CERS has been involved with culture conservation for over two decades. It started as documentation of many indigenous cultures unique to China's minority nationalities, many of which were in the process of disintegration, assimilation, or simply eclipsing in modern times. We gradually moved into the design and implementation of culture projects, at times involving entire local communities. We preserve both material and intellectual culture. In the former we sometimes conserve and restore entire ensembles of architecture, up to twenty houses or more in some projects. In the latter we document and support collections of ethnic music and legends. CERS is also an important repository of many old records, select pictures and films.

Lenggu Monastery

A tiny CERS project hidden inside a sacred mountain

By Wong How Man, Hong Kong


From the satellite image on my iPad, our route is penetrating into the heart of the high snow range surrounding what is Ge Nyen sacred mountain (6204 meters). The circular cluster of snowfields somewhat resembles petals of a lotus. A trail with peaks on both sides was what we used as access into the mountain. Beside it was a clear and pristine river cascading down from glaciers and alpine lakes. Between 2017 and 2019, twice, my team and I entered this remote mountain fastness.


Launch of the New CERS Research & Education Base in Lao PDR

By Dr William V Bleisch, Luang Namtha, Lao PDR

As the small twin-engine prop plane touches down at Luang Namtha Airport, I wonder what to expect. After all, the China border is just one hour away, and there were several hundred Chinese overseas workers there just two weeks ago before Spring Festival, most of them from central China. They come to work building the high speed rail line that will someday link Kunming and Vientiane, or to erect the new modern apartment towers in Moding Special Economic Zone on the China-Laos border. Although inside Lao PDR, the currency of Moding is RMB, the phone signal is China Mobile, and the most common language is Putonghua. The last time I passed through Moding, on my way back to China in December, construction was going on at a feverish pitch.


Island Pursuit – Anxiety unfulfilled

By Wong How Man, Kee Lung, Taiwan


I stand close to the boat’s chimney on the aft deck. It is warming to both body and heart, evoking a nostalgic feeling buried deep inside, which I have totally forgotten for over half a century. I am on a large ferry boat, the Taima Star (Tai for Taiwan and Ma for Matsu), with vehicles underdeck, out of Keelung, the northernmost port in Taiwan. It is late in the evening near midnight when we sail out toward the open sea. The four-year-old boat is 5000 tons with a length of over 100 meters. But my heart goes back to another Star, the Star Ferry in Hong Kong, barely 160 tons and one-third the length. Suddenly my teenage years come back to mind.

For six years, from 1961 to 1967 when I was twelve to eighteen years of age, I sat many times close to a chimney on the under deck of the ferry boat in Hong Kong during the winter months, riding across the harbor to Tsim Sha Tsui in Kowloon where I attended high school. Occasionally I would bring my ten-speed BSA bicycle along, an eye-catching luxury in Hong Kong during the 60s. In that case however, I would have to take the rival and less posh Yaumati Ferry from Wan Chai to Jordan Road, as the Star Ferry catered to a classier set and did not allow cargo, let alone a bicycle.


CERS Mandalay House

By Wong How Man Mandalay
Along a tributary of the Irrawaddy

Almost seven years ago, CERS launched the HM Explorer, a 106- foot explorer vessel with seven air-conditioned guest cabins. This purpose-built boat allowed CERS to explore waterways of Myanmar, in particular the upper Irrawaddy and its main tributary the Chindwin River. To date, many river trips have been conducted each year, including several cruises involving students and guests.



By Wong How ManHong Kong

A new model in supporting and representing artists



“I appreciate art, but I do not appreciate artists,” I said bluntly to the impassive face of Zwe. He looked back at me blandly as if I was talking to a wall. I double-majored in Journalism and Art in college, and know well how artists are, or pretend to be. For me and most of us, we have the left brain to supplement the right. The better the artist, the more right-brain leaning he or she is, and the harder to manage her or him, if even at all possible. I elaborated on decades of knowing artists with right brain in surplus, and left brain in deficit. In the early 1980s, through the University of Southern California where I worked, I even brought two Chinese artists to the US, resulting in their success and ultimate immigration into the country. Zwe and a woman artist Phyu have been taking up my former residence on the hill here in Zhongdian. The wooden building is a three-story villa looking down on pine forest and fish ponds, the scene descending beyond to an ensemble of buildings, pavilions and kiosks, including a writer/composer residence, a multi-function main premises and a museum. Altogether eleven buildings make up the CERS Zhongdian Center on the outskirt of what today is known as Shangri-la. I have moved down to a small one-room abode which still provides enough sanctuary, but spares me from the ups and downs on the hill several times a day just for meals or meeting visitors.


