Guardians of the temples

Travelling allows you to see the world from a different perspective. For me, it brings joy to be in a different place, immersing in a different culture and all the diversities it has to offer. It also reveals unusual things hidden behind the most common things you see every day.  One such experience happened while driving along the foot of the Kulen Mountain in Cambodia.

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As we navigate the dusty road going to a remote village, lo and behold, I saw a Buddhist temple gate guarded by rabbits! Yes smiling rabbits with up straight ears! And why would it seem unusual?  Because most of the temple guards are ferocious and mean-looking animals.

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In Myanmar, temples are guarded by chinthe, the mythical lion. The four entrances to the Shwe Dagon Pagoda in Yangon are guarded by pairs of giant chinthes.

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I have also seen a temple guarded by a dragon. It is different from the wide-neck-cobra-like snakes behind Buddha statues common in Myanmar.

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In Thailand, the chinthes or singha as it is locally called are even reinforced by monsters with swords.

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In Cambodia, besides the chinthes, the seven-headed (sometimes five-headed) Naga are favourite guardians particularly in some temples in the Angkor Wat complex.

Back to the guardian rabbits, maybe the monks in the pagoda are not afraid of the spirits that they posted cuddly and smiling rabbits instead of huge and fearsome animals.

 

Beer galore in Cambodia

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I love good beers, and top of the list are German beers. In Cambodia, German beers are not uncommon all you have to do is do a little sleuthing  around and find the right place, maybe behind the  monotonous gigantic red  ads of Angkor and Cambodia beers.

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I happened to come across Tell Restaurant in Siem Reap, a quaint and charming restaurant near the Pub Street.  I relished a bottle of Erdinger and crispy-fried pork knuckles. Back in Phnom Penh, the restaurant has its main ‘branch’ near the Hotel Le Royal. After a meeting one afternoon, we went there to let the heavy traffic pass (I can’t imagine traffic in Phnom Penh 3 years ago!). This time we got Munchen Weisse and couple it with a platter of german sausage. Nice, except that it took us one hour from the place back to our hotel.

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On another night, I just walked around Boeung Keng Kang to look for a dinner, I saw the Yakitori, a small Japanese grill house at Street 278.  I called it a night after drinking Sapporo beer with grilled chicken innards.

In the same street, several shops down south, is a Khmer restaurant where they cook the best cockles in Phnom Penh.  I used to have cockles every time I am  in Bangkok, but I first tasted and enjoyed it in Phnom Penh. Angkor beer paired with cockles usually makes my night.  But a ‘serpent’ on the menu almost tempted me! I thought maybe it was just a mistranslation of eel which also look like a serpent.  In the end I stuck to my cockles.

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I know of the two microbreweries in Phnom Penh, one is in Himawari Hotel and the other is Munich in front of the Wat Botum. Last on my list of to-do is to visit the place and check on another favourite dish. What a way to cap the visit to Cambodia – several mugs of Munich beers and a plate of fried duck tongue!

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Gone!

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It was gone. New maps showed it was now  a solid ground. The Boeng Kak Lake was no more, and in its place  real estate development is slowly taking shape.  Nostalgia struck me  when after years of being away from Cambodia, I saw the old map in the hotel  and  it showed a blue inverted ‘diamond’ lake.

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It reminds me of Gina Lopez, the first appointed environment secretary of President Duterte who was never confirmed because of his fight against irresponsible mining companies in the Philippines. She told Rep. Ronaldo Zamora, “Tell your brother he killed a mountain.”

Here I saw a dead lake.

Product Differentiation by Color

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Competition best generate creativity and innovations on how to attract consumers.  When I am travelling within the region, most of the time I transit is Bangkok where I usually end up at Don Mueang airport, the terminal for low cost carriers (LCC) a nice term for cheap flights.

But I like the entrepreneurial spirit of Air Asia, supposedly the number one LCC in the world as conveyed in their motto – Now Everyone Can Fly. Indeed it has made air travel affordable and enabled people to experience flying.

Back at Don Mueang, I am amused by two coffee shops standing side-by-side in the pre-departure area of the airport.  Of course it is easy to associate coffee with the black color (or is it?), but making it white generates more interest to the clients and push them to check it out.

