“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Back in the grind

I got back from Cambodia last Sunday, and at the time it felt like I'd been away a month (instead of just a week), but that disappeared very quickly as I got back into the grind of things.

Soccer season is finally over, thank goodness. I was not made out to be a coach... it's far better just playing! Now I've been signed up for a meeting duty instead... so many obligations! At least this quarter will go by quickly... only 8 weeks to go, and there's a 4 day weekend in the middle which I have to figure out what I'm going to do with. I was going to a working elephant camp, but that looks likely to fall through. It's a bummer that going anywhere within Myanmar costs MORE than leaving the country. Still, I feel like time's running out, and still have a long list of places I'd like to visit here. I may move somewhere else next year, though that's not for sure, but it's in the back of my mind anyway.

Halloween's next week, but pretty low key here. There's a student party that I may go to as a mermaid! That'd give the kids a laugh. Otherwise, have no idea what to wear or even if I'll dress up as anything. Then I have two formal balls to go to, one this Friday night. Then the Melborne Cup evening. I'm off to a meeting tomorrow with the management committee of the IFG (International Friendship Group) to finalize our calender. That's quite exciting--a Myanmar calendar to be sold for charity. I'm hosting book night tomorrow as well. Have had a few sagas with Sabai, my cook, mainly over cultural food differences, but am keeping calm about that (well, most of the time!).

I heard there's an arabesque (belly) dancing club that I would love to join, so as you can see I'm still as busy as ever. Not enough time in the day, or week, or year!

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell

Am reading a book called The Tipping Point. It's about fads and epidemics in fashion, life, health, etc, and how they differ from the ordinary. In particular, it mentions how people can have an influence on when things explode or implode. It's a fascinating read, and have done a lot of reflecting on myself while I've been reading it.

'Most of us don't have particularly broad and diverse groups of friends. In one well-known study, a group of psychologists asked people living in the Dyckman public housing project in northern Manhattan to name their closest friend in the project. 88% of the friends lived in the same building, and half lived on the same floor. In general, people choose friends of similar age and race. But if the friend lived down the hall, then age and race had a lot less importance. Proximity overpowered similarity. Another study, done on students at the University of Utah, found that if you ask someone why he is friendly with someone else, he'll say it is because of similar interests. But if you actually quiz the two of them on their attitudes, you'll find out that what they actually share is similar activities. We're friends with the people we do things with as much as we are with people we resemble. We don't seek out friends in other words. We associate with people who occupy the same small physical spaces that we do.'

I thought this was so interesting. It made me think of relationships and how we (I) look for perfection in our partners, but are they indeed truly the one, or does the situation just fit at the time and then we adjust our lives and personalities so that it continues to fit? I thought of all my friendships and how true this is, which perhaps explains why often we drift away from each other. But, as is says in the next quote, I'm someone who still considers friends friends even if I'm slack about keeping in touch with them.

'Six degrees of separation doesn't mean that everyone is linked to everyone else in just six steps. It means that a very small number of people are linked to everyone else in a few steps, and the rest of us are linked to the world through those special few.'

'Most of us shy away from (a) of cultivation of acquaintances. We have our circle of friends, to whom we are devoted. Acquaintances we keep at arms length. The reason we don't send birthday cards to people we don't really care a great deal about is that we don't want to feel obliged to have dinner with them or see a movie with them or visit them when they're sick. The purpose of making an acquaintance, for most of us, is to evaluate whether we want to turn that person into a friend; we don't feel we have the time or the energy to maintain meaningful contact with everyone.'

The Connector Impusle: 'Horchow (and myself!) is quite different. The people he puts in his diary or on his computer are acquaintances -- people he might run into only once a year or once every few years -- and he doesn't shy away from the obligation that that connection requires (oops...). He has mastered what sociologists call the "weak tie", a friendly yet casual social connection. More than that, he's happy with the weak tie... He sees value and pleasure in a casual meeting.' Traits: versatility, good luck, different worlds, curiosity, self-confidence, sociability, energy.

'When Weisberg looks out at the world, or when Roger Horchow sits next to you on an airplane, they don't see the same world that the rest of us see. They see possibility, and while most of us are busily choosing whom we would like to know and rejecting the people who don't look right, Lois and Roger like them all.'