The black pearl of Bhutan – first contact with the Monpa people

By Astor Wong Hong Kong

The first thing that came into view after the plane soared
through layers of thick cloud was the snowcapped
mountains. Traces of snow sprawled from the top of the
hills to the foothills, eventually melting into rivers - the
arteries and veins of the country running through and
nourishing the land. Welcomed by a gust of cold wind after a few hours’
flight, I wrapped myself in a thick scarf to keep warm. It was early
December, the prologue to a few months of bleak cold winter in Bhutan.


The honey hunters of Palawan By Astor Wong Hong Kong


The Batak’s traditional practice of honey collection dates back in history. Though it is uncertain when did they learn and started practicing honey-harvesting, honey certainly plays a vital role in their livelihood, contributing to both subsistence - as a nutritious food source - and cash income. Successful honey collection requires in-depth knowledge about bees and their behavior. The Batak people have a diverse range of bee knowledge,


My Journey of Auspicious Coincidences

By Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuk Thimphu, Bhutan


CERS and my own office, the Buddhist Art & Cultural Conservation Centre, have one thing in common - a commitment to ensuring the preservation and continuity of cultures and the arts of the Himalayan region.


First Decades of Exploration Highlights

By Wong How Man


I have just turned 70, and my exploration has reached five decades. It seems proper to say I began my real exploration in 1969, when I left home for America and college.
Curiosity notwithstanding, throughout my upbringing for the first two decades of my life, I could only explore around my immediate vicinity of Hong Kong. It was when I left home that I could physically explore beyond the place of my childhood. And that, I did.
Looking back on fifty years, I reminisce some of the highlights, both in years, months and days. The rainbow of colors and memories are too rich to recount in detail. Through pictures however, I felt such recall could be captured to a degree of time past, and be shared with a few friends.


A token of my friendship and gratitude for your 70th birthday

By Katia Buffetrill Zhongdian, Yunnan


I first heard the name of Wong How Man through a common friend, Stéphane Gros, himself a researcher, colleague and friend at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique in Paris. Knowing that my research on pilgrimages around sacred mountains was going to lead me to make the pilgrimage around Kawakarpo Mountain in 2003, he put me in contact with How Man. In fact, that year was a water-sheep year, considered to be the most auspicious one for the Kawakarpo pilgrimage, since it is said to be the mountain god’s birth year and the sixtieth year in the Tibetan sexagenary calendrical system. I thus met How Man, a man of immense generosity and faithful in friendship at a very auspicious time. Not only did he open to me the doors of the CERS Center beside Napa Lake, close to the city of Gyalthang, but he also invited me to participate in the program he had conceived for the pilgrims journeying to Kawakarpo mountain in that very special year. CERS first took care in repairing the wooden bridge across the Mekong, and built a tea house and a clinic next to the bridge, a compulsory passage for all pilgrims. With the help of a team of young Tibetans and Chinese, we were in a perfect situation not only to offer tea and first aid to the pilgrims but also to count the pilgrims (daily from 6AM to 8PM) and to ask a series of questions that had been chosen by How Man and the team.



From Missionary pilot to Mercenary pilot By Wong How Man, Milwaukee, Wisconsin



His fingers are long, slender and frail. Felix Smith held the pen firmly and with slow but determined movement he autographed his book for me. “For How Man, withanks for all of the good things you have contributed to the history of CNAC and CAT. Felix.” So it reads now on the inside cover page of the book, China Pilot, flying for Chiang and Chennault. That’s the first time I saw someone short-cut the words “with thanks”. For Felix however, his life had no short-cuts, but instead was long and distinguished.