 

The Heart of Chin State

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There are places that leave an indelible mark in the heart of a traveller. Mine is the serene Rih Lake in Chin State, Myanmar, a heart-shaped lake in the mountain range near the border with India.  I grew up in a coastal town where the sea is just a short walk away, and that created in me a love for bodies of water, be it a wide ocean, a raging river or a small brook.

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I think the Maker was in His jolly mood when Rih Lake was created. A simple shape, like when a child draws a heart on the ground, placed some water and planted a special tree on the banks around it. Just like that.

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The place was declared a reservation and no development – residence or commercial establishment – was allowed in the area except for several duplexes to accommodate tourists.

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We arrived in the place midnight and I was inspired when I woke in the morning to behold the lake.  Another morning I enjoyed seeing the fog gradually lifted like a curtain to reveal the beauty of the lake.

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A visit at the Secretariat House

The red-brick building was imposing as I viewed it with reverence last year, from the other side of the metal fence that surround the block. It is the Secretariat, the seat of the British colonial government and the place where Bogyoke Aung San, Myanmar’s national hero was assassinated.

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For a long time, it was closed and tourists would just go around the block looking at it from the outside. The first time I learned somebody went inside was during the visit of President Obama. Talks about restoring it and opening to the public spread after the Obama visit. Last year, several events were made inside the Secretariat building, but my schedule did not allow a sidetrip.

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I was excited when I learned that Goethe-Institut will be exhibiting in the building works of a German artist. The exhibit entitled Where the Land and Water End by Wolfgang Laib ran from January 14 to February 5. Although busy with my work, I was able to come during the last day.

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Words are not enough to describe the stateliness I feel about the place. The building is indeed a national heritage that should be restored. See it for yourself.

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16 faith and life quotes in 2016

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Photo: Star of David and Menorah at the Musmeah Yeshua synagogue in Yangon

Daily devotions give us time to reflect and adjust our lives accordingly. In 2016, my devotional guide was  The Upper Room Disciplines. I am sharing the  top quotes that touched me.

1. While life has its horrible moments, clearly God yearns for our happiness, and we play a role in discerning the right time for the right action. Kenneth M. Locke

2. Prayer involves developing a relationship with God. For a relationship to develop we must invest in it and watch for changes over time. David Wiggs

3. Sometimes a cluttered lifestyle suffocates spiritual vitality. Jean Marie Thibault

4. Physical circumstance does not determine spiritual health. Elaine J.W. Stanovsky

5. Grief and pain may well blind us to God’s presence. Joan Campbell

6. Offer praise in the desert today, no matter how dry and cracked your voice, and you may well sense a cool, soothing breeze blowing through your heart. Joan Campbell

7. The important matter at hand is that we see the road and take the journey. As hard as it may be, we must carry our faith as a cherished seedling. We water it with our tears, fertilize it with our pain, and let the love of God shine on us as we make the journey toward the dance of joy. Kathy Evans

8. Humble service becomes the mark of love. Jeremy T. Bakker

9. The light is powerful, but sometimes, we take days to surrender to its loving power. Darian Duckworth

10. When we belong to a faithful community we find that serving others comes naturally. Roy M. Carlisle

11. We will experience seasons of doubt, dryness, hunger and thirst for God. But we will also revel in the harvest of grace and mercy. Emily Reeves Grammer

12. In our daily lives, our focus on schedules, plans and material possessions leaves little space to hear how God wants to use us that day. Chanequa Walker-Barnes

13. Sadly, we can also remember our own instances of going through the motions in worship, or relief that the preacher didn’t “get too wordy” and interfere with our plans for the rest of the day. What if, rather than too wordy, there were no words at all? Natalya Cherry

14. In Jesus’ parable the elder brother resents the sinner’s welcome and embrace. We too may believe that some people lie beyond God’s intimate embrace that offers healing and wholeness. We may believe, like the elder brother, that the sinners does not deserve mercy and grace. Steven Lottering

15. Jesus makes it clear that the sin of greed is not in possessing things but in being possessed by them.  Steven Lottering

16. We whose lives have been illuminated by God’s light must offer it boldly to others, never fearing the outcome. James E. Magaw, Sr.