Thursday, 29 April 2010

Visak Bochea, a four-in-one Buddhist celebration

Yesterday's holiday is called Visak Bochea. It is the commemoration of the birth, enlightenment and death to Nirvana of the Lord Buddha in one day. It is the big thing for Buddhists around the world, especially in Cambodia and neighboring Thailand, Laos and Myanmar where it is marked as a holy day. For us Christians, the significance of this day is like celebrating Christmas and Lenten season in one!

There was a big ceremony held at Phnom Oudong, about 50kms from Phnom Penh and thousands of people, including monks and laypeople, gathered in the ancient capital for a short ceremony. Of course, it was televised by national and international TV stations. I can't help but notice that the solemnity of the celebration was somehow ruined because of reporters shoving each other for better position and the ubiquitous cameramen walking to and fro, pushing their camcorder  in every possible direction and getting in the way of the onlookers' view. On the other side of Phnom Penh, there was a small Visak Bochea ceremony at Wat Phnom as well. we drove past Wat Phnom yesterday and caught a glimpse of the event and saw a few important people there. I wanted to go and watch but we had a lot of errands yesterday. It would have been a great opportunity for taking pictures that are worthy of a blog post.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Postcard from Manchester, England

Finally, after the long waiting period, it finally arrived. Radek's promised postcard came all the way from the city of Manchester:
My friend Radek lives in Manchester City in the south-central part of North England. The city is one of UK's larget metropolitan areas and the second most populous in the UK, according to Wikipedia. According to Radek, Manchester is an exciting place to live in. It has a vibrant night life that comes alive especially at night. 

Although Radek was not born in England, he said he has come to like his life in Manchester. He enjoys night life the best and there is a wide selection of places to hang about. From the traditional pubs to chic cafe bars,  wine galleries to ultra-exclusive VIP clubs. Pubs are everywhere and it's where, almost everyday after getting off his work, he meets his friends for meals, drinks, watch football matches and even play popular pub games. Foosball is so popular amongst pub-goers that it is rare to find a pub in the whole of England without foosball tables

Anyways, let's go back to the postcard. It has a small tear on the lower left side but nevertheless, the postcard did arrive. It's just lamentable to note that there are postal workers who are just too careless about handling postcards. The stamp used (above) is a definitive Royal stamp featuring Queen Elizabeth II. This particular stamp is without security features. 

Busy, busy holiday!

We just came home from running errands today and, despite the summer heat, my husband was in a good mood. Thank God for Cambodian holidays (today is the Meas Bochea holiday). We went to several places today and accomplished what we had planned to do. First stop was at the Chroy Changvar bridge, popularly known as the Cambodian-Japanese Friendship bridge. We scoured the area to buy some more plants for our small garden at the veranda. We weren't disappointed! I saw some really nice potted roses and immediately bought 5 pots. I relied on Rob's judgment when it comes to selecting the good ones as he has a greener-thumb compared to me.

After depositing the plants at home, we went to O'Russei Market. It's a massive concrete building. It has about three floors and each floor is divided into hundreds of stalls and shops that are jam-packed with almost everything you can think of - food, clothing, jewelries and accessories, yarns, kitchenwares, electronics and parts, and, would you believe, even industrial equipment?  I'll come back another day to take photos of the facade of this cavernous market as well as its interiors and attempt to make a (personalized) postcard out of it. I'm sure many postcard swappers out there would want something new from Cambodia and not just postcards showing the Angkor Wat temples.

Finally, we made it to the Post Office and, aside from several postcards, there was a small packet of surprise waiting for me! It's from a friend in the US and she sent me crochet hooks for my crochet projects :D What a sweet gal she is, and I'm grateful to have friends like her :D

Toilet memories revisited

Last night, of all nights, I met one of former colleagues at a bar. I was excited meeting her - we haven't seen each other in 7 years - that I had initially forgotten to introduce her to my husband! Feeling a little bit sorry, I apologised to my husband who understood why I had gotten a temporary amnesia.

Anyways so we chit-chatted for a while reminiscing of our first few months in Cambodia. This friend of mine, Bibiana, is a Norwegian development worker, and we used to work together in 2000 for a Swiss NGO. Our work took us to remote Cambodian villages in the countryside where she was doing some health and nutrition research while I was the one in charge of community work and documentation. There we really saw how impoverished the rural folks are.

