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The Symbolism of Chiang Rai’s White Temple

Over a year ago, I was about to head to Thailand for the first time. Simon asked me to make a list of my top priorities of things to see and do. Near the top of my list was The White Temple in Chiang Rai (known as Wat Rong Khun to the locals).

While many temples around Asia start to look very similar after you’ve been traveling or living here awhile, the White Temple stands out with its surreal statues, surprising references to pop culture, and twisted fairytale-like architecture.

Unfortunately, we couldn’t make it up to Chiang Rai during that trip, but we recently, finally, made it there a couple weekends ago.

Our thoughts? It made for some beautiful pictures, but in person it was a bit smaller than expected.

But! Despite its size, there is a lot going on if you know what to look for. Here is what you should know:

Temple or Art Exhibit?

Years ago, Wat Rong Khun was a typical Buddhist temple that had fallen out of use and was badly in need of repairs. An artist, Chalermchai Kositpipat, decided he wanted to completely renovate the building in an unorthodox way with his own money.

So is the current temple still a religious center or is it all for the sake of art now? It’s a mixture of both. While you can definitely see that an artist designed every inch of this attraction, it is still intended to enlighten its visitors about the teachings of Buddha and eventually provide space for meditation and religious learning. Kositpipat sees his work on the temple as a spiritual mission.

A Story Comes to Life

Exploring the White Temple is essentially entering into a narrative of temptation and redemption. To keep each visitor in the intended progression of the story, no one is allowed to turn back as they explore. They must move through each chapter just as they would a novel – without skipping forward or backward. (So make sure you get any pictures you want the first time around.)

Overcoming Temptation

At first, the artwork in front of the temple is almost disturbing. Multitudes of hands desperately reach out of the ground – this scene is supposed to represent the problem of desire and greed. Visitors pass over it by bridge, entering a state where they are free of worldly attachments and pain.

Mythological Creatures

You will also encounter many strange, mythological figures within and around the White Temple, including:

Kinnarees – Look for statues of half-bird, half-man creatures. They are similar to guardian angels in Buddhist mythology, keeping an eye on humans and intervening when we are in trouble.

Rahu – This creature is a beheaded serpent, and Hindu myths teach that he will determine the fate of each soul upon their death.

Nagas– You will also see plenty of snake symbology with their full body still intact – these are Nagas, and they are minor deities that guard the temple.

Pop Culture

When you actually enter the building, you are no longer surrounded by figures of ancient myths. Instead, you’ll see a display of movie posters, western celebrities, and popular fictional characters alongside news photos of war, terrorism, and other horrors. Again, the message is that the world is full of sorrow, vanity and destruction.

Where’s the Toilet?

Even the bathrooms have become an elaborate work of art. They are housed in an ornate building designed to contrast the spiritual purity of the White Temple with a materialistic, worldly gold coloring.

There’s Much More to Come

Kositpipat has many more plans for the temple in the future – according to his timeline, the entire project won’t be finished until 2070.

For those of you who have traveled around Asia, has any specific temple caught your eye? Why did it impress you?

 

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Strange Museums Around the World

There is really no “right way” to travel.

If you hang around the travel community a lot, you might start to hear some people talk about “real travelers,” “authentic experiences,” or passing judgment on someone else’s decision to go (or not go) to certain attractions.

But the truth is that there are as many ways to travel as there are people traveling.

Our travel confession? We aren’t really into museums, even though these attractions seem to top the must-see lists of many other travelers.

But the occasional museum does catch our eye – when it’s something so bizarre we can’t believe it exists. We have to see it for ourselves. Here are some of the strangest museums around the world we would love to visit:

The Momofuku Ando Instant Ramen Museum (Osaka, Japan)

Into noodles? Even the biggest enthusiasts might find this museum a little over the top. You’ll explore the many types of ramen sold over the years, including taste testing some of the selections.

The Mummy Museum (Guanajuato, Mexico)

In a small Mexican community, a strange discovery was made. Corpses were being exhumed from a certain crypt, only to find that a peculiarity to that region had mummified them all. The Museo de Las Momias now displays many of the creepy looking mummies.