By William V. Bleisch, Palawan



On 2018 Nov 26 a Monday, we travel from Shek O to the CERS Maoyon base in Palawan. Late that evening, at 23:00, several of us travel to Barangay Tagabinet to attend the wake for Ardes F. Cayaon (Dec 15, 1976 to Nov 21, 2018), caver, river guide, explorer, and friend. He will be missed. When it was my turn to stand in front of the coffin, its glass top fogged up with condensation from the refrigeration, a large cricket hops down onto the top of the casket directly over Ardes’s mouth, then hops on to the back of my neck as I turn to leave.



By Astor Wong, Hong Kong


The waters of the Sulu Sea during winter, under constant attack by typhoons, are notorious for being perilous. Even skilled and experienced fishermen avoid setting sail during this time of the year and seek other ways of livelihood. There was but one exception. At dusk on a November day; on the vast and boundless ocean, one could only see two boats, fearlessly cleaving through rough waves and tough winds, determined to get to an off-the-grid island named Cawili regardless of the potential hazards. In the name of exploration, a diverse group of passengers, from the United States, the United Kingdom, Myanmar, Hong Kong, Kunming, and the foothills of Tibet, with a local Filipino boat crew, daringly sailed against the strong currents while being assaulted by aggressive gusts of wind.




On January 19 we set off from the HM Explorer berthed on the Chindwin River just below Khamti town. We switch from the comfortable boat to two modified pick- up trucks for the road ahead into to the north and west. While intern Charlie Brown, film-maker Xavier Li and Myanmar Coordinator Daw Sandra sit in the “air seats” bolted to the cargo bay of the truck, enjoying the dusty view, I opt for the more confined but less dusty cab, riding shotgun with the young Naga driver. The driver and I make small talk on the way in broken English and Burmese. His father is a soldier stationed near the town, and we stop briefly to meet him. The son is obviously proud of his new job as a driver, and he calls out the names of the towns as we travel through them. At Lahe town, 1,005 m above sea level, it is already 13:40 and I am hungry. Howman knows this town well, since it was the scene of the annual Naga Festival last year when he attended. This year the festival is in a more remote location, and we have decided to follow another route instead of attending the somewhat staged assembling of the tribes. We stop to have a quick lunch and register with the police, then get back in our positions in the pickup trucks and continue on, passing some nice patches of forest, but there is progressively less forest as we continue on travelling west. Instead, we pass very large swidden clearings, where the trees and brush have recently been cut and are now drying before burning. The brush will be burned to release its nutrients, and then a mix of crops will be planted in the ashes – hill rice, beans, Job’s tears, pumpkins and gourds




It feels like I have been around for much longer, but in fact this trip to Palawan was indeed my third time on a CERS expedition. I was never the athlete type; I have trouble walking on concrete without tripping over my own feet. CERS’s explorations, as far I was told, would not be trekking-oriented. Yet somehow someone frail and physically inept like me wound up on three expeditions that involved hardcore hiking. And the five-day expedition to the source of Maoyon River was by far the most strenuous one I have ever participated in. Allow me to briefly outline my outlook on anthropology as a discipline, so as to explain my role and expectations for this fieldtrip. The beauty of anthropology is the ‘bottom-up’ approach that we adopt in academic research. Unlike other social sciences that are more preoccupied with grand narratives and theories, anthropologists celebrate cultural diversities, appreciate deviations from ‘norms’, and reflect upon and challenge “the ordinary” embraced by mainstream society.




Growing up, I disdained reading stories with sad or tragic endings. So, I formed the habit of reading the last chapter of a book first. If a happy ending was not assured, I would not commit my time to reading the front part, thus saving myself time, emotion, and a few tears. But today, I cry even reading a comic. Every book I read is like a sad story, bringing tears to my eyes. With any reading that extends beyond twenty minutes or so, my eyes automatically start watering, an annoying byproduct of ageing, at least in my case. So, it is with such strained eyes that I review photographs I took in 1977 in Hangzhou, now stored as low-resolution images in my computer. But this time, tears came to my eyes both from age, as well from my sweet and beautiful memories being abruptly taken away.