I guess I empathized with this "Connector" person, who knows everyone a bit, and few really well (as few know me really well). I only have a small group of loyal friends, and of them, I have an even smaller number would probably call me their good friend too. This is not self-pity, but the reality of changing worlds constantly and moving around. I have always wondered how I can possibly find a nice young man who could fit into all my different worlds. I have so many and I am comfortable and at home in them all, but they are just so very different, and there is no one who is just like me (not that I want there to be), with my peculiar collection of interests.

If I took a typical kiwi guy to meet my college friends, the flirts, the exes, the wild and the calm, how would he react? If I took any western guy to meet my Moroccan or Filipino or Kenyan friends, could he deal with the cross culture? If I wanted to spend an afternoon having tea with older lady friends, would that be boring? If I wanted to go out and spend an evening on the town, would that be too wild, or too much of a typical thing (i.e. expected all the time)?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Romania Pictures: Part II

These are some photographs from the gorgeous painted monasteries and churches of Moldavia. When I resized these ones, there was so much detail they needed to be resized a second time to fit in with blogger's rules, which is why its taken me so long to get them up. These'll make the last of my summer photos. Now I suppose I better catch up and put some Myanmar ones on here.
Inside one of the old wooden churches that dot the Moldavian countryside. It was covered in soot, and fading badly, but really impressive all the same. That's the old chandelier for candles down the middle.
The typical structure of the outside of the churches. The paintings were the same on all the churches. They basically told the stories of the bible for the illiterate villagers to understand. The main reason to visit the various churches is that each is in a different state of repair, and usually, the wall in the best condition is different for each church. So you visit one for their ark story, another for Jerusalem, another for the saints, etc, etc. There are very few windows, one entrance at the back, and decoration on the plaster within and without. They must have been devilishly cold in winter!
The wares available outside the church. Very folksy, and I surprised myself by not finding very much that I wanted to buy in Romania!
The inside of one of the churches, the dome is really a series of arches, each decorated and separated to tell the biblical stories.
An outside wall in an interesting shadow.

Here I am standing in front on some of the interior paintings.

The gift shop within a monastery. Lots of icons and religious/saintly images. I have difficulty relating to these kinds of things, but I will admit they are unique and beautiful (an important, at least from a cultural perspective).
One wall with all the heads of saints on it. I wouldn't recognize half of them, but others certainly would!

A view of the most outstanding monastery that we saw. I climbed the hill behind it to see it from above. It is fortified of course, as things had to be in the middle ages, but if the powers that be wanted to invade, the monastery would not have put up a fight, but flowed with the ebbs of power.

Photos of Cambodia 6: The last few

So I'm back in Bangkok now, ensconsed in my regular Suk 11 Hostel room. The whole reason I came back (and didn't just camp out in an airport chair--shudder!) is because I left some food here last Friday that I didn't want to cart around with me. What a foolish person I am! Of course my bags are overweight and can't really handle any more stuff! I will manage somehow (I have on two flights already from Siem Reap and from KL). I hate this stress!!

Anyway, here are the last of the Cambodia photos.

On my last day I took a tuk tuk to a far off spot, called Banteay Srei. It wouldn't have been worth it for just that, but my true aim was a step further, when I took Chon, the female moto driver up to Kbal Spean, where I hiked up into the forest to see the most amazing river bed carvings. They must have carved it when it's dry, but at the moment it's monsoon, so they truly were surreal!

After that I came back to Banteay Srei (again at sunset!). Here are the monks leaving for the day. They have much more orange robes than the ones in Myanmar (which are more maroon).

Banteay Srei is famous for the details of its carvings, which are incredibly intricate. I also like the fact that Banteay Srei is dedicated to women.

Ah, Kuala Lumpur! I was there for just a short stopover on the way back, but managed to get up the Menara KL, to look at the Petronas twin towers, which sadly, from this angle, look like just one tower. KL's architecture was my favorite thing--they may be a modern city, but they take Islamic architecture to a modern level that I've seen nowhere else. They're so proud of their heritage, and they incorporate it in original ways. For example, the shape of these towers as two squares overlapping, like in Islamic design.

The last one is of the old city hall, designed by a British guy during the colonial era (but still copying Islamic design). In the background is a modern skyscraper, also in Islamic design. All of those window looking things are actually geometric lattices.