Iceland Phallological Museum (Reykjavik, Iceland)

Ever wondered how the penis compares from human to animal? Here you’ll find 215 penises to size up and learn about. The museum’s founder says he became interested in penises as a kid, and he later began collecting whale penises as a hobby. When his collection grew, he turned it into a museum open to the public.

The Underwater Museum (Cancun, Mexico)

This museum is found in the ocean and can only be viewed by divers, snorkelers, or passengers in a glass-bottom boat. The sculptures were created and placed underwater with the hopes of spreading awareness about the preservation of clean oceans, marine life, and coral reefs.

International Spy Museum (Washington DC, United States)

As a kid I was very into Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, and other mystery novels. I dreamed of becoming a spy and having dramatic adventures around the world – so this museum definitely intrigues me. Not only are cool spy tools on display, visitors can role play in their own interactive spy mission.

Museum of Vampires and Legendary Creature (Paris, France)

This gothic museum was founded by a scholar who devoted his life to the undead and other occult subjects. You’ll learn plenty about vampire folklore, old protective superstitions, and the history of vampirism in Paris and beyond.

The Museum of Death (Bangkok, Thailand)

Finally, in our current home base of Bangkok, we have the Siriraji Medical Museum, also referred to as the Museum of Death. The most popular (and creepiest) part of the museum is the forensics exhibit, which displays the corpses of murder victims and executed criminals.

What’s the most interesting museum you’ve been to while traveling? Would be tempted by any of the museums listed above? Tell us about it in the comments!

 

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The Conspiracies and Obscure History of Vatican City

Vatican City isn’t a normal place.

To start with, it is technically its own country – despite only being a mere 110 acres with a population of about 1,000. But it does have its own post office, railway station, radio station, and, of course, a rich and influential story. It has certainly earned its prominent place in European History. What it lacks in size, it more than makes up for in its unique power.

The conspiracies swirling around Vatican City are honestly mind-boggling, especially when they stray from the typical power plays and corruption you learned about in history class. From aliens to time travel, we want to discuss some of the strangest and most obscure legends we found.

Does extraterrestrial life exist? According to many conspiracy theories, the answer lies in the Vatican’s secret archives, which some claim detail an encounter between the Vatican and an alien society that wants to help Earth’s impending energy crisis – unfortunately they are afraid to reach out publicly because of our overly violent nature.

Are we alone?

And if that seems far-fetched, get ready for this strange rumor: Also hidden away in those strictly confidential archives? The secrets of time travel, and proof that time travel has already occurred to change history in dire situations. Apparently this powerful technology is owned and restricted by the Vatican, but it has been borrowed by both American and British governments in times of need.

From forgiving sins to defying the laws of time, the Vatican is rumored to have a lot of power.

Of course, we can’t forget about the secret, strange, or scandalous lives of popes throughout history.

Pope Stephen VI was so opposed to his predecessor, he dug his body from the grave, dressed him in his papal robes, and shouted horrible accusations at him before tossing him into a river.

John XII transformed the Vatican from holy grounds to a huge brothel, in which he was the center of the sinful activity. Eventually his wild life caught up with him when he was killed by a jealous husband who found him in bed with his wife.

There is also a 9th century pope appearing in several historical texts that many people believed to secretly be female. Now referred to as Pope Joan, legend says she entered the priesthood with the encouragement of her lover, quickly advancing in rank because of her intelligence and spotless character. Her lover was her greatest weakness and ultimately her downfall. Their secret was uncovered when she became pregnant, giving birth one morning as she rode her horse. She was executed within days.

The legendary, probably mythical, Pope Joan

One last papal story: Pope Paul II. He was not very popular during his reign, as he was always trying to wear a very fancy tiara and apply rogue to his face despite the objections of everyone around him. He met an untimely death, supposedly caused by eating too many melons. He may have been a bit materialistic and vain for a pope, but no one can say he didn’t live life on his own terms.

There’s no denying that behind the walls of Vatican City lies the inspiration for countless conspiracies, mysteries, and speculations of secrets and scandals. This is why, for such a small city-state, there seems to be endless histories to explore. Its influence stretches to the strangest of places.

Have you ever visited Vatican City? What interesting facts (or pseudo facts) did you uncover?