My hands are frozen and numb. My camera has gone wild, taking photos in delayed mode a few seconds after I push the shutter. Then it momentarily dies and I have to reboot it. The wind is blowing and the temperature must be below zero as rain turns to hail. It must be the altitude, 4821 meters in elevation. Otherwise it has to be the river god, as my team and I reach the watershed and source of the Irrawaddy River. “This is it,” I gave out the order, marking a small drop- off where two tiny streams trickle downward joining each other. Beyond and above are marshes with water holes, merging to become the source stream. My iPad has been on all morning, with my special App tracking our route, time, distance and several other crucial data from our basecamp to here. “Let’s mark the spot with the prayer flag,” I give out another order to my team. Soon three poles are stuck in the ground and a string of colourful flags span the source of the Irrawaddy. My next move is almost like clockwork, something I had dreamed of, as well as performed, several times before, each time when I reached the source of a great river; the Yangtze, Mekong, Yellow River, or Salween. I kneel down striding the creek, and with my two hands I bring the water to my mouth. Drinking from the source is always a very sacred moment, especially for an explorer. I make several screen-shots on my iPad satellite image to record the necessary data, most importantly, the coordinates of this spot – 28°44’04”N 97°52’35”E. Time of arrival is of course noted. My Omega says 10:38. It’s been almost three hours of continuous riding on horseback since we left basecamp at 7:48 this morning. Next my team passes me three Aluminium water bottles which I use to collect the source water for later analysis back home. Our caravan helpers are watching with amazement. Why do these people make such a big deal about a tiny stream?




“X! Hurry up! We are not movie stars;” How Man, leader of the expedition, shouts out loud. The whole CERS team is ready to conduct the ceremony of throwing longest prayers at the source of the Irrawaddy River, altitude 4821m. It is cold and windy, and nobody wants to stay there for any longer than necessary. I am still calibrating the DJI drone camera that I plan to fly above the team as they throw out the light paper slips printed with prayers. It would be a great shot of a great moment to be captured forever. I move my freezing cold fingers fast. As expected, the remote controller reacts a bit slower than it should. GPS signal is strong. The gimbal camera, however, detects an under-exposed image quality, probably because of the dull sky with white clouds beneath it. Fog spreading around has also confused the camera sensor as to whether it is bright or dark. The monitor reveals very low visibility. I have to switch all settings to manual control and hide myself in the down jacket to protect the remote controller. Adding to this hectic rush, rain starts to fall, occasional changing to hail. Drone cameras are not supposed to fly in rain. The four electric motors of the propellers are easily short circuited if penetrated by water. A tiny drop on the camera lens will ruin the image and the list of possible damage continues. What the hell, there is no time to reason with nature.


Last season of a nomad camp


The low shrub above our basecamp is changing a coat of colours, into yellow, orange, and crimson red. We are at 3900 meters. It indicates that frost has arrived at 4000 meters, thus the foliage change. Not far from our camp is the high pasture for the Tibetan yak and zho (a hybrid between yak and cow) grazing ground. Tseren Sangmo and her aunt Yishi Lacho are the only souls at this high pasture. The log shed they built some seven years ago can be considered the first household at the Irrawaddy source. Here they would spend two months of the year, from August to early October. In another five days, their family members, perhaps three men, would arrive from home, four days march away, to help them decamp to go home. For the previous two months, June and July, Sangmo and Lacho were at a higher camp, another 200 meters higher, at another grazing ground. There, they live in a shed similar to this one. Back home in the village of Gula, pasture is scarce and thus kept only for winter grazing. They herd their livestock here to the adjacent Quwa village and paid a fee to use their pasture for summer grazing. For each animal, they would pay 30 Yuan for seasonal usage. Herding over 30 animals belonging to three families from their home, they would pay upward of a thousand Yuan.




