
Some of the facades look sinister enough at night to disturb the hotels’ guests.
Dalat Casa Loca Tree Hollow Entrance
Entrance to the tree hollow-like structure.
Dalat Casa Loca Tree Structure
From a certain perspective, the organic forms and lack of straight lines recall the style of Gaudi, whom the architect of the complex recognizes as his inspiration.
Dalat Casa Loca Passageway
The passageway that unites the arboreal structure with the caves.

Gaudí Revival in Vietnam
The daughter of a Communist ex-president constructs a “crazy house” with her gaze settled on the Catalonian architect
El País: Gaudí resucita en Vietnam
Zigor Aldama reporting from Dalat, Vietnam November 28, 2011

It has the impossible organic forms, the Neo-Gothic details taken to excess, and the incoherent spaces: from a claustrophobic catwalk to a colossal room. Nor it is lacking the grays and soft ochers splashed with some notes of color. The work is doubtless inspired by nature: this is similar to a gigantic tree with branches serving as handrails; that is a cave with stalactites and stalagmites; hanging everywhere are big spider webs – both artificial and real ones – functional toadstools, and monsters with brilliant red eyes.

To be honest, some of its corners provoke shivers: at night, the gates screech, and the windows stare fixedly as if they were the eyes of faces drawn on the facades. Yes, one could imagine it to be a work of Antoni Gaudí, although some elements of this “crazy house” (casa loca) are more reminiscent of the melting clocks of the surrealist Salvador Dalí. But surely neither of the two Catalonian artists ever heard the name of the city that took in this building which brusquely breaks with the duality imposed by its European colonial architecture and sober Communist delineation: Dalat, Vietnam.

It’s no wonder the hostel Hang Nga, The Moon’s Sister, has become one of the principal tourist attractions in this unusual city, a former mountain retreat for French colonists. The establishment, inaugurated in 1990, was designed by Dang Viet Nga (born in Vietnam in 1940), daughter of the president of the State Council from 1981 to 1988, Truong Chinh, who received a doctorate in architecture from the University of Moscow. Following in the footsteps of the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family) basilica in Barcelona, it is still under construction, though Dang hopes to complete her masterpiece in a more modest period of time than the Barcelonese cathedral (itself slated for completion in 2026, the centennial of its architect’s death): two years.

The house’s construction has not been the least bit conventional itself. Dang doesn’t draw plans, just sketches and ideas, which eight local artisans, none experienced in architecture, make into reality, supervised by an engineer tasked with keeping the dream from crumbling. Everything is done by hand, including the furniture, which has to complement the always asymmetrical forms of the rooms.

The Chinese official newspaper People’s Daily called the hostel one of the ten strangest buildings in the world, and not in vain: it’s difficult to determine how many floors it has. For Dang, who recognizes that her inspiration is “The Great Gaudí” without batting an idea, the building is just “the union of technique and art”. Nevertheless, the creator recognizes that many officials in the Dalat People’s Committee, her old colleagues, do not approve of her work.

“There have been problems, and I haven’t lacked for people discrediting me as crazy, but fortunately, in Hanoi there are people who understand what I want to achieve.” Thanks to those people, who revoked the local authorities’ prohibition, she received permission to begin construction, 18 years after asking for it. Now the building is a money magnet.

For a modest sum (20-60 euros), one can spend the night in one of the rooms, “which are similar to tree houses and have different characteristics.” For example, the tiger room, designed for Chinese guests who adore kitsch, the eagle room, made more spacious to accomodate the volumnious bodies of Americans, and the ant room, in honor of the laborious work that made Vietnam imperialism’s worst nightmare.

The suite is dedicated to the bee, which symbolizes the collaborative union of living beings which can add up to a little cascade. “There are bees in every country, and this habitation does not have a nationality. It represents the world coming together to make a better world.” Visitors are coming from every corner of the planet; those who only want to have a look need only pay 30,000 dong ($1.43) for entry.

There are more than a few people coming to see it. The “crazy house” is already an obligatory stop for all the travelers seeking fresh air in Dalat. “I didn’t expect to find soething like this in Vietnam, much less in Dalat,” Miguel Saavedra, a Spanish tourist, wrote in the guestbook. “This building is like a dream that’s out of place, and I admire the bravery of its architecture. But not all share his enthusiasm. Dang’s cement insanity has provoked debate. Some of her colleagues have openly criticized it in the Vietnamese press, saying it does not have aesthetic cohesion or functionality. These aren’t empty words: a blueprint like this would be swiftly rejected in Spain for not satisfying any safety requirements. If you had one drink too many here, it could easily be your last.