 

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New Orleans: Legends of Pirates, Ghosts, and Voodoo Queens

Without a moment of hesitation, I can name New Orleans as my absolute favorite city in America.

Sure, you might have heard some negative perspectives on it – people often say it’s dirty and full of drunk tourists.

And they’re right – but there is so much more to it, if you can get away Bourbon Street (not that Bourbon Street isn’t a great time).

This is a city full of culture and superstition. If you are attracted to cities with a little edge, a little mystery, and a little myth, New Orleans is sure to deliver. You’ll get rich histories, scandalous tales of pirates, plenty of ghost stories, and a touch of Voodoo. As soon as you arrive, you’ll know there is no other city like this in America.

I am always seeking the stories behind a city, and these are some of my favorites from New Orleans.

Let’s Start with Some Pirates

When New Orleans was still a French Territory, it was known to be a haven for the pirates of the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. The most well-known pirates to make appearances in these legends are Jean Lafitte and his brother Pierre. Law enforcement was lax during this time, so pirates took advantage of this port city to take care of their business on land.

Jean Lafitte

“Pirates Alley,” a small road running between St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo, is rumored to be where the Lafitte brothers conducted some of their nefarious business. People still report seeing Jean Lafitte’s ghost strolling the alley from time to time – along with haunting a few local bars.

Of all the places in the city, why would a pirate feel most comfortable by a church and the governor’s offices? Perhaps it’s because Lafitte is said to have formed an unlikely partnership with Andrew Jackson during 1814’s Battle of New Orleans against Britain.

Although the pirate certainly didn’t respect the laws of any country, he saw Britain as his ultimate enemy because their navy was after his ships. He also used his cooperation as a bargaining chip when trying to negotiate the release of his brother from prison.

A Few More Ghosts

There are ghost stories around every corner in the Crescent City. Here are just a few:

Bottom of the Cup Tea Room – You’ll find a heartbreaking story here – a woman fell in love with a man of a higher station. He asked her to prove that her love was genuine by going to the roof, stripping off her clothes, and waiting for him. He did not come for her, but she stayed all night, falling ill because of the cold and dying. The man was overcome with guilt and killed himself. Now both ghosts continue to haunt the building.

LaBranche Building – Once owned by a wealthy plantation owner, his wife became enraged when she learned of his mistress after his death. She invited the woman over, then held her hostage and killed her. The wife died many years later, and the ghosts of both women continue to haunt the building – spending eternity unable to escape their greatest rival and enemy.

St. Anthony’s Garden – These grounds have seen much blood spilled and many lives lost to duels of the past. It is said to hold several unmarked graves that cause a shiver to run up the spine of those walking across.

For more haunts and ghost stories, check out our self-guided supernatural tour of New Orleans.

Don’t Forget the Vampires

There’s a reason why so many Vampire movies and novels are set in Louisiana. These creatures of the night commonly appear in New Orleans folklore, thanks to the strong influence of French culture.

One of the most famous legends surrounds a man named Jacques Saint Germain. He was rich and mysterious, always throwing grand parties with tons of food – but never eating a bite himself.

After one party, a woman reported that he tried to bite her neck, causing a struggle in which she fell off his balcony. She was not seriously injured, and the police immediately headed to Germain’s place to investigate.

They found that he had vanished, along with all signs of the evening’s party – aside from many bottles of wine. Upon closer inspection, they discovered the wine was actually human blood.

New Orleans Voodoo

You’ll definitely stumble upon a few Voodoo shops while exploring New Orleans. These old beliefs and traditions are alive and well in the Crescent City.

It’s important to remember that, although some businesses might use Voodoo culture to intrigue tourists, many locals take these practices very seriously. If you’re curious about this side of the city, be as respectful as possible.

Voodoo is a religion that began in West Africa and made its way to New Orleans through the slave trade. Louisiana Voodoo is now its own tradition, which borrows some of its symbols and customs from Catholicism, specifically Catholic saints. Voodoo rituals are typically elaborate prayers to spirits and ancestors who might intervene in the lives of humans when petitioned.

New Orleans was the home of famous Voodoo Queen, Marie Laveau. Her tomb attracts many visitors hoping to leave a gift and gain the favor of her spirit in the afterlife. After a gift is left, the visitor knocks three times on her tomb.

