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Yogyakarta Day 2: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Mendot temple with banyan tree

Mendut Temple with giant banyan tree. This smaller temple for the Sailendra royal family was built on a direct line between Borobudur and Mt. Merapi.

On my second day in Yogyakarta, Indonesia I took tours to the Buddhist sites of Borobudur, Pawon, and Mendut.

Borobudur isn’t the only temple in this region. The Sailendra Dynasty also built smaller family shrines and temples for the royal family, including two that we visited after seeing Borobudur. The first was nearby and is called the Pawon Temple (Candi Pawon). It is under renovation and is small but nicely designed. Other than some relief sculptures, there wasn’t much to see.

Candi Pawon

Candi Pawon, a small temple under renovation near Borobudur.

There were some souvenir stands around this temple, so I looked through them and found a nice small brass model of a stupa. You can take the top off and see the Buddha inside. I also bought some wooden wayang puppets with a base to hold them, and hope that they can be kept safe while traveling.

Wayang puppets

Puppets on sale at the gift shop at Pawon Temple. I bought some wooden puppets and a bronze Buddha stupa.

We traveled another short distance to the Mendut temple. All three temples are in a line, all pointing toward Mt. Merapi. The Mendut Temple was more interesting – a large cubic monument with statues of the Buddha inside and nicely carved reliefs around the outside. What was most impressive was a huge banyan tree next to it with multiple root streamers descending from its branches and a gigantic trunk. It was probably the single largest tree I’ve seen, even bigger in sheer size than a redwood tree. All of this was situated in a green parkland with beautiful lawns.

Giant banyan

Giant banyan tree at Mendut Temple, one of the largest trees I’ve ever seen. People were swinging on the hanging roots like Tarzan. For a sense of scale, look at the people underneath it.

Mendut was built in the early 9th Century and is the oldest of the three aligned temples (with Pawon and Borobudur). According to one inscription, it was built during the reign of King Indra of the Sailendra Dynasty. Lost for hundreds of years in the jungle, it was rediscovered in 1836 and restored between 1897 and 1925. The large statue of a seated Buddha in the central chamber is flanked by other lesser Buddhas, including Avalokitesvara, who is known as Gwan Yin Pu Sa in China.

Mendut temple

Mendut Temple, front view. You climb up the stairs to the central chamber, which is relatively small.

On the way back to the car, a lady insisted that I buy souvenirs and was the most irritatingly persistent person I met in Indonesia. I decided to buy another stupa, this time made of stone, to give as a present. I guess her persistence was rewarded. My driver told me that I could go inside of the monastery that is part of the Mendut temple, so I did.

Buddha of Mendut

A seated Buddha statue inside the chamber of Mendut Temple near Yogyakarta, built in the 9th Century by the Sailendra Kingdom.

It is a modern monastery, no more than a hundred years old at most. The grounds were quiet and peaceful, with several small temples with various statues of the many forms of the Buddha. There were winged angels, a temple with a pathway through it shaped like a giant Buddha head with elephants supporting it, a giant bell and gong, some grotesque figures that seemed to be laughing at each other (“What are you laughing at??”). Some of the Buddhas were sitting in lotus position, some reclining. Some were coated in gold leaf, some white, and some carved from gray volcanic stone. I spent more time there than I should have, but it was very enjoyable and I was about the only person around – the monks were back in the living areas behind the monastery. It was all very photogenic.

Buddha consort panel

Relief panel of Avalokitesvara, the female Buddha of Boundless Mercy, carved on the outer walls of Mendut Temple.

I can’t say I am an expert at how Buddhism is practiced here, whether Mahayana or Theravada. From my previous research and classes, southeast Asia and Indonesia practice the Theravada school, which is closer to the original teachings of Siddhartha in following the Dharma, or Path to Enlightenment, as compared to the form of Buddhism practiced in China and other parts of Asia that emphasizes reaching Enlightenment (Nirvana) through the intervention of boddhisatvas. But sources I’ve read said that Borodudur and Mendut are Mahayana Buddhist sites. It is complicated by the fact that Buddhism has almost died out on Java except for this monastery. Yet people do travel here for festivals, walking from Mendut to Pawon to Borobudur and circumambulating through Borobudur on their way to Enlightenment.