But this fairy tale, which would often remind Anglo-Saxons of Walt Disney’s creations, has practically unlimited resources, and it is continuing to transform. The number of rooms is growing though the hostel does not have a very good reputation among those who have spent the night there. “Most complain that the beds are too hard, and the visitors are too noisy from the first light of morning onward,” says Trang Hung, a local tour guide. “And there are also people who say they were frightened,” she adds with a laugh.


King of Bhutan Weds, Will Visit Japan with Queen Soon

October 13, 2011

Bhutan Royal Wedding
The King and Queen of Bhutan after their wedding ceremony on October 13. Photo by Eki Arai.

King of Bhutan Weds, Will Visit Japan with Queen Soon
Yomiuri Shimbun: 新婚のブータン国王夫妻、国賓として訪日へ
Eki Arai reporting from Punakha, Western Bhutan October 13, 2011

On October 13 in Punakha, the ancient capital of the tiny Himalayan country of Bhutan, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (age 31) married Jetsun Pema (21), a woman from a common family.

The ceremony was held in Punakha Dzong, which doubles as a monastery and a state administrative center. It strictly followed traditional customs. Afterward, the bride and groom went to the plaza, where tens of thousands of citizens were gathered, and enjoyed a traditional dance while receiving well wishes.

Under the direction of the former king, Bhutan’s government changed from a hereditary monarchy to a unitary parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy in 2008. The current king, who took the throne the same year, is open-hearted and popular, and “he is playing a centripetal role in the country during this time of transition,” in the words of the editor-in-chief of the local newspaper.

The new queen’s father was a pilot for the national airline. She has studied abroad in India and England. It seems the crowning of a queen from a common family is having a positive influence on the democratization of the country.

Since the new king and queen announced their plans to wed in May, they have frequently made official visits together, but in November, they will make their first foreign tour as husband and wife, and they are planning to visit Japan. They are also considering visiting the Great Tōhoku Earthquake disaster area.

Original/原稿: (more…)

Hiraizumi Becomes Tōhoku’s First UN World Heritage Site

June 28, 2011

Hiraizumi Becomes Tōhoku’s First UN World Heritage Site
Yomiuri Shimbun: 「平泉」世界文化遺産に登録…東北では初
Mina Mitsui reporting from Paris June 26, 2011

On the 25th, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee designated Hirazumi, Iwate a World Cultural Heritage Site. Five of the six places at the site that Japan nominated were chosen, including Chūsonji Temple and excluding Yanagi no Gosho Museum.

12 places in Japan had been named World Heritage Sites before now, most recently Shimane Prefecture’s “Iwami Ginzan Silver Mine and its Cultural Landscape” in 2007, but this is the first in Tōhoku [the region that bore the brunt of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami]. The Bonin Islands (Ogasawara Group) off Tokyo was selected on the 24th, bringing the number to 14 (including natural heritage sites).

Hiraizumi’s Cultural Heritage consists of temples, gardens and the like created by Ōshū Fujiwara clan when it was flourishing in Tōhoku in the 12th century. The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), which advises the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), recommended excluding Yanagi no Gosho, the former home of the Ōshū Fujiwara, because “it does not have a direct relationship with Pure Land Buddhism and does not have something of conspicuously universal value.” UNESCO, following ICOMOS’s recommendation, excluded Yanagi no Gosho Museum and honored the other five sites for their universal value as part of Pure Land Buddhism’s cultural heritage.

Location of Hiraizumi
Map of Hiraizumi

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부산/釜山 ~ Busan

March 4, 2011

부산/釜山 ~ Busan

Busan is the second largest metropolis in Korea after Seoul and the fifth largest port in the world.   Since it’s right across the sea from Fukuoka and borders a river, it has been a port for trade with the Japanese for hundreds of years.  Nestled between the mountains and sea on the southern coast, it was one of only two cities not conquered by the invading northern armies at the beginning of the Korean War.  The weather is lovely: the average low in January is 0°C; the average high in August is 29°C.  This is one of the few big cities with beautiful mountains and beaches both accessible by subway.  I visited in September 2009.

Busan Street
I had lovely weather both days in the city. This is a really beautiful and wide road, isn’t it?

Path to Beomeosa Temple
Climbing to Beomeosa Temple

Beomeosa Temple Courtyard

Geomjeungsan and Fortress Walls
The city surrounds the mountain. Atop the mountain, Geumjeongsan (peak: 801.5m) are a temple and a castle. It would take an entire day to hike all the way around the perimeter of the fortress, and afterward you’d be exhausted.

At Peak of Geomjeungsan

Haeundae Beach

Busan Sunset

Korean Test Books
There are aptitude tests for everything.