Gifts left at Marie Laveau’s tomb

Have you ever been to New Orleans? Did you immediately fall in love with its Gothic charm, or were you turned off by the constant partying in the French Quarter? What is your favorite American city and why?

 

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Celebrating Summer Solstice Around Europe

It’s summer!

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, the days have become hot, long, and stormy. The Summer Solstice is around the corner, and many cultures are celebrating it, especially around Europe.

The Summer Solstice is the longest day of the year. For months the sun has been setting later and later, and it will be reaching its peak on the 21st of June.

Americans might see the Summer Solstice as an ancient pre-Christian holiday without much relevance today, but you don’t actually have to travel through time to see it for yourself. You can still find it celebrated in various ways in certain countries.

Here are some of those places, and what they’ll be doing:

Greece – Summer Solstice is the traditional New Year’s Day in Greece, and it also used to mark the beginning of the summer Olympic sports. Some Greek locals still take this time to make an annual trek up Mount Olympus.

Russia – The summer festival in Russia lasts three months (May, June, and July), but the largest celebrations always fall on the Solstice. Festivities include ballet, opera, and many other cultural performances. People also stop wearing colors of winter (black or gray), and start wearing bright colors to the celebrate the season.

Latvia – You won’t get a lot of sleep celebrating the Solstice in Latvia. It is traditional to stay awake the entire night before. Friends enjoy each other’s company by a fire. After the sun rises, they’ll collect a bit of morning dew to wipe on their faces. This ritualistic “cleansing” is said to bring luck. During the day, a great feast is held with many traditional foods.

Austria – Fireworks, bonfires and boat rides mark this summer holiday in Austria. Parties take place on land with a bonfire, but many people also board river boats to see fireworks displays as they drift down the river.

Sweden – Solstice is a time for costumes and maypoles during the day, and a giant bonfire at night. Parties continue on for many hours, until the wee hours of the next morning.

Denmark – You’ll also find bonfires around Denmark, with the added tradition of throwing in a witch made of fabric to burn. The witch symbolizes several things: winter, misfortune, and bad spirits.

Romania – The Summer Solstice is one of Romania’s oldest festivals, and it is celebrated with a rain dance to encourage good harvests for the rest of the year.

Iceland – In this part of the world, the summer solstice is about 72 straight hours of sunlight. To celebrate 3 days without any darkness, there is a huge music festival.

England – No one really knows the origin or purpose of Stonehenge, but it does line up perfectly with the sunrise on the summer solstice. For this reason, it is a popular gathering spot for people to celebrate the holiday, usually with a lot of dancing and drumming.

Portugal – In some countries, the old pagan roots of the Solstice are hidden by Christian traditions. For example, Portugal marks it as the birthday of John the Baptist, and it’s celebrated with street festivals and fireworks.

What kind of Summer Solstice celebrations have you witnessed abroad? Are there any fun traditions that we’ve missed? Share below!

 

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Celebrating Father’s Day Across The Globe

Father’s Day is coming up this weekend, so we decided to take a look at how fathers are traditionally celebrated and honored in different cultures around the world. While many partake in traditions familiar to us – such as giving cards, gifts, and enjoying a family barbecue – some customs take a different turn. Here are some of our most interesting discoveries:

Thailand

We’ll start with our current home. In Thailand, Father’s Day is celebrated in December on the birthday of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a beloved ruler who many see as the father of their nation. While celebrating their own fathers and grandfathers, Thai people will also pay respect to the King and wear pink, the King’s color.

Brazil

Meat is the theme of a Brazilian Father’s Day. Families enjoy a barbecue or they head to a steakhouse to celebrate the men of the family.

Russia

Along with celebrating fatherhood and masculinity in Russia, their Father’s Day is also a time to honor and respect their military.

France

There is some debate on the origins of Father’s Day in France. While some claim it began as a church holiday to honor Saint Joseph, a more cynical crowd claims that the cigarette lighter industry began it to boost their sales. While lighters used to be the traditional Father’s Day gift, today they are not as popular as small drawings or crafts made by children.

Mexico

Meanwhile, Father’s Day might not be quite as relaxing in Mexico City. Men traditionally participate in a 21K race. It is a huge, city-wide event.