Of course as an ex-pat staff, we have been informed about what to expect when living in the community. But no amount of information could really prepare us there in reality. For example, my friend Bibiana could not do her business in the toilet because either there were no toilets (we merely hide behind a bush with only a krama, a multi-purpose cloth, to cover us), or,  there were squat toilets and they're very intimidating to use for Bibiana who was used to American Standard toilets only. And how we giggled at the same time when we both reminisced when she lost her balance on the first few times she used a squat toilet. Ahhh, those were the days. 

She is now working for an international health organization and comes to Cambodia from time to time. From a volunteer to a regional officer, she mostly attends high-level meetings in the city but grabs every rare opportunity to go for site visits. 

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Mahangin ba sa labas?

Is it windy outside?
This is the English translation of the title above, a line from a popular hair conditioner advert promising  a good hair day everyday.

I was just reminded of the said advertisement because of the hair-raising tuktuk ride I had this morning. I was running late for my yoga class when I hailed a tuktuk from hell! It started to run just before I could plant my behind on the seat I almost fell off it. The tuktuk driver, he transformed into a madman once he started the tuktuk to roll on. It was so super-fast and, along with a crazy traffic coming in every direction, it was like being in a roller-coaster, the wind hitting my face and my hair flailing all over. Although the good thing about it was that I arrived on time for my yoga class, but I don't think I am up again for another hellish ride like that. I forgot how many Hail Marys and Our Fathers I prayed under my breath hoping we don't get hit by another speeding tuktuk or, worse, a Lexus or a Land Cruiser driven by people with absolutely zero knowledge of road rules and courtesy. It felt like I was being whisked off from one point (point A) to another (point B) at a frighteningly high speed. It's not fun anymore, especially when friends start asking about the wind just as when I stepped in the room. *lol*

So anyway, I had to forego a trip to the Post Office to check my P.O. Box and mail some postcards because of this morning's tuktuk incident. I was too chicken to go on a tuktuk again. Mails will have to wait till tomorrow when dear husband is around to drive me there.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Fun at the fair and a Hungarian postcard

Okay, I'm back and am trying to make up for the lack of posts here. Pardon my absence. The reason why I was gone was the Fun Fair that took place only yesterday. My PELUKA friends and I have been looking forward to (and preparing for that because we had a stall put up there), this Fun Fair and we weren't disappointed. Never mind that we didn't sell much of our crafts but we somehow witnessed how a fair like this brightened up the day of most of Phnom Penh's streetchildren.  Mith Samlanh is working with Phnom Penh's streetchildren, taking them off the streets and providing them technical skills education for better employment opportunities.

Attended by more than a hundred people, expats and locals alike, the organisers, non-government organisation Mith Samlanh, should be applauded for a well-run event. It absolutely didn't fall short of its promise of fun and adventure for the whole family.

First, the fair itself. There were lots of stalls, selling from handicrafts to food, to jewelries and second-hand goods  that were a hit to the visitors. The kids went crazy over the face-painting done by visiting international artists. We had fun looking at those cute painted faces! Each of us, took turns in getting some great body  massage and had our nails done at the beauty salon and massage booth manned by Mith Samlanh's students.

The Games Room was also packed with kids wanting to try their hand at the various games prepared by Mith Samlanh staff, and who wouldn't get excited even for just a day? There were lots of balloons, there were drums exhibition, clowns and magicians everywhere!

We surely had a great time there and we could see yesterday that it was indeed a great way for families to spend the day together. 

Before I end, let me share this beautiful postcard sent by my friend Antal from Hungary:

Postmarked Szeged, Hungary
Dated  17 March 2010

Antal didn't say anything except that the girls are wearing one of Hungary's national costumes. I love the puffed sleeves which is characteristically  a feature of a Hungarian woman's garment, and the skirt. It is very colorful, and if I am not mistaken, there are some very intricate embroidery in some areas of the dress. The girls are spinning yarns, perhaps to use for embroidery, a Hungarian tradition that dates back to the middle ages. It has been said that a family's wealth was often counted or measured in terms of  the number of embroidered cloths they have so daughters are obliged to learn embroidery at a very, very young age. 

The stamps below were part of the series of definitive stamp set on antique furniture first released in 2001.

The first two are worth 20HUF (Hungarian Forint), that's about 0.08euro, or $US 0.10 today, while the other  one is 200HUF, or 0.38 euros or about $US0.50.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Wildlife Botswana

I'm so-so-so-so-so happy to tell you that I received several postcards from a new country in Africa. This time, it was sent by my very good friend Fe who moved there mid-last year with her family. Her husband, a sought-after art teacher, found a placement in Gaborone, capital of Botswana, just before his teaching contract at an international school in Phnom Penh expired. Fe and I met ten years ago through a mutual friend, and during the ten years we've been in Cambodia we were inseparable. But when she left, a huge part of me was crushed. Ten years of being together almost everyday, doing things together, and so suddenly they uprooted themselves and went to a greener pasture. But enough of the drama!