Knowing I was going to visit China Exploration & Research Society (CERS) in June, my proctor Valerie Ma spent one of the last night’s of study hall before school’s end sharing stories about her time as an intern there the past few summers. She pulled up pictures and described a summer spent on a boat in Myanmar with a community of enthusiastic explorers, spotting snub-nosed monkeys for the first time on Baima Snow Mountain in Yunnan Province, and lazier, enjoyable days spent with other interns playing cards in between diving into research articles for her culminating research report on opium. As a global studies educator and curious traveler, I had so many questions: “How were you inspired to research opium? What are some of your most powerful experiences you’ve had in the internship? Tell me more about the places you visit.” Valerie’s eyes would light up as she described her engagement with people, place, and community across China and the value of CERS, led by charismatic explorer How Man. While I had an impression of my future visit, I remained curious and excited as I anticipated my arrival.


About a month later, I was at the Zhongdian Center of CERS with four other Deerfield Academy faculty members: Michael Cary, Emma Coffin, Cindy Feng, and Will Speer. A professional development experience, our travels had already taken us to Beijing and Lhasa to deepen our understanding of China’s rich histories, cultures, and landscapes. With our visit to CERS, we aimed to better understand their important work, learn more about rural China, and imagine what it would be like to bring a group of Deerfield students, there.


Tibetan Architecture & Its Significance


On a whim last quarter, I took a class called Introduction to World Architecture. As an intended Mathematical and Computational Science major, I am not usually inclined to take that kind of class, but I decided to go for it because it sounded interesting. Although I enjoyed the class and the variety of buildings included in the course, I was disappointed in the lack of diversity in the architecture. The discussions we had about Western architecture were fascinating, but we did not spend as much time discussing non-Western architecture as I would have hoped. Seeing the architecture of the local Shangri-la region firsthand only confirmed my suspicion that there was a large portion of non- Western architecture that my class did not cover.
Tibetan architecture is fascinating to study because architects in this region have to be resourceful when it comes to finding building materials and figuring out how to stay warm. This resourcefulness results in a great variety of building styles from region to region. The architecture of this large region of cultural influence is very diverse. Therefore, I think it is best to talk about the architecture in terms of common themes and ideas as opposed to specific elements.


The Great Tibetan Dog


The Tibetan Mastiff has been a world wide staple of Tibetan culture that has recently spread through the western world and the Americas. During my first trip to China, specifically to the northwest corner of Yunnan Province in Shangri-la County, I had my first close up encounter with a traditional Tibetan Mastiff. I was on a volunteer trip through my University to work with local children on environmental sustainability, English skills, and sports, working with the China Exploration and Research Society or CERS. CERS’s founder Wong How Man created a purebred mastiff kennel in Deqen County in China, to preserve the declining gene pool that had been threatened by crossbreeding with other dogs. The program was recently halted after breeding mastiffs became a lucrative national craze, and a last remaining mastiff was re-located to the CERS Zhongdian Center in Shangri-La. This 10-year-old male mastiff wears the traditional black coat with brown marking under its neck and above his eyes.
Talking with staff and locals about the Tibetan mastiff, the importance of the breed to Tibetan nomadic and local culture really started to materialize for me. After looking through the library at the CERS Center, I found several books on the Tibetan mastiff and their importance to the Tibetan plateau.
The Tibetan mastiff breed is thought to be 5,000 years old, first originating from the eastern Himalayan mountains of Bhutan, Sikkim, and Tibet. One source described the Tibetan mastiff as the “Adam” of many of the large dog breeds, such as the Great Pyrenees, Burmese Mountain Dog, Rottweiler, and Saint Bernard. The oldest reports of the Tibetan mastiff go back as far as 1100 B.C.E. Tibetan mastiffs were described by both Greek and Roman historians as hunting dogs, and some were so furious they were put in Gladiator rings as fighters. The first pictures of Tibetan mastiffs were found in artifacts in Assyria and Babylonia around 700 B.C.E. While tutoring Alexander the Great, the Greek philosopher, Aristotle, documented his encounter with the “Great Dog of India” as the dogs were being brought back to Greece. These are believed to have been the Tibetan mastiff. He described the dog as a superior hunter that could even take out a full grown lion. There was a famous story told during those times of a great hunt for a large lion with four Dogs of India. Once the dogs got a hold of their targeted lion they would not unclench their jaws even when the hunter pulled at them to the point where their limbs were being ripped off.