Japan

Rather than making cards at school for their dads, Japanese kids will usually make little origami gifts to celebrate this holiday.

Germany

Father’s Day is quite the party for the men of Germany. Instead of spending time with their families, men often have a day out together – no girls allowed. They start with something outdoors, like hiking, and end with a lot of drinking. It’s a day when they are free from responsibilities and are able to let loose with their friends.

Have you ever spent Father’s Day abroad? What kind of celebrations did you see or partake in?

 

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Poets, Revenge, and Dragon Kings: The Stories Behind Dragon Boat Festival

Tomorrow China will be celebrating Duanwu Festival, known to most English speakers as Dragon Boat Festival.

When we taught in China, I always asked my students to explain the traditions and history of their holidays to me – but this particular one seemed hard for them to explain. There were many origin stories and many traditions to honor.

It almost seemed as if several holidays had merged into one – and some believe this is exactly what happened. It’s a day with a lot of roots, splitting and spreading in many directions.

From my conversations (and a little bit of research), here’s what you should know:

Passions of a Patriotic Poet

The most common story behind Dragon Boat Festival is that it honors Chinese poet and minister, Qu Yuan.

Qu Yuan was said to be a fair and loyal government official who truly loved his nation and the people he served.

But his corrupt political enemies convinced the king to strip him of his position and send him into exile.

While in exile, he discovered a love for poetry, stories, and legends. He began traveling through the country, collecting folk tales and finding inspiration in them to compose his own literature and verses celebrating the people of China.

His writings spoke of a love for his culture and history, but they also described a depressed man who mourned his own exile and the vulnerability of a beautiful country under corrupt leadership.

Eventually, legend says that his depression lead him to commit suicide – drowning himself in the Miluo River.

He is said to have left a final piece of poetry as his suicide note, entitled ‘The Fisherman,’ saying he must take these drastic measures to ensure he die an innocent who always remained true to his values.

The locals, who loved Qu Yuan dearly, raced out on their boats trying to save him – they were too late.

When they couldn’t immediately find him in the river, they worried the fish would start to eat his body before they could pull him to shore and perform the appropriate ceremonies.

They dropped balls of sticky rice into the water, hoping the fish would eat these instead while they continued the search. This is why sticky rice is often prepared during this festival, to be eaten or tossed into a river.

The Best Revenge Story You’ll Ever Hear

But not everyone agrees that Dragon Boat Festival is for Qu Yuan.

In some regions of China, General Wu Zixu is honored on this day. Like Qu Yuan, Wu Zixu’s father was said to have been a loyal and honest politician during a time of corruption. So when his father was unjustly executed, he fled the state while vowing revenge.

Legends claim that the grief of losing his father and the stress of being on the run caused Wu Zixu to age very quickly – his hair turned white and his face became like that of an old man. This disguised him from anyone who knew him before, and he was able to become an advisor to the prince of a neighboring state.

By the time the prince took the throne as king, Wu Zixu was his most trusted advisor. Using this influence, he guided the new king into a war against the state that had wrongly killed his father. Although outnumbered, they were victorious and the king who executed Wu Zixu’s father was killed.

One night, still not completely satisfied with his revenge, Wu Zixu went to his enemy’s corpse and delivered 300 lashes to it.

The Heartbreaking Story of a Devoted Daughter

Or maybe Dragon Boat Festival finds its meaning in the memory of a young Confucian girl: Cao E. Her father, a local Shaman, was performing a ritual by the Shun River and fell in. His body was not immediately found, but everyone presumed that he had died – except his daughter.

Cao E would not accept that her father had died until she saw a body.

For three days, the local people watched her search the river. On the fourth day she was also missing. On the fifth day, the bodies of Cao E and her father washed to shore together.

As loyalty to one’s parents (and ancestors) is central to Confucian beliefs, this act was incredibly moving to the local religious community. In her honor, a new temple was built and the river was renamed for her.

Pleasing the Dragon King

The final theory is that all these stories have been attached to a very ancient festival, celebrated during a period when the Chinese people worshipped a mythological dragon king. The dragon king controlled the weather, and honoring him near the summer solstice was said to ensure a bountiful harvest in the fall and winter.