I climbed back into the car and we drove off to find lunch on our way to Mount Merapi.

Gardens of Mendot

The gardens and lawns at Mendut Temple, which are beautifully maintained and serene.

Guardian

Guardian of Mendut Monastery.

Gong

Giant gong bell at Mendut Monastery. It would have been amazing to hear this ring.

Buddha head temple with elephants

Buddha head pathway with elephants.

Golden Buddhas in temple

Buddhas inside a temple at Mendut Monastery.

Gold Buddha in stupa

Golden Buddha at Mendut Monastery. I don’t know why I’m suddenly reminded of Indiana Jones . . .

Standing Buddha-red temple

The Mendut Buddhist Monastery near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

White seated buddha

White Buddha statue at the Mendut monastery near Yogyakarta.

Seated Buddha with bronze head

Inside the Buddhist monastery at Mendut.

What are you laughing at

What are you laughing at? I’m not sure what these statues are supposed to be doing, but they seem to be having a good time doing it.

 

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Yogyakarta Day 2: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Borobudur panorama-s

A panoramic image of Borobudur, a 9th Century Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia.

 

Borobudur model

A model of Borobudur, a 9th Century Buddhist temple north of Yogyakarta, from which I experienced sunrise on Aug. 3, 2017.

My second day in Yogyakarta began very early with a 3:00 wake-up call. I had signed up for an all-day tour to sites around the area of Jogja, as it is called, starting with a sunrise tour of Borobudur, an 9th Century Buddhist temple at the base of the central Java mountains.

Borobudur through trees

A view of Borobudur temple through the trees.

I quickly showered and got ready. Down in the lobby, I got some cash out of the ATM machine to cover my expenses for the day. My tour included only the car and driver; I would have to pay admission to each stop. It had seemed the best way to get the combination of places I wanted to visit. As it turned out, I should have gotten some extra for tips and a lunch that was more than expected.

Buddha-mountains-blue sky

One of many Buddha statues carved from volcanic ash at Borobudur Temple near Yogyakarta. The hills to the east are the rim of an ancient caldera, and rise up beyond to Gunung Sumbing, the peak just to the left of the Buddha’s head.

My driver arrived at 3:30 and I loaded into his car. It was pitch dark still, and the streets were deserted. This was the least traffic I saw all the time I was here. We drove north out of Jogja, passing along a road similar to the one I’d traveled on to get to the Meratus Mountains in Borneo. We passed through several smaller towns, and I dozed off, but the jostling of the road kept waking me up. We turned toward the northwest and after about 40 minutes on the road, arrived at the parking lot.

Yogya area google earth

We traveled northwest of Yogyakarta on Highway 14 to Magelung, where Borobudur is located, about a 40 minute trip. To the east of the gray-green dot of Borobudur lie the foothills leading to Gunung Sumbing. Mendot Temple (next blog post) lies on a direct line between Borobudur and Mt. Merapi.

My driver (I have forgotten his name) took my money and paid for the entrance fee, which included a small cloth printed with a batik pattern of the temple stupas. I picked up a flashlight, and he told me he would meet me back at the bottom when I was done. I followed the pathway and the people ahead of me.

Borobudur predawn

Stupas at Borobudur in the pre-dawn light, looking east-southeast.

It was too dark still to see anything, and the weather was a bit drizzly and foggy. We came to a gate and some stairs that led upwards, and I could see some flashlight beams climbing the temple above me. I began to climb too, afraid that there might be too many stairs for my legs to handle. Although they were uneven, with some stairs taller than others, it wasn’t too bad and the cool pre-dawn temperatures made things better. I took my time, because dawn was still a long time away. There were several levels with pathways leading off in both directions but I stayed on the main staircase, figuring that I could explore better when it was light.

Stupas at Borobudur in early light

Dawn approaches at Borobudur.

I reached the top sooner than I thought I would and circled around the large central stupa to find a spot away from everyone else and their lights. It was still drizzling lightly, but as the first light of dawn began to creep around the eastern mountains, I found a quiet place to sit down. I tried to lie down to rest a bit, but someone came around and told us not to sit or lie on the central stupa (I hadn’t seen the signs). I moved to the overhang at the edge of the top ring of smaller stupas and found a nice spot away from others’ lights where I could watch the dawn come on.

