Sunday, April 11, 2010

Cambodia Part 3: Bayon

This is the 3rd part of my post on Cambodia. I cannot believe how time flies and how long I have been abandoning this blog of mine since my previous post. My apologies to all recurring readers who may have come back to check for new updates. Here it is now.

What can I say about Bayon?! It is a temple ground full of amazing historical architecture and even more amazing history behind it. Bayon temple stands in the exact center of walled city of Angkor Thom, which was built as a square. It was built around 1190 AD by King Jayavarman VII and the Bayon temple represents the intersection of heaven and earth.

Bayon is known for its many huge towers of stone faces of the bodhisattva Avalokitesvara or 'Kwan Yin Pusa', the universal symbol of loving kindness, mercy and compassion known in the Buddhist world. Each tower consists of four faces of the bodhisattha Avalokitesvara and each is said to face the four directions - north, south, east and west. The curious smiling image, thought by many to be a portrait of Jayavarman himself, has been dubbed by some the "Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia."

Bayon Temple is surrounded by two long walls bearing an extraordinary collection of bas-relief scenes of legendary and historical events. In all, there are are total of more than 11,000 carved figures over 1.2km of wall. Personally, I think Bayon stands out more uniquely and more richly decorated compared to Angkor Wat. Bas relief of apsaras and heavenly gods and deities adorn the walls all around.

Stone statues line the path leading into Bayon

The first of many more towers of four faces of bodhisattva Avalokitesvara. This is at the entrance into Bayon.

The facade of Bayon

Inside Bayon

Steep steps. Climbing up is easy. Coming down is another thing!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

To Quiver Or To Embrace?

Last weekend while turning the pages of The Sunday Times Singapore, my fleeting attention was brought to the headline of a short article: 'Jackson didn't want to grow old: Rabbi'.

More than 3 months after his death, stories and new claims about what Michael Jackson had said (or not!) when he was alive never seem to cease from surfacing in the media. This is to be expected given his 'super mega colossal' of a standing as an incredibly talented music icon of the universe. I reckon that if there are humans on Planet Mars, even they would know who Michael Jackson was. I love Michael Jackson! Always have been, and always will be. Like millions of others, I was deeply saddened and teared by his passing. But, if it's of any consolation, I think he had a good death. A death so peaceful and unexpected. A death while sleeping. A death while he ruled the world as the most legendary King of Pop and King of Kings in the music world and more. I chose to love him for his greatness, his unpublished charitable and philantropic acts, and his compassion for humankind and nature. I was and am not swayed by the unproven accusations nor his chosen route of facial transformations nor any of his uncanny public displayed behaviors. Like any of us, he was an individual and his fears and concerns were valid.

The latest claim above from spiritual adviser Rabbi Shmuley Boteac in his newly released book - "The Michael Jackson Tapes: A Tragic Icon Reveals His Soul in Intimate Conversation" about Michael Jackson being fearful of growing old was not new nor surprising. It was said that the gist of the book was based on a 30-hour of recorded conversations between the Rabbi and Michael Jackson sometime between August 2000 and April 2001 in which the late and reclusive pop star spilled his thoughts on life, love and the turmoil of his childhood.

Fearing the ravages of old age, the book recounted some comments Michael Jackson had said during the time of the interview:

"I would like some way to disappear where people don't see me anymore at some point.
I don't want to grow old. I never want to look in the mirror and see that."

Scarily enough, that was almost like a self-prophecy through a crystal ball on the fate of how his life would eventually turn out to be, as it had on June 25.

Recently, I received a circulated email from my sister about Julie Andrews' (of Sound of Music) lightheartedness and brilliant wit during the commemoration of her 69th birthday a few years ago. For the commemoration, she had made a special appearance at Manhattan's Radio City Music Hall where she belted out one of the musical numbers from the legendary movie, "My Favorite Things', with a humorous twist to the lyrics.

Here are the lyrics and if you do know the tunes, sing along (only if you're not at the work place while reading this!). Julie Andrews is 74 years old this year.

Botox and nose drops and needles for knitting, Walkers and handrails and new dental fittings, Bundles of magazines tied up in a string, These are a few of my favorite things.

Cadillacs and cataracts, Hearing aids and glasses, Polident and Fixodent and false teeth in glasses, Pacemakers, golf carts and porches with swings, These are a few of my favorite things.

When the pipes leak, when the bone creaks, When the knees go bad, I simply remember my favorite things, And then I don't feel so bad.

Hot tea and crumpets and corn pads for bunions,
No spicy food or food cooked with onions, Bathrobe and heating pads and hot meals they bring, These are a few of my favorite things.

Back pain, confused brains and no need for sinnin',
Thin bones and fractures and hair that is thinnin', And we won't mention our short shrunken frames, When we remember our favorite things.

When the joints ache, when the hips break, When the eyes grow dim, Then I remember the great life I've had, And then I don't feel so bad.

The point is, all living things are subject to the law of nature and aging. There is no magic spell that can defy this law, and certainly there is no magic potion which can completely retain our youth, regardless what all those award winning ads say!

Whether we have admitted it or not, have thought about it or not, all of us are either afraid, concerned or do not look forward to aging. But that does not mean we want to leave this world a young person either. Our fears and concerns are simply a part of human nature. No one looks forward to the potentials of rheumatism, joint pains, grey hair, baldness, wrinkles, narrowing arteries, sickness, Alzheimer's disease, foggy thoughts, bare gums and worries of abandonment which may be looming in the horizons. Facing aging has never been more challenging than the world we live in now. The world we live in now conditions us to the material world and our ever deepening attachments to youth, love, beauty, fun and all things related to it. There is no escaping from this fear. But perhaps, there is a way to managing it.