Have you ever celebrated Dragon Boat Festival in China before? Which origin story were you told?

 

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The Women of Indian Myth and History

As a woman about to head to India, I heard a lot of warnings and horror stories meant to prepare me for what I was going to face.

I was told I’d be stared at (true), ignored (true), and that I’d ultimately be okay since I was traveling with two men (I was okay) – but that a woman traveling solo would have more serious things to worry about.

Since I was only in India for two weeks, I can’t really comment much on these warnings given to traveling females. My experience was too brief to allow me to claim any expertise about what is typical and not typical in such a huge, complex culture.

But I did think a lot about gender roles, womanhood, and femininity when I was there.

Alongside the day-to-day modern gender customs that I encountered, I was also exploring forts, palaces, and temples that seemed to add their own stories and views about how women can fit into Indian history, religion, and communities.

As always, a sucker legend and culture, I was fascinated and instantly knew I wanted to write about it all – especially coming from the western world where our religions and stories seem to always be centered on the masculine.

These are only a few of the observations I had during my time there:

Women as Symmetry – Balance seemed to be an important part of many Indian beliefs, and one way to achieve balance is the equal presence of male and female energy. This was sometimes illustrated by joining Shiva (god of creation and destruction) and his consort Parvati (goddess of fertility) into one being – half male and half female.

They are often separate deities, but when conjoined they are called Ardhanarishvara. It is intended to show that masculine and feminine energies are equal and inseparable from each other.

Some legends teach that Ardhanarishvara existed before the beginning of time, and the split into a separate god and goddess occurred for the sake of creation. Another legend says Parvati asked Shiva to become one with her because she was being harassed by a demon and needed protection. Finally, there are myths that claim Shiva is always Ardhanarishvara, just as Parvati is always Ardhanarishvara. When needed, the illusion of one gender is dropped and the masculine and feminine energies work together to grant requests and offer guidance.

Women as Warriors – One characteristic you won’t find in the women of Indian lore is weakness. Femininity is shown as a double-edged sword, but both sides are very strong – one is protective (like a mother bear) and one is unpredictable and full of rage (like an angry lover). It is not uncommon for the hero of a legendary battle to be a woman – such as Mahishasura Mardini, “slayer of the buffalo demon.” She has eight arms, and they are usually shown holding her many weapons, along with the bodies of those she has defeated.

And the warrior queen isn’t limited to mythology in India – one of their bravest historical figures is Rani of Jhansi, a queen in the North who helped lead the Rebellion of 1857 against the British Raj.

Women as Lovers – When a woman is loved in an Indian legend, the man is often willing to go to uncomfortable extremes to get her. This includes creating dangerous political enemies (Prithviraj Chauhan and Samyukta), jumping into a blazing fire (Mumal and Mahendra), and even murdering a rival for her affection (Nurjahan and Jahangir).

I think the Taj Mahal might represent one of the greatest love stories in India. Even in a region where showy mausoleums were discouraged by religious leaders, one emperor loved his wife so much he spent over two decades and millions of dollars creating one of the most beautiful buildings in the world for her.

Women as Beauty – When visiting temples, you will see many statues of beautiful women. These are called Surasandaris, and they are meant to be attendants to the gods. Surasandaris are kept in holy places to keep the balance of masculine and feminine energy during worship, and they will be found doing many “tasks,” from swatting away to flies, to drumming, to tending to a pet parrot.

While the women in ancient Indian artwork were always beautiful, they can also be quite shy. Rather than purposely flaunting their beauty, you might find a mischievous monkey slipping a sleeve off the shoulder of a woman or pulling down her dress.

Some of these depictions of women were not surprising to my western perspective. I am very used to seeing women as wives, mothers, or lovers. But it was refreshing to also see such a strong feminine presence in their divinity and their revolutions. Do you have a favorite woman in Indian myth or history?

 

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How the World Celebrates Mothers and Women

We are approaching Mother’s Day in the US this coming Sunday, and it has been a couple years since I have been able to celebrate at home with my own mother.