This will probably be my last post for a while as tomorrow when I get back I have to grade papers and finish my grades to hand in Monday morning. That along with typical Yangon life leaves me so little time that I always feel behind. I'm going to go now and put up the last of the Romania photos that are on this drive, and maybe one or two from Yangon. Enjoy!

Friday, October 13, 2006

Photos from Cambodia 5: Rest of Siem Reap

Wandering on the "Giant Circuit" around the smaller temples was a relaxing afternoon. I had my moto driver Chon (a young guy I picked up on the street!), who had the same name as my female moto driver the next day!
This is Pre Rup, the most similar of any I saw to the temples that are in Bagan in Myanmar. It still had the multiple levels, but seemed to go up much more than the others... good views over the surrounding countryside.

My pigs!!! I finally did get a pictures, though this is nothing near as good as the ones I saw. This bike only had 2 pigs on it, and I was taking it from a moving moto, so couldn't really get close up. Still don't know if they're alive or dead... what do you think? I would say dead because they're not really strapped in (and if I was a pig, I would squeal and wiggle). Then again, why would you want to carry around a dead carcass? I thought animals had to be bled immediately.

A lovely elephant guard at the temple Eastern Mebon. This particular temple was not so remarkable except for these elephants. I think I was on overload a bit!

Chon was delightful and dropped me off near what we thought was the northern entrance to Preah Khan, a great city temple at the far northern reaches of Siem Reap. I told him I'd meet him on the other side, and we left. After being pestered eternally by these children to buy something from each of them, I set off past the gates, happily taking pictures of the lovely guards in the sunset light.

So I go under the giant tower gate with some more creepy faces, and to my dismay, the entire pathway is flooded. No problem, I say! I roll up my pants and carefully wade in. I get more and more alarmed as it gets deeper and sludgier. Then I come to a little stream, flowing into the middle of this impromptu lake. It's 2 feet deep. I was happy with a little ankle water, but this was too much! I was in despair. What would I do? It was at least a kilometer or 2 just to go around to the other gate, and it was very close to sunset. I went back to the gate and tried to go along the walls. A little boy followed me, and said, just like in the labrinth movie... "You can't go that way. It's very far." So I went back out the gate, and wondered what I would do. Hiking up the road, the little boy said, "You can come on my bicycle... We'll share." I was dubious, and since he had no seat at the back, I thanked him and said I didn't think it was possible. He said, "I have another bicycle!" So we negotiated a price (50 cents), for me to ride the bike, and him to ride his with his little friend sharing, and off we went, this time to the real northern gate. In I ran, and bumped into, who else? My driver, Chon, who'd obviously heard by this time either that he hadn't actually dropped me at the Northern Gate like we'd assumed, or that where he had dropped me was flooded. What a dear!

So I raced around the now quite dark temple frantically seeing the two entwined trees and the huge Roman-like temple, that you see here.

Being out in the temples at dusk is an interesting experience. It's eerily quiet and there is no one else around. I suppose I should have been afraid, but I wasn't. It was just peaceful. The animal noises are that much louder, as the birds flutter overhead, the lizards crawl around to find the stones that are still warm from the sun. The other creepy crawlies rustle around me, retaking their world back from the tourists of day.

Okay, that's it for today. I need to go and explore Kuala Lumpur before my plane tonight. What an exciting city... reminds me a lot of Manila. I won't be climbing the Petronas Towers, because I wasn't getting up early to get the free ticket, but may just go up the other tower. I still have more photos to upload, but will try and do them in Bangkok tonight when I breeze through to pick up the stuff I left at Suk 11.

Photos from Cambodia 4: Angkor Thon

I think I mentioned that Angkor Wat is just one of the many temples in the Siem Reap collection. I am now in a different complex, this time a city, called Angkor Thon.

This is at one of the gates to the city (they have a grand gate at each of the 4 cardinal directions), guarded by demons and gods, although it's very hard to tell which is which! These would have been decapitated over the years, but reconstructed in replica.

This is in the cenral temple in the middle of the city. This was my favorite temple in all of Angkor. It's called Bayon and from every angle, there are huge faces looking down at you.
Here are several of the faces all at once... how many can you find?
Two in one... so picturesque!
Here I am in front of one face... see how enormous they all are!

Now I'm in another complex at Siem Reap. It's the next day, and I'm exploring Ta Prohm, which was a temple being absorbed by the jungle.

This is the famous Tomb Raider tree. It was underneath this tree that Angelina Jolie disappeared into the ground.
A whole corridor collapsed and this was the result... you can see exactly where the pillars would have been... I wonder if it all fell on one spectacular day! Look at the beautiful colors!

This is where a little sculpture was peeking from behind the tree roots. It looks remarkably similar to the one in Ayuthaya in Thailand, but much smaller.

Like water flowing from above, or a hand gripping Angkor's history in its fist!

This was an intact corridor... the moss and lines and colors certainly made it seem other-worldy, and it was hard to picture what it would have been like in its heyday.

Photos from Cambodia 3: Angkor Wat

I am now in Angkor Wat . This is one of the apsara (heavenly nymphs) that are all over the temple walls.
This is the ultimate Angkor Wat picture: the domes and layers of the different layers of the Hindu universe. The central one, and of course the highest, would be Mt. Meru. Complete with reflecting pool.
Some more heavenly nymphs, with their unique hairdos and clothing.
The beautiful decorations near a statue of Buddha within Angkor Wat itself.
Here is a closeup of the amazing decorations that line the entire kilometer of the outer wall of the inner temple. They tell stories from the ancient Hindu texts, and also of the kings of Angkor.
There I am, standing on the enormous causeway between the main gate, and the central temple itself.
The climb up to Mt. Meru (highest level of the universe, aka heaven) isn't meant to be easy, and just look at those stairs!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Testing my blog's email

I just wanted to send an email to test the email-to-post facility of
blogger.com. I have spent the last 20 minutes waiting for blogger to
load--I can access every other blogger page, just not the sign in
page. I'm also having problems with gmail, which this computer is too
slow to open. However, at least it's not blocked here!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Photos from Cambodia 2: To Siem Reap

This is on the boat up from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. A bit of a rip off, but enjoyable all the same. A German photographer and I were the only ones riding on the top of the boat, and I discovered why when the "fast" boat, picked up speed. I was quite windswept. Still, I stuck it out for the 5 hour ride, and crept under an awning when it started to pour with rain in the middle of Tonle Lake (practically an inland sea).

This is a houseboat in the floating village near Siem Reap. Everyone lives in these brightly colored, beautiful homes and travels everywhere by boat. Quite a unique lifestyle.

Being a teacher, I noticed the school. Very brightly colored, but wouldn't want to be anywhere near when its break time! Talk about no space and high likelihoods of kids getting chucked in!

I had another 30 or so to post, but am having huge difficulties getting them onto blogger. I will work on putting them on another site (once I've chosen it!).

Photos from Cambodia 1: Phnom Penh

The gorgeous Mekong delta. In Phnom Pehn it merges with 2 other rivers, before disappearing across the border with Vietnam (where I saw it once before). This was the view from the plane as I was landing.
Here's one of the magnificent buildings within the Royal Palace grounds in Phnom Penh. Overall, the complex was quite similar to Thailand's. What beautiful and unique structures!
This is me using my zoom lens! These birds were perched on top of the roof edge!
This is another zoom shot... the roof was so amazing, except the lights ruin it!
Here I am standing inside the national museum. If you think the pose and face are strange, that's because I did it on a timer... the joys of travelling solo!
This is Wat Phnom, which the city is named after. A bit of a monstrosity now, and very poorly taken care of, but important just the same.

This is inside the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This was a school before Democratic Kampuchea (as the Khmer Rouge were known as), but became a torture and interrogation center. Around 17,000 passed through, and I believe only 12 survived.
One of the displays inside Tuol Sleng. These are pictures of the terminated (like the Nazis they documented it all very well!!). A truly powerful experience. See the men whose hands are tied behind their backs? This was one of many many displays, and some were more gruesome showing torture, etc.
This is the memorial that the new government has built to commemorate and remember all those that died. The inside (all the way to the top) is filled with the skeletons of those found on the site of the killing fields.
Here are some of those skulls, open to the air and so close I could touch them. Such an absolute tragedy. Have started reading about why it wasn't stopped. Western governments have a lot to answer for!
These are the beautiful kites for sale along the street beside Independence Monument. I like to see these as