Although we may share part of Mr Jackson's fears, may we always remind ourselves that while we age alone, we are not alone in facing the challenges of this natural life process. And because of the fact that death and old age are unavoidable, we should start making the best of our lives now by adding positive values to ourselves and people around us, if we haven't already.

And maybe to also start on reinforcing our mental fortress to guard against the fears of what lies ahead should we all be ever so lucky to reach old age in the first place. And if we do, may we embrace Ms Andrews' wit and humor. And if we get luckier, we'll be able to age gracefully, healthily and where we can joyfully sing along to the above lyrics......and lucidly remember the great life we had!!

Friday, August 21, 2009

Cambodia Part 2: Inside Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

The land area occupied by the main Angkor Wat temple measures 1,300 meters north-south, and 1,500 meters east-west. The whole area of Angkor however, which includes other equally ancient and beautiful temples like Bayon, is much, much larger. Here, I have posted pictures and information of only the main temple, which is Angkor Wat. I will talk about Bayon and other surrounding temples in my other subsequent post later on.

A person entering the main Angkor Wat temple first approaches an entrance causeway that takes him or her across the 200 meter wide moat. On the opposite shore is an entrance pavilion measuring 230 meters north-south. Its central bays have three passages that elephants could fit through for royal processions. Past the entrance gate is a long causeway that runs for over 300 meters, decorated with mythical dragon or naga. The actual temple sits on a sandstone plinth a meter above the ground.

This is the 300 meters long causeway.

Inside Angkor Wat 1

This is the compound around the long causeway and part of the temple exterior.

Inside Angkor Wat 15

Locals and tourists
thronging along the 300 meters long causeway coming into the main temple.

Inside Angkor Wat 10Inside Angkor Wat 9

Views through the carved stone balustrades that surround the perimeters of the temple.

Inside Angkor Wat 14

Inside Angkor Wat 13

This is one of the 'libraries' on the west side.
The steps are really steep. Easy to get up, but like me, you'll probably tremble trying to get down.

Inside Angkor Wat 8

Inside Angkor Wat 7

Inside Angkor Wat 6

To the east of the west gate of the first enclosure is a series of four rooms arranged in a cruciform. Each room is surrounded by a continuous gallery and has a sunken floor where ponds used to be. This is one of the rooms in the western cruciform.

Inside Angkor Wat 16


Spectacular stone masonry carved in place can be found all around the walls of a
continuous gallery that runs along the outside face of the temple wall.

Inside Angkor Wat 11

The inner face is decorated with 700 meters of continuous bas reliefs of "Apsaras" or heavenly nymphs or female spirits of the clouds and waters in Hindu mythology. "Apsaras" are believed to have supernatural powers, of great beauty and elegance and who are proficient in the art of dancing. "Apsaras" remain an integral part of Cambodian civilization.

Inside Angkor Wat 5Inside Angkor Wat 12Inside Angkor Wat 4

Inside Angkor Wat 3Inside Angkor Wat 2

Hope you have enjoyed the journey into Angkor Wat. Look out for more on Bayon, Ta Phrom and other sides of Cambodia in my future posts.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Cambodia Part 1 - The Sun Rises Over Angkor Wat, Siem Reap

CAMBODIA....the land of the great, magnificent temples and heart of steel of its people. And the land of the massacred millions. There is no place on earth quite like Cambodia. In the centre of worldwide reverence for all its glory and greatness of the past that are evident in the mighty Angkor Wat that stands as a UNESCO World Heritage Site today, lies a darkened past that is just too bitter to swallow, too painful to forget and too sad to remember - the Killing Fields where millions died in the brutal hands of the Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.

If you're a sentimental person at heart, Cambodia will swallow all of your emotions and make you reflect on the many things that may have made you unhappy - an argument with loved ones, evil boss, nasty neighbor, cheating partner, rude waitress, or your sunken fruit cake. It will stir your thoughts and make your tolerance for pain higher than it was before as you walk down the streets and see a limbless victim of a landmine blast, or as you get mobbed by a crowd of thin and dirty-looking kids in shabby, torn clothes age 7 or younger pulling at your clothes, tailing and begging you to enter a purchase transaction for a handmade craft for US$1.

If you're on a mission to seek spiritual enhancement, Cambodia will fulfill that void in you and help you find calmness if you go to the right places.

If you're just there for fun, well, it won't be much of a fun as you will probably return to the comforts of your plush bed and pillows vowing to never waste money again for a place that's dusty, undeveloped, poor and no shopping but just boring temples to see.

If you're there for something else on the twisted side preying on the innocent, desperate and poor, well, let me remind you that your karma will come back to haunt you and it is your only possession that follows you after death in this life.

Mention Cambodia, one immediately identifies it with its national treasure, Angkor Wat.

These are pictures of the world famous, magnificent and majestic colossal temple, Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, taken while awaiting for sunrise at around 5.30am.

Angkor Wat 1

Be sure to get there early by booking a tuk-tuk (a local motor-trishaw) the day before. I made this trip (my 1st) there last year (please disregard the wrong year setting in the photos as it should be 2008) with a good friend and we were elated to capture these stunning views. You can see sunrise almost everywhere, but seeing it over Angkor, it brings a whole different meaning to it.

Angkor Wat 7
Angkor Wat 6
Angkor Wat 5
Angkor Wat 4
Angkor Wat 3
Angkor Wat 2

Angkor Wat represents one of humankind's most astonishing and enduring architectural achievements. Today, it is one of the most visited historical sites in the world.