桃園 ~ Taoyuan

March 3, 2011

桃園 ~ Taoyuan

Here are some of the pleasant sights northwest of Taipei: Yingge Pottery Street (鶯歌老街), Sanxia’s Zushi Temple (三峽長福巖/清水袓師廟) and Minquan Old Street (民權老街), Xiao Wulai scenic area (小烏來), and Chiang Kai-shek’s summer home and the camphor museum in Fuxing (復興). We took this trip in October of 2010: I remember this because the Rangers were battering the Yankees’ Sabathia at the time.

Yingge Pottery Shop

Yingge Pottery Street

Eggplant with Signatures

ASS Authorized Service Shop

Sanxia River Scene

Sanxia Zushi Temple

Sanxia Temple Pillar

Sanxia Temple Capital

Wulai Mountain Town

Fuxing Chiang Park

Sanxia Temple Ceiling (more…)

On the Road in Hindustan

March 2, 2011

On the Road in Hindustan

The places between the places I visited. The “Hindu Belt” is the northern plain of India.

My Driver, Raj
I, the Passenger
Slightly Flooded Street
City Cow
Oversized Load
Elephant Driver
Roadside Camel Stand
New Buildings Outside Delhi
Young Camels (more…)

ICLP電子報第43期:第十九屆臺北國際書展 ~ 19th Taipei International Book Exhibition (featured in 43rd ICLP Bulletin)

February 24, 2011

第十九屆臺北國際書展照片 ~ 19th Taipei International Book Exhibition Photos

43rd ICLP Bulletin – 臺大國際華語研習所 電子報 第43期: 參觀第十九屆臺北國際書展後報告

The 19th Taipei International Book Exhibition took place in the Taipei World Trade Center February 9-14. The Taipei Book Fair Foundation announced that roughly 800 publishers and 300 authors from 59 countries attended this year’s fair, making it the biggest not only in Taiwan but in all of Asia. 590,000 people attended, the most in the history of the exhibition. This year’s book sales, especially manga, also posted significant growth.

Changtan International Culture Company [a publisher] invited six ICLP students to the fair. One of their editors, Huafan University lecturer Rosa Xiao, also gave us a tour. We had a great time. Afterward, two students told me their favorite experiences.

Laura Tucker:
The Taipei International Book Exhibition was awesome! I found a really special picture book, Made in Taiwan by Golo. Although the author is French, because he describes a Frenchman’s experiences here, the work is closely related with Taiwan. This book uses pictures to discuss Taiwan’s history and culture. Also, it uses both French and Chinese! So if you’ve studied French, you can practice French and study Chinese at the same tie! I think this book makes a great souvenir because it captures Taiwan’s environment so well. I recomend everyone read it!

Evan Osborne:
I love reading, and my wife and I had a pleasant time. I only ran into one problem, and it wasn’t related to Chinese but rather to a foreign language. I bought a French book. Afterward, the Taiwanese staffer used French to try to convince me to buy a members’ card. Although I can read French, I can’t speak it. So I asked her to speak to me in French or English. (Her French sounded excellent, but I decided not to buy the card.)

Ms. Xiao also explained to me what her company publishes, how the market is, why they participate in the book fair, and the exhibition’s strong points:

Rosa Xiao:
Our company (Changtan International Culture Company) has published children’s magazines, children’s books, and magazine-style encyclopedias for ten years. We have 100 employees, and we do business through direct sales or book fairs. So the annual Taipei International Book Exhibition is very important to us. We rent four booths and advertise in the brochures.

I love this book fair, first of all because I can see many of my friends in the business: I think publishers are endearing, but we usually have very little time to get together and talk. Also, I can observe how the domestic publishing industry has fared over the last year. Because I focus on publishing children’s books, I also go to a children’s book fair in Italy to buy publishing rights for foreign books. That book fair has 6-8 exhibition halls, all devoted to children’s books, so the selection is plentiful, and the decorations are more flashy and colorful than those of Germany’s Frankfurt Book Fair.

In recent years, book fairs, especially the Taipei International Book Exhibition, have emphasized digital production. Since the business model for digital publishing isn’t fully developed, many companies still aren’t willing to invest in it, but the market has continued to develop, so the book fair is a good opportunity to learn what’s going on. In recent years, the TIBE has planned several in-depth discussions and speeches in order to nurture and cultivate domestic companies, and I think this has been very helpful. Foreign book fairs also host discussions and speeches, but because time is short and language is a barrier, I rarely attend them. The TIBE also sets up meetings between publishers and authors in order to facilitate communication and opportunities to work together, which is wonderful; at the foreign book fairs I’ve attended, every company was on its own, and the authors had to bring their works to company stands themselves.