Borobudur cross section

A cross section diagram of Borobudur. Built on a natural hill or volcano, the temple is divided into three main sections representing the foot (Kamadhatu), the body (Rupadhatu), and the head (Arupadhatu). Pilgrims begin at the bottom and circumambulate around the levels, working their way up as they view carvings depicting the life of the Buddha, until they reach the central stupa at the top. This journey represents the journey to enlightenment.

Stupas in the mist

The stupas hold statues of the Buddha. Here, a light drizzly mist set in just before sunrise, hiding the hills to the east.

The drizzling intensified, then tapered off and quit. The clouds began to dissipate, and the sky continued to lighten. It is said that Borobudur is spectacular, and I’ve seen photos, but the reality is always so much better. I tried taking some photos and videos but it was still too dark.

Borobudur stupas 2

The stupas are located in a triple ring around the large, central stupa at the top of the complex. A believer will start at the bottom and walk around each ring, seeing carved reliefs depicting the Buddha’s life, and reaching the top level which represents enlightenment or nirvana.

I walked around the central stupa to make sure I wasn’t missing anything. To the direct south the most people were clumped up, but they were beginning to break apart and start exploring as the light grew. I returned to my spot and continued to wait. It was peaceful, and I could almost imagine I was the only person there, enjoying the solitude of this temple. Then someone would walk by with their flashlight on and shine it in my face. But overall it was a tranquil, meditative experience.

Buddha and toes

The tops of some of the bell-shaped stupas have been removed, revealing the Buddha statues within.

Dawn came on and I began to take more photos. The sun was still hidden behind clouds that came and went, but as the morning progressed the clouds burned off to a brilliant blue sky with a few puffy clouds. I took many photos and video clips of me walking along the pathways. I tried to avoid getting people in my shots, but it was difficult. As I descended to lower levels, there were fewer people and I could take photos easier. Some of the stupas, which look like bells with diamond or square holes in them, have been removed. Inside there are statues of the Buddha sitting in lotus position. Most of the stupas are still intact, and there are 72 of them as you can see.

David with central stupe

David Black at Borobudur, with the large central stupa in the background. The smaller stupas, or bell-shaped structures with the lattice designs, each contain a seated Buddha statue and form three rings around the central stupa.

There are nine levels to the temple, including two circular levels at the top. The lower pathways are enclosed in balustrades. They are laid out in a complex pattern that forms a mandala from above. In addition to the Buddhas in the stupas (72 of these), there are other Buddhas sitting in niches (504 Buddhas in all), with 2672 bas relief wall panels depicted events from the Buddha’s life. There are rain spouts shaped like mythical monsters (very similar to the gargoyles of medieval cathedrals in Europe). There are stone lions guarding the stairwells and pathways. And everywhere there are Buddhas and more Buddhas.

David at Borobudur with mountains

David Black at Borobudur in Indonesia. Notice that the stupa next to me has square holes whereas the stupas on the next two levels down have diamond shaped holes. The hills behind me lead up to the crest of Mt. Sumbing.

Borobudur was built around 800 CE by the Sailendra Kingdom of southern Java. It was designed by the poet-architect Gunadharma and took thousands of workers to carve the blocks of andesitic volcanic ash into these shapes. The entire temple is built over a mound of earth, perhaps a natural hill. It has four main stairways to the main compass points and is the largest single Buddhist temple in the world. Used for about 100 years, the temple was abandoned when the seat of government moved elsewhere.

1-Crowds at Borobudur

The area around the central stupa was very crowded with tourists, especially on the southern and eastern sides. We had a light drizzle of rain just at sunrise, which was unfortunate, but then the skies cleared and it was a beautiful, sunny day.

The temple was reclaimed by the jungle and partially buried by volcanic ash flows, until being rediscovered by the British under Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles in 1814. It has been rebuilt and repaired to its former glory, with several major renovations. The largest problem now is the wear of so many tourist feet on the stairs, so they have been partially covered with wood to protect them. I am one of those tourists, and I tried to show this monument all of the respect it deserves.

