Better Know A Holiday: Buddha’s Birthday

Laughing Buddha, Singapore
xcode, Flickr

AKA: Vesakha, Vesak, Wesak, Visak, Vixakha and many more derivatives.

When? The second Sunday in May OR the day of the full moon in May OR the Sunday nearest to the day of the full moon in May OR the eighth day of the fourth lunar month OR if you’ve decided all that calendric work is too much hassle, like the Japanese, April 8.

Public holiday in: Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, China, South Korea, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Vietnam, Bhutan, Laos.

Who died? Nobody.

Reason for celebration, then? The birth of the Buddha, of course. Though for many, the Buddha’s birth, death and enlightenment are lumped together in one big holiday. So …

Who died? The Buddha.

Origins: Some 2,500 years ago, Queen Mahamaya of the Shakya Kingdom in modern-day Nepal gave birth in a grove of blossoming trees. As the blossoms fell around mother and child, they were cleansed by two streams of water from the sky. Then the baby stood up and walked seven steps, pointed up with one hand and down with the other – not unlike a Disco Fever John Travolta – and declared that he alone was “the World-Honored One.”

The rest is Buddhist history. The toddler, named Siddhartha Gautama, grew up to become the Buddha and the founder of one of the world’s major religions. He attained Enlightenment under the Bodhi tree in what is now Bodhgaya, India. Later, after amassing many followers, he died, either of food poisoning or mesenteric infarction, depending who you ask, and reached Parinirvana, the final deathless state of Buddhism.

How is it celebrated now? Bathing little statues of the baby Buddha with tea or water, hanging lanterns, extended temple services.

Bathing Baby Buddha
Joint Base Lewis McChord, Flickr

Other ways to celebrate: Freeing caged birds, parades with dancers and illuminated lantern floats, temple offerings.

Concurrent festivals: The Flower Festival in Japan, the Bun Festival in Hong Kong.

Associated food: In many places, varieties of porridge, which commemorate the dish that Buddha received that ended his asceticism phase.

Associated commercialism: Certain companies like McDonald’s will even offer solely vegetarian options on Buddha’s birthday to stick with the spirit of the festival. Precious little, in fact. Though sales of lotus lanterns and baby Buddha statues rocket during this time, the celebrations are remarkably uncommercial.

Associated confusion: There is no reliable record for when the Buddha was actually born, thus the wide range of celebratory dates. This in no way puts a damper on festivities, but does result in a bit of awkwardness when there are two full moons in May, which happens regularly enough. Most recently it occurred in 2007, and Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia decided to celebrate during the first full moon of the month, while Singapore and Thailand celebrated at the end of May.

Best place to enjoy the festivities: Seoul really takes it up a notch, planning a week of events and celebrations in the lead-up. It kicks off with the Lotus Lantern Festival the weekend prior to Buddha’s birthday, when tens of thousands of Korean Buddhists parade through Seoul’s main roads under colorful lanterns, bringing the city to a standstill. The municipal government really pulls out all the stops, offering music, dance and theater performances in public places that are jammed with revelers. Take a look at the celebrations in Seoul and elsewhere around the world in this gallery:

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The 10 smallest countries in the world

ten smallest countries in the world

The world’s ten smallest countries in terms of area fall into two general categories: European microstates (Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, San Marino, and the Vatican) and small island nations of the Indian Ocean, Pacific, and Caribbean (Maldives, Marshall Islands, Nauru, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Tuvalu.) Some of these countries are quite new as independent nations: Tuvalu gained independence from the UK in 1978, while the Marshall Islands gained full independence from the US in 1986. Others have been around for a very long time. San Marino dates its founding as a republic to 301. These countries vary greatly from one another along other axes as well: population, income, life expectancy, industry, tourist facilities, and membership in various international organizations.

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[Image of Tuvalu: Flickr | leighblackall]

Little Countries, Big World: Gadling’s pint-sized guide to the world’s smallest countries

I’m not sure what it is about small countries that makes me so interested in them. Maybe it’s the fact that they seem so manageable, so knowable. I could spend the next five years in, say, China, and still feel like I hadn’t seen a fraction of what it has to offer. But in some of my favorite smaller countries– Ecuador, Guatemala, the Czech Republic— I’ve always felt like I have a fighting chance.

As for the countries below, the world’s five smallest, you could get to know most of them pretty well in an afternoon. Here’s a quick ‘n dirty guide that proves that size, as the old adage goes, is not everything…

Vatican City

In a nutshell: The world’s smallest sovereign state at just under two-tenths of a square mile, Vatican City is headquarters of the Catholic Church and home to the Pope. The Vatican, an enclave within the city of Rome, features the magnificent Sistine Chapel, famous for its Michelangelo-painted ceiling, as well as St. Peter’s Basilica, the world’s biggest Christian church.

Turn-ons: Carpenters from Nazareth, piety, extolling the Christian virtues of humility and simplicity in the midst of unparalleled opulence

Turn-offs: Prostitution, drugs, promiscuity, and just about anything else fun

Interesting factoid: The College of Cardinals has never made it to an NCAA Tournament.

Monaco

In a nutshell: Sandwiched between France and the Mediterranean Sea, Monaco is one of the world’s wealthier countries per capita, thanks in large part to its status as a tax haven. Monaco is also home to the Monte Carlo Casino, among the most famous in the world, although citizens of Monaco are not permitted to enter the casino’s gaming areas.

Turn-ons: Grace Kelly, the American actress who famously became Princess Grace after marrying Rainier III, Prince of Monaco; gambling; lettin’ it ride; pleading that Mama needs a new pair of shoes

Turn-offs: Giving people their space– Monaco has the highest population density in the world.