The Cers Video Archive: You May Say I am A Dreamer


"Help yourself! Feel free to watch any tapes." How Man, President of CERS, showed me the heavy duty storage rack full of old video tapes in CERS’s Hong Kong headquarter office. Most of the tapes had a label with only date and place written on it. I felt discontented immediately because, as an editor and film- director, I know that it is essential when editing that any particular video clip should be easily located with accuracy in order to save time and maintain concentration. I have had so much painstaking experience in going through hours and hours of footages just to find a particular one second scene. This happened when detailed descriptions were not logged for each tape. Simply a date or a place is not good enough.
At least all tapes were kept in boxes stacked inside an air-conditioned room with dehumidifier. They were perfectly well protected from moisture and hence from deterioration. I felt anxious however, because of the imminent loss that would arise, not from within, but from the ever-changing world outside the box. Soon the footage recorded would be lost, not because of the failure of magnetic tracks on tape but because of the playback machine that was calibrated to interpret an analog video signal developed by the British in the 1930s. Manufacturers such as JVC, SONY and Panasonic ceased production of analog video machines after the inception of digital video in the mid-1990s. Digitalization had revolutionized the television and video production industry, thus making it difficult to find and expensive to retrieve analog video. The longer the time, the higher the risk of losses. Looking at those tapes on the shelf with labels dated 1983, 1984, 1985... up to 2014, my heart sank.


August 2017 Cruise on Hm Explorer on the Chindwin River in Myanmar


When I learnt in 2013 that the China Exploration and Research Society had built a boat in Myanmar in order to explore the huge rivers there, I immediately felt I must find an opportunity to embark on HM Explorer to discover the parts of the country that the boat makes possible to access.
We had some familiarity with Myanmar. My wife Anthea had been invited in 1979 to join a group of five other women to visit what was then known as Burma. The tour was organised by Caroline Courthauld, wife of senior Jardines executive Willian Courthauld. Caroline is a writer, photographer, documentary film producer and researcher. She is a former chairman of the Keswick Foundation.
The group flew to Rangoon (now Yangon) via Bangkok and stayed at the historic Strand Hotel. Visits to the famed Shwedagon Pagoda were made both at dusk and the following morning. They then flew to Mandalay on a Fokker Friendship turboprop plane and stayed at the Mandalay Hotel
The next day they visited wood carving, cheroot, alabaster carving, antique bronze and begging bowl factories by boat and pony trap via Ava, Sagaing and Amarapoura.
A visit to Maymo, the British Hill Resort 67km north east towards the border with Yunnan in China, followed. This included the Botanic Gardens, the Old Town, the win, teakwood logging, Schwenandaw Monastery, Kuthodaw Pagoda and the embalmed body of the monk Zawtika.




You may someday find it useful,” I said as I handed over a box of snake bite medicine to Sharon. “Last time I was here, I saw two bamboo vipers within five minutes. One of them was right at the edge of our house. Those are extremely poisonous.” I added as I turned the box to look at the ingredients and the dosage printed on the back.
“Hmmm, look at that - lizard skin, centipede, poisonous plants and more. I guess it takes something toxic to remedy snake bite venom,” I pointed to the ingredients. “And dosage; twenty pills for a start, down to ten later on,” I read out from the small print on the box.
“But just a minute - do not use if pregnant. Huh! Why not? In that case, maybe it is also good for abortion,” I quipped. “I don’t think I would ever need it for your suggested application,” Sharon finally snapped back, sort of barking.




But, but....I’ve been eating chicken feet, my favorite dim sum dish,” I stuttered a bit as I revealed this to Danchen, my close friend. Danchen, a very knowledgeable Rinpoche and retired Vice Party Secretary of Tibet, wrinkled his forehead a little in disgust. Then he continued to explain to me something I was totally ignorant about, despite having visited the Jizushan, or Chicken Foot Mountain, twice in the past.