BUddha and water spout

In addition to the stupa Buddhas, there are many others inside niches and elsewhere around the walls of the lower levels, for 504 Buddhas in all. The grotesque face in bottom right is a gargoyle rain spout. This candi, or temple, is carefully planned so that rainwater will drain through the various levels.

As part of the religious observances here, devotees start at the bottom of the pyramid and walk the pathways in a clockwise fashion, circling around the temple (candi in Indonesian) completely before ascending to the next level. Tales of Siddhartha’s life, his past lives, and his teachings (Dharma) are part of the relief panels seen on the walls. The pilgrim’s journey through Buddha’s life and teachings represents the journey to Enlightenment as the pilgrim ascends through the nine levels and three main sections representing the Feet (Kamadhatu – the bottom casement and hidden foot reliefs – this represents worldly desires), the Body (Rupadhatu – the square section of seven levels with Buddhas sitting in niches representing the World of Forms), and the Head (Arupadhatu – the upper open round platforms with 72 stupas representing the World of Formlessness, where earthly desires and suffering are stripped away). The large central stupa at the top represents enlightenment, and is dedicated to Vairocana, the Great Sun Buddha. It was built with two inner chambers (now empty – the contents have probably been plundered) and had a golden Chattra on top that has been removed.

Buddha mural

Around the walls of the lower levels are carved reliefs depicting scenes from the Buddha’s life. Born Siddharta Gautama, the Buddha lived a life of luxury free from pain or disease until he left his walled palace. He then met a sick man, and old man, and a grieving widow and realized that life if suffering, that suffering comes from desire, and that desire can be eliminated through following the Eight Fold Path to enlightenment. Buddhists visiting this temple start at the lower levels and walk up in a spiral pattern, reviewing the Buddha’s life as they reach the highest level of the temple, representing the head or nirvana (enlightenment).

As the clouds cleared the nearby mountains glowed green and provided a perfect backdrop to the meditating Buddha statues. I took photos of the entire temple – it is truly huge – as I climbed down from the circular platforms to the lower levels. I took photos of the sun’s interplay with stone, air, and clouds. I descended to the lower levels and finally to the casement, taking photos of the whole structure that I can assemble into a panorama.

Ranks of Buddhas

Ranks of Buddhas in the lower levels of Borobudur. The day started cloudy and drizzly, but the clouds cleared out and the sky turned bright blue with brilliant green vegetation around the temple.

I walked back to the ticket area along a pathway lined with red andong flowers and met my driver. This has already been a day worth remembering. The sunrise wasn’t as colorful as some might be, but the blue sky and green mountains, the tranquil temple and the peaceful ambience made this an experience that I will often return to in my memory. Whenever I get stressed out or busy, I can come back here in my mind and meditate as the sun rises over Borobudur.

4-Guardian lion

The stairwells are guarded by stone lions such as this one.

8-Temple and mountains

The south face of Borobudur and mountains to the west. The entire temple sits on a stone casement or bottom level, but inside the core is a natural hill.

Walls of Borobudur in sunlight

The lower levels of Borobudur, bathed in early morning sunlight. Pilgrims start at the bottom and work their way up, but I climbed to the top before dawn with a flashlight, then walked down through the levels. The top area was very crowded (it took some doing to take photos without people in them), but the lower levels were much less crowded and more serene.

Stairway

View through a stairway leading down from the top of Borobudur. This temple was abandoned about 100 years after completion and was largely reclaimed by the jungle, until it was rediscovered by a team under Sir Thomas Raffles in 1814. It was cleared and repaired several times since. Recently, the steps have been covered and reinforced because of cumulative wear from tourists like me.

Hills in the mist

View south from Borobudur in the pre-dawn mist.

Buddha hair detail

Buddha details with the mountains behind. The long ear lobes represent long life and wisdom in Buddhist iconography. This is one of 504 Buddha statues at Borobudur.

Chariot carving

A scene from the life of the Buddha, one of 2672 carved relief panels at Borobudur.

Borobudur corner

A corner of Borobudur as seen from below, standing on the lower casement level. The walls form pathways and rings, laid out in a complex mandala structure.

Red plants

Red andong plants lining the pathway back from Borobudur. These are commonly seen throughout Indonesia. The gardens surrounding Borobudur were beautiful.