Look here, marvel at the beautiful postcard:

Postmarked Gaborone
Dated 20 October 2009

Botswana is covered by the Kalahari desert and is Africa's leader in economic freedom. According to Wikipedia, Botswana is the only mainland nation in Africa to have maintained free and fair elections since its independence.

Botswana is a landlocked country in Southern Africa and its wildlife, according to tourism magazines and online sites, is arguably second to none in Africa. It is one of the world's premier wildlife viewing destinations. The Botswanans take pride in the huge population of elephants, buffaloes, lions, leopards, hyenas, and wild dogs following the migration trail across the plains of Kalahari.

So naturally, the exotic wildlife figure prominently especially in this postcard. The postcard shows a pride of lions reluctantly giving way to a herd of jumbo elephants as they move in to drink at a waterhole. This massive elephants surely shouldn't be denied access, even the mighty lions acknowledge that size does matter when you are in the wilds.

Don't you find the African wildlife amazing? I do! In fact, it's one of my dreams to be able to set foot in to the African soil and see the wildlife and experience the culture. My younger sister beat me to it when she got accepted in the VSO and was assigned in Kenya late last year.

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Postcard Friendship Friday 022: Karibu, Kenya

This is my very first postcard coming from Kenya (yipeee, new country!) and the second postcard from the African continent. 

Karibu is a Swahili word meaning welcome. Thus, Karibu Kenya means Welcome to Kenya. My younger sister is currently based in Lukore in Mombasa, Kenya working as a VSO Volunteer helping strengthen institutional and staff capacity of a farmers (fruit-growers) cooperative there. After having settled, one of the things she did first was send us postcards and below was what she sent me:

She knows pretty well that, aside from map cards, I love postcards that feature people in their traditional costumes. In Kenya, there are several dozens of ethnic tribes who all have different traditional styles of clothings. Much importance is given to the ornaments of both women and men. Beads,  headdresses (and even hairstyles) and jewelries indicate wealth and status. 

I do not have a thorough knowledge about Kenyan traditional costumes so it is difficult for me to identify which tribes each of the people in the postcard actually belong to. However,  I find them to be very colorful and attractive. The clothes and neck plates and other jewelries are a blend of various colors and designs indicative of their tribe. My sister loves so much the kitenge, a traditional dress (also used in other African countries) and is usually tie-dyed and embroided. The material used to make kitenge, according to her, looks and feels so much like a sarong, a piece of clothing used mainly in Asian countries. She loves it so much she bought several pieces of them ready for shipping back to the Philippines.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Wordless Wednesday 014: Bali, Indonesia

Sent by my good friend J-B-L-O-G-G-E-D!
Postmarked 2009

Above postcard features Kuta Beach, Bali's most popular and most lively resort area.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Postcard Friendship Friday 021: Fractal painting

I received this very interesting postcard last year:

Sent by Simo from Turku, Finland
Postmarked 22 September 2009

This very fascinating postcard I thought, at first, as showing one of the Rorschach's inkblots. You know, the Rorschach inkblot test, one of those diagnostic tools used by shrinks when giving personality tests.  I took this test when I was in university but I won't divulge the results here...  Let's just say that I thought the result was a generalized one and misleading because it all depended on the interpretation of my Psychology professor. In fact, the effectiveness, reliability and accuracy of this tool is still debatable up to these days and several schools of thought have come out regarding the interpretation of results... Let's leave the debate to the experts, shall we?  

Anyway, the postcard is actually showing a fractal painting done by a Finnish artist named Seppo Rihlama. I love the way Rihlama combines the colour, and, according to Simo:

... the colour combination reminds me  from here in Finland. It's cold and dark then. Now it's still quite warm and the leaves are still green. It's not that exceptional anymore because of the climate warming...

So what do you see in the postcard? What shapes do you see?
I had no idea what fractal painting was and a little trip to the Internet lane showed that this kind of art was made popular by the American artist Jackson Pollack.  To me they looked like chaotic blotches and splashes of ink in different colors and do not mean anything. Pardon my ignorance. I'm glad I am learning new things through postcard swaps! Well thank you, Simo, for introducing me to the world of fractals =)

For more Postcard Friendship Friday entries, click here.
Images by Freepik