I first came here twelve years ago, during the last Year of the Rooster pilgrimage in 2005. Then I came again in 2007, escorting several Hump pilot friends when they were into their 90s. On that trip they saw on the ground, for the first time, the pagoda they had seen from the air uncounted times while flying during World War II. The pagoda was their check point, navigating them to Kunming after passing the high mountains of the Himalayas.





I watched the reef go by as it rose vertically 20 meters above me and dropped 90 meters below me into the blackness. Suddenly, I realized I was completely alone in the blue. The strong current had pulled me around a corner in the wall. I could no longer see my dive buddy or the rest of the team, and for a second, a wave of panic swept over me. It was big, big ocean for a tiny person to be alone in, 30 meters below the surface of the sea.


The currents at Tubbataha were strong and it was easy to get swept ahead of the group if they stopped to check out something along the wall. And there was plenty to stop for – a White-tipped Reef Shark or an enormous Marble Stingray resting on a ledge, a parade of young Grey Reef Sharks, a Green Turtle swimming along the top of the wall, a school of cobalt blue Yellow-tailed Trevally or Pyramidal Butterflyfish descending the wall head first.




X, Happy is here!” CERS Philippines Project Manager Joceline shouts out loudly. I finally get the chance to meet Happy, the man Joceline often praises and feels happy about. In his sixties, Happy is a strongly built old man with a healthy tanned skin tone and beard growing on his chin and cheek. He effortlessly paddles his fishing kayak approaching us with speed. “Are you able to speak Hong Kong Cantonese?” I greet him with an excited loud voice and a big smile. A typical Cantonese gesture to greet someone you never expected, especially for me, in the middle of exotic Sulu Sea. “Of course! I am a Hong Kong boy from Shau Kei Wan.” He shouts back.
It is 12 days to Christmas Eve. The CERS research boat HM2 has just completed a 26 hour, 268 km eastbound voyage from Palawan Honda Bay to Cagayancillo Island, home town of Joceline. We have planned this trip over a year to achieve multiple tasks that include filming the Island’s Annual Children’s Day Parade when over 300 children dress up beautifully, sing loudly and dance and march across the town. It is a kind of tradition unique to fisher folk culture that I feel resembles the “Tai Ping Ching Chiu - 太平清 醮 ” of Hong Kong but is far less known by the outside world. We are also documenting the changing life of local fishing families in which most adults inevitably leave their own seas to work overseas. Last but not least, we have to test the newly acquired drone camera for capturing aerial views of the CERS research boat HM2 sailing into unknown territory.


The Magic of Not-for-Profit


National Treasures, a dying tradition, a country neighboring China, a not-for-profit project, and certainly great fun to be involved; it all fits perfectly with CERS. And this is not even to mention the significance of the project in terms of education and conservation. CERS, with the blessing of Her Majesty The Royal Grandmother Of The Fifth King Of Bhutan, is now on board for sponsoring the production of a documentary film.
Tashigomang (Many Doors of Auspiciousness), according to the French diplomat and a scholar in Asian Studies specializing in Himalayan studies, Dr. Mathou, can be considered as an indigenous Bhutanese tradition or perhaps a genuine Bhutanese national treasure, even though the invention of this vanishing tradition has been closely related to Buddhism as a whole since the 16th century. However, it is in Bhutan that the Tashigomang has been, in Dr. Mathou’s word, “part of the local culture in the most comprehensive way,” which contrasts with other Buddhist territories where it has totally vanished.


The Blue Eyed Monk


We leave the Old Town in Zhongdian bright and early on a Thursday morning on a kind of cultural and spiritual exploration.
Because of road construction, we must travel south down to the Yangtze, then follow the river upstream. We finally leave the river’s banks at the bridge to Qi Zhong, where we cross into Weixi Lisu Minority Autonomous County. A new bridge across the Yangtze, slightly higher than the old one, is nearing completion just upstream. We have lunch near the New Bridge Hotel, and the cook and proprietor, Hou Cui Yin, tells us that she is a member of the Malimoso Minority. It is a minority that is not recognized by the government, but just lumped together with the Naxi. Although Weixi is called a Lisu Autonomous County, the population here includes almost as many Naxi, Tibetan, Bai and Han people.