 

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And notes on my TGC Seminar Trip: Feb. 16, 2017.

tgc-sign

Sign for Teachers for Global Classrooms, a teacher exchange program of the U. S. Department of State. We met in Washington, D.C. on Feb. 16-18, 2017 to prepare for our international experiences.

I’m in the Salt Lake International Airport waiting for my flight to Washington Reagan National Airport. It’s been almost a year since I last visited D.C., and that was for the Einstein Fellowship interviews that I did not succeed at. That was a nice trip, with good weather, even if the results were disappointing. I’m hoping the weather will be all right. It is supposed to be in the 50s during the day, not that I’ll get any chance to be out by day. This is a quick trip – a reception tonight, followed by a full day of meetings tomorrow and a half day Saturday morning, then I have to get to the airport for my 5:00 flight home.

I am looking forward to meeting my cohort of fellow teachers who will be traveling with me to Indonesia in July. When I found out in December that I would be traveling to Indonesia, I started researching all the possibilities, knowing that I couldn’t get to all of them, but wanting to learn as much as possible. The more I study the country, the more excited I become. There are so many great places to visit there that are scenic, scientific, and cultural. If I were to rank the places I would most like to visit, it would be in this order:

Indonesia greatest hits

Locations of my top picks for things to see in Indonesia.

Borobudur

Borobudur, an 8th Century Buddhist temple near Yogyakarta, Indonesia and a World Heritage Site.

  1. Yogyakarta and Surroundings: This is a cultural center on the island of Java that has been described as the “soul” of Indonesia. It is famed for its marketplaces selling silver, batik, shadow puppets, and the local gudeg, a type of stew served with rice. About an hour north is the famed Buddhist site called Borobudur, built in the 8th century and lost to the jungle for many years before its re-discovery in the 1800s. It is built over an earthen mound in the shape of a mandala, with hundreds of stupas containing statues of various forms of the Buddha as well as hundreds of carved relief panels depicting Gautama’s life.
    Prambanan

    Prambanan, a Hindu temple near Yogyakarta.

    Nearby is the Hindu complex of Prambanan, also with hundreds of small temples and statues of various Hindu gods ranging from Brahma through incarnations of Vishnu, Kali, Shiva, and Ganesha. The city of Yogyakarta was also the capital of a sultanate and has Islamic mosques. And as a bonus feature, not far north of the city is Gunung Merapi, a very active volcano that last erupted in 2010 and wiped out several villages. The Earth Science teacher in me would love to see that.

  1. Sulawesi and Surroundings:
    Bunaken-Manado

    The coral reefs of Bunaken near Manado, Sulawesi, Indonesia.

    This island is shaped like a giant cursive K with a curled top and boasts beautiful scenery and biological and cultural diversity. A TGC team stayed on North Sulawesi in Manado three years ago and had an amazing experience, including snorkeling at Bunaken, a series of islands off the north coast, and a visit to a national park with giant tarantulas and miniature primates. There are also the Toraja people, known for their inverted boat-shaped houses and interesting burial practices. It is also is the cacao growing center of Indonesia.

    Bali - corrected

    3D Rendering of Bali, a popular destination in Indonesia. The major city is Kuta on the peninsula to the south. I hope to explore Ubud in the hills in the center of the island.

  1. Bali or Lombok: This whole island is one beautiful, cultural paradise. Probably a bit too touristy for my taste, but it would be a shame to visit Indonesia without at least a day or two here. There are amazing white sand beaches, beautiful scenery including temples perched on rocks along the coast, the famous rice paddies near Ubud, a sacred monkey forest, and much more. If Bali is too busy, then the neighboring island of Lombok is a good alternative, including snorkeling and beachcombing on the Gili Islands and a visit to a sea turtle hatchery. And, of course, a large double caldera with the active Gunung Batur.
Bromo

Mt. Bromo (Gunung Bromo) on Java in Indonesia.

Toba Crater-s

3D Render of Toba Lake. The massive caldera has filled up with water. When it erupted 74,000 years ago, the ancestors of humanity almost went extinct from six years of winter without summers.

