Doorway, Penang, Malaysia

The Pinang Peranakan Mansion, built towards the end of the 19th century, was the home to a very wealthy Chinese man and his extended family. Though the tour I took of the Mansion did not make this clear – the guide was full of information, or so it seemed, but next to impossible to understand – I presume the man made his fortune as a trader. Chinese trading networks built around families originally from Guangdong and Fujian in southern China have played an enormous role in the history of Southeast Asia. You certainly see their influence everywhere in Penang. In any case, the Mansion is now a museum housing a magnificent collection of traditional Chinese arts and crafts, from painting and jewelry to jade, porcelain, and embroidery. This is a photo of the beautifully carved wooden door panels that form the original entrance to the building.

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Pagoda, Da Nang, Vietnam

Buddhist pagodas in Vietnam bear a resemblance to pagodas in China with one significant difference – the dragons decorating the roof tops. Virtually every pagoda in Vietnam has dragon decorations on the roof tops; they give Vietnamese pagodas their distinctive style. As far as I know, Buddhist temples elsewhere have nothing comparable. Late afternoon light on a crystal clear day has the roof top dragons at this small temple almost glowing. The Chinese characters say something like “golden hall of the ancestors”, but I am not sure of the Vietnamese name of this Da Nang pagoda.

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My Son Temple, Quang Nam, Vietnam

My Son Temple, Quang Nam, Vietnam

A friend visiting from Thailand and I took a day trip to My Son, a UNESCO world heritage site about 80 km south of Da Nang. My Son was an important temple complex of the Champa Kingdom that existed in central and southern Vietnam from roughly 300 to 1700 CE. The Cham civilization was Indianized and the temples at My Son celebrate Hindu deities. For many years the Cham and the Vietnamese moving south from the area surrounding modern Hanoi contested the central part of what is now Vietnam. The Vietnamese eventually prevailed and the Champa Kingdom disappeared. The Cham people were assimilated into Vietnamese society, influencing the development of Vietnamese culture in the process. The temple pictured is one of a group of structures built in the 11th to 13th centuries CE.

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