Interesting factoid: Monaco’s sovereignty was established by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861– and I think we all remember where we were when that baby was signed!

Nauru

In a nutshell: Nau-who? Chances are you’ve never even heard of tiny Nauru, an island nation of 10,000 in the South Pacific. Once one of the wealthiest countries per capita on Earth thanks to large phosphate deposits, Nauru’s population has mostly been impoverished since the phosphate ran out in the early 1990s.

And there’s no money from tourism either. Says Wikipedia: “Tourism is not a major contributor to the economy, because there is little to see or do here, the climate is very unpleasant, and there are few facilities for tourists.” Other than that, I’m sure it’d make a fine place for a trip.

Turn-ons: Suckling at nearby Australia’s teat for millions of dollars in foreign aid, unemployment levels over 90%, accepting Australia’s asylum-seeking rejects

Turn-offs: Skinny people– Nauru has one of the world’s highest obesity rates

Interesting factoid: President of Nauru from 2003 to 2007, Ludwig Scotty might have one of the coolest names of any president ever.

Tuvalu

In a nutshell: A group of Polynesian islands in the South Pacific, Tuvalu consists of about 10 square miles upon which 12,000 mostly impoverished people roam. Tuvalu is perhaps best-known for its internet domain suffix “.tv” which it leased to a company for a cool $50 million back in 2000. Tuvalu is also one of the countries most concerned about global warming– and for good reason. It’s highest point is only 15 feet above sea level.

Turn-ons: Naming its nine islands hard-to-pronounce things like Niulakita, Nukufetau, and Nukulaelae; thanking New Zealand for agreeing to take in Tuvalu’s residents if rising sea levels swallow the country whole

Turn-offs: Making fun of Tuvalu’s ridiculous-sounding capital of Funafuti; disparaging copra production, Tuvalu’s main industry

Interesting factoid: Want a rare passport stamp? Go to Tuvalu, where only about 100 tourists visit every year.

San Marino

In a nutshell: The Most Serene Republic of San Marino, as the country so humbly calls itself, is one of Europe’s lesser-known nations, but it’s actually the world’s oldest republic, dating from the 4th century. An enclave of Italy, San Marino is located on Mt. Titano in the Apennines mountain range. Though the tiny city-state does not have an airport, San Marino manages to welcome over three million tourists per year.

Turn-ons: Hanging out with fellow micro-states Liechtenstein and Andorra, relying on Italy for national defense

Turn-offs: Olympic medals

Interesting factoid: National Geographic points out that San Marino prides itself on its finely minted coins and postage stamps, which, when you think about it, is actually rather depressing.

A country you’ve never heard of (continued)

Here’s a bit more about Nauru, the third smallest country in the world, for readers who were intrigued by my post from last week on it.

Curiously, there are plenty of immigrants who’ve made it to Nauru (of all places!). Australians work as doctors and engineers, the Chinese run the restaurants and shops, and Polynesian immigrants hold the rest of the jobs. In total, 4,000 out of the 12,000 inhabitants are foreigners. That was fine when phosphate paid the locals’ bills. But now nine in ten natives are overweight and unemployed. One in two has diabetes. And one in three kids have never received any schooling; those who do well in academics inevitably leave the country. Perhaps it’s no wonder that the most popular event of the past few years was a “Big is Beautiful” beauty pageant. Aside from that, the most popular pastime seems to be driving around the island’s eleven miles of roads drinking beers.

Ironically, when a British captain discovered the place in 1798, he named it “Pleasant Island”. Over the next 150 years, Westerners decimated the local population through disease, civil war (they gave firearms to the twelve local clans and encouraged them to kill each other), colonization, and of course, phosphate mining. By the end of World War II, there were only 600 Nauruans left and two-thirds of the phosphate was already gone. But with independence in 1968, the government lavished money on everyone, along with luxuries like three television channels, a golf course, and free health care. In the 1990s, all that disappeared along with the phosphate.

But there’s also plenty of rich history here, in particular, the legacy of environmental exploitation and how that has led to their plight today. While their neighbors have adjusted to globalization, Nauruans are still trying to make something out of their eight-square-mile speck of land.

GADLING TAKE FIVE: Week of December 22-28

Because Catherine is stuck at the Dallas Airport right now trying to get back to Alaska, I’m bringing you this week’s GADLING TAKE FIVE. Stay-tuned for Catherine’s tales of her holiday travels. In the meantime, here’s what happened this week in the midst of holiday mayhem.

Seriously, it’s very hard to choose from what’s written each week so I’m turning to the numbers game. For starters, here are the three posts that have been forwarded the most.

Aaron’s post “Are you smarter than a two-year-old” is one that can wow you or make you feel terrible that your geography skills are worse than a toddler’s. This toddler is also getting her 15 minutes of fame and more as she makes the TV circuit showing off her skills.

Grant’s “Christmas in Saigon” is one indication of how cultural traditions travel and that sometimes when a culture takes on another culture’s trait (Santa hats) it goes even further with it. I’ve seen the Santas on the motorcycles that Grant refers to. The man knows what he’s taking about.

Abha’s “Don’t miss the sky this christmas” gives reasons why it’s good to look up this time of year. The winter sky is perfect for star gazing. Christmas Eve may have been a perfect night, but there are still plenty of others.

Also this week, Neil’s must -read series on traveling in North Korea ended with his post, “Infiltrating North Korea Part 19: A Final Word.” If you haven’t read the series, click here to read it from the beginning.

As a series of sorts to follow, Jerry is embarking on a look at Nauru, a country you may not have heard of. Obviously, it’s one of the world’s smallest. His post appropriately named “A country you’ve never heard of” is the only posting so far, but I assure you there are others in the line-up.