  1. Mt. Bromo or Other Active Volcanoes: A popular place to visit on Java and a series of active volcanoes, including Gunung Semeru, with incredible views. Of course, I would also like to see Tambora or Krakatau or even lake Toba. I realize no matter where I go, there will probably be active volcanoes galore (my kind of place) but it would be cool to visit the famous ones. Mt. Toba sent up so much ash, when it erupted 74,000 years ago, that it created six years without a summer in what was already an ice age. The ancestors of humanity almost went extinct.
Tambora from sky

The caldera of Gunung Tambora, which erupted in 1815 and caused the Year Without a Summer, which led to crop failures and starvation worldwide. The explosion of Toba 74,000 years ago was even worse – the dust lead to a six-year winter.

  1. Orangutan Watching: One place is a sanctuary called Bukit Lawang on Sumatra, not too far north of Lake Toba. But the original place is Kalimantan (Southern Borneo), where you can take small boats up a river to see the orangutans in the wild.
Komodo dragon

I would love to meet one of these. Just at a safe distance . . .

  1. Komodo Dragon Viewing: We will probably get to touch a real dragon at an international zoo/village in Jakarta, but it would be fun to see them in the wild on the island of Komodo itself.
Ambon

The city of Ambon in the Maluku Islands, where Columbus was trying to reach when he ran into a little problem . . .

  1. The Spice Islands: The Maluku or Banda Islands, which lie east of Sulawesi, are the original Spice Islands that caused so much history. Cloves, nutmeg, and pepper are native to these islands. It would be fun to say I’ve been where Columbus meant to go. Nearby are the Raja Ampat Islands with incredible marine biodiversity.

 

These are my top picks. I know I my not get the chance to see any of them – everywhere I’ve researched Indonesia, the possibilities are exciting and I’m sure I’ll enjoy wherever I get to go. I’ll learn a great deal, meet amazing people, and bring back memories for a lifetime.

Child of Krakatoa

Anak Krakatau (Child of Krakatoa). This island exploded in 1883 and caused a tsunami that killed tens of thousands of people. Now the child is quietly growing in the submerged caldera.

Opening Reception:

My flight to D.C. went smoothly, and it was a new Boeing 757 with video players on the backs of each seat. Instead of pulling out my iPad and watching “Star Trek: Into Darkness” again, I watched the first episode of the National Geographic Mars program (they only had one episode available or I would have watched more), then saw “Dr. Strange” again, and began watching “Inferno” with Tom Hanks and Felicity Jones. It seemed like a quick flight.

I got off the plane and got my bag at Carousel 3, then picked up a taxi to the Fairmont Hotel near Georgetown. I walked downstairs and picked up my registration packet from Ashley and Sara with IREX. Sara will be travelling to Indonesia with us in July. I checked into my room and read through the packet, reading up on the biographies of my cohort.

Toba comparison

Putting these volcanoes side by side, the big historic eruptions of Tambora, Vesuvius, and Krakatoa are insignificant compared with Toba, which put so much dust into the stratosphere that it blocked sunlight for six years. And what of Mt. St. Helens? It’s a tiny popgun in comparison. Should it worry me that the three biggest known eruptions were all in Indonesia? Not at all. I would be like Pliny the Elder – last seen running toward Vesuvius as it erupted.

The opening reception was held on the lowest level in the ballrooms. Ryan Hagge and his wife were already there, with their new baby. He is acting in the stead of Scott Jones, our school director. He surprised her with a ticket to D.C. so she could explore while he was in the administrator meetings. I began to meet my cohort while eating horse doovers, including Jennifer from Louisiana with her administrator. I met Sonja, who is going to Senegal, and her administrator. Then after a few welcome remarks, we got together as groups and I met most of the rest of our cohort. They are a very diverse and interesting bunch, and I can tell that we will get along well. We have a mix of subjects, ranging from science, technology, ESL, migrant education, English, and social science as well as a range of grade levels. I also met Sofia, who is part of the TEA/ILEP program and will be one of our host teachers. She is from Ambon in the Maluku (Spice) Islands and she showed us some pictures. It looks amazing.

Wisata-Malioboro-Yogyakarta

Malioboro St. in Yogyakarta.

I am totally excited for this opportunity and what it will bring to my perspectives and what I can bring back for my students. What an adventure lies ahead of me!

I’ll report on the rest of my Symposium experience in the next post.

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