Views of an Imaginary City 25: Night Market on Jajapi Beach

The Totamontra festival takes place over the course of a week at the end of summer. The series of ceremonial and festive events that comprise it were originally intended to propitiate a good harvest season, but they have long ago come to be associated with the hope for good fortune in all spheres of life. In Sensuka, one of the most beloved features of the Totamontra is the Jajapi night market. The market is held every evening for the duration of the festival along the boardwalk of Jajapi Beach, at the city’s eastern limits. All along the walkway, vendors set up tents offering everything from cheap jewelry to foot readings, and above all, a vast assortment of snack foods, of which the oloturo (sea cucumber on a stick stuffed with ground pork and deep-fried) and kaudalki (shark fin candy) are the most popular. From the awning of each tent hangs a glass lantern known as a lolitopi, which are blown into a variety of amusing shapes, usually that of an animal. The play of colours and the refracted light through the irregularly shaped glass of the lolitopi lend the night market a strange, magical atmosphere, an effect that is heightened by the contrast between the narrow, illuminated strip of the boardwalk and the dark beach and pitch-black water beyond.

We are at the eastern end of the boardwalk, near to where a small carnival is set up for the duration of the Totamontra. The little boy in the foreground is returning from this funfair, and he carries a stuffed octopus toy that he has won at one of the carnival games. This toy also has a symbolic value here, as the octopus is the traditional emblem of Tofa, the Luck Goddess, who indeed is normally depicted as a figure half-woman and half-octopus. The entrance archway of the temple of Tofa is visible just to the boy’s right. This temple (not to be confused with the much larger Tofa temple in Peleosti, see n. 44) is by far the oldest building in Jajapi, long predating the extensive settlement of the neighbourhood (which has taken place only over the past fifty years or so, with the expansion of Sensuka to the eastward). The first Tofa temple is said to have been built by shipwrecked sailors—or pirates, according to some accounts—who washed up alive on Jajapi Beach, and wanted to give thanks to the Goddess for their good fortune. The temple subsequently became a pilgrimage destination, and it is this longstanding association between Jajapi and the luck deity that eventually led to the district becoming a focal point of the Totamontra celebrations.

At the very centre of the image, an elderly man with a voluminous Chogyan amulet around his neck is speaking to his grandson, or possibly his great-grandson. He is gesturing towards the seaside residences on the right-hand side of the print and is likely recounting to the boy how, when he first moved to Jajapi, there were no houses along the edge of the beach, and the Tofa temple stood in splendid isolation between the sand and the windswept trees. Then, a little later, as the old man may go on to explain, a wooden boxing arena was set up near this spot, directly on the beach. The fights there drew a lot of spectators for a time, but now the structure is long gone. There was also an amateur athletics club that had its headquarters not far from here, just by where the fairgrounds now are. The members used to organize extravagant parties by the water, until the clubhouse was destroyed in a fire.

So many crowds, just like this one, gathering and then dissolving, like the waves upon the shore. What does it all add up to? The boy surely does not worry about such things, but the boy’s young father, who is also present, seems to be listening to the old man’s reminiscences with a certain degree of discomfort. Perhaps he is wondering what it is like to be that age, how one stands it, knowing that all one’s life is behind one, that almost everything we look upon stands in relation to one—if at all— only as a memory. It is no longer possible to imagine a future in which one’s disparate scraps of experience come together at last, coalescing into some grand meaning, some revelation of ultimate purpose.

To think this way, however, as the old man would no doubt remind him, would be to ignore the core concept of Chogya, according to which one’s consciousness is only temporarily residing in this embodied life experience. In one’s next existence, one could theoretically find oneself living out any one of the other lives around one now, or a life from the past, or the future. Since the number of these reincarnations is infinite, each imaginable outcome is far from unlikely, and may indeed be a mathematical certainty. The old man knows that, eventually, he may very well find himself living the life of a champion boxer in that vanished arena, or of the teenage girl in the left foreground of the image who is heading to the carnival where a boy she fancies is working at one of the game stalls, or of the wealthy foreign tourist complaining about the water pressure in a high-rise hotel that will stand here a couple of centuries hence, or of a pirate washing up upon a deserted beach, infinitely grateful for the wet sand between his clutching fingers.

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