 

Kristin with her mom in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Simon has been away from home even longer (although the U.K. Mother’s Day is actually in March).
Simon’s mum came to visit in Phuket, Thailand
Aside from different dates, the British and American holidays are very similar. They involve cards, flowers, and time spent together as a family.
But we got curious – is this the universal approach to how people show love or respect for the women who raised them? Or are there different traditions around the world? Here’s what we discovered:

Thailand 
In our current home, Mother’s Day is celebrated on the Queen’s birthday. This gives the day twice the significance, as mothers are honored alongside the mother of their nation. Celebrations include a big parade, and mothers often receive gifts of jasmine.

Peru
In some regions of Peru, mothers share their day with Pachamama, a Mother Earth goddess who is petitioned for fertility and safety from earthquakes.

Russia
You’ll find another dual-meaning on Russia’s Mother’s Day, which takes place on International Women’s Day. This makes it a day for discussing and encouraging gender equality and women’s rights. While mothers are given special attention on this day, the holiday really celebrates all women.

The Middle East
Most Middle Eastern countries celebrate their mothers on the first day of spring, which is symbolic for fertility, birth, and family.

Mexico
Mothers are serenaded in Mexico for Mother’s Day, and they are given a day of rest – which means no cooking! This makes it the busiest day for restaurants every year in Mexico.

Ethiopia
Mother’s Day is actually a three-day festival called Antrosht, which is celebrated at the end of rainy season. There is no specific date, it begins as the weather starts to clear and the rain lets up, which is usually in October or November. The children prepare most of the food, with girls handling vegetable dishes and boys taking care of the meat.

Brazil
You’ll find this day is very important in Brazil – some say it is only second to Christmas! It is a time for extended family to join together for a huge barbecue, and children often plan and share performances for entertainment.
 
How many of you have spent Mother’s Day abroad? Did you notice any interesting traditions? And how did you still make the day special for your own mom?

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The Taj Mahal: Mysteries, Myths & Conspiracies

The Taj Mahal is a captivating place.

And not just because you can take some stunning photos there to delight your Facebook friends and Instagram followers (which we definitely did during our visit), but because it is filled with stories. Many contradict each other and some are even proven to be false, but I love the history of a place, including the history of its legends and tall tales.

Here are some of the stories that have been passed along about this famous monument.

A Temple for Shiva

Shiva is the god of both creation and destruction.

The biggest Taj Mahal conspiracy calls into question everything mainstream resources claim about it – including who built it, when and why.

Where the Taj Mahal is traditionally said to be an elaborate tomb, this theory states that it actually was built much earlier in history as a Hindu temple for Shiva. Later, as Islam became the religion of that region, an emperor took over the temple and tried to erase its religious past.

If you visit the Taj Mahal, you can find Hindu and Shiva symbols that might support this story.

A Fatal Contract

Many people claim that those who worked on the Taj Mahal were forbidden to ever work on a similar project going forward, but the darkest versions of this legend claim that workers were killed as soon as the building was completed to guarantee that construction secrets would never leak out.

The Black Twin

Similar black marble was later found on another site near the Taj Mahal. This rubble gave birth to stories that an identical monument was once in construction, but this one was intended to be all black instead of all white.

While I find the idea of this beautiful and intriguing, the theory has mostly been discredited by experts who say the marble was actually white years ago but has become dark and discolored over time.

The (Probably) True Story

The Taj Mahal was built for and named for Mumtaz Mahal.

Of course, the traditional story behind the Taj Mahal really needs no embellishment or conspiracy to make it interesting.

As a young teenager, Emperor Shah Jahan, a Muslim emperor in the 17th century, fell deeply in love with 13-year old Mumtaz Mahal. She was a Persian princess, and they eventually married.  Although he had 3 other wives, Mumtaz Mahal was his favorite. Together they had 14 children.

Tragically, she died during her final childbirth. Shah Jahn was devastated. Court records note that nothing could console him, saying his grief was like nothing seen before.

Although his religion discouraged it, Shah Jahan wanted to build his love a beautiful, unique, and eternal resting place – the Taj Mahal. It took 21 years to finally complete, and the equivalent of 827 million USD.

When Shah Jahan also passed away, he was also laid to rest in the impressive mausoleum next to his late wife.

Have you ever visited the Taj Mahal? Do any of the above stories ring true to you, or are some too far-fetched? Which is your favorite? Let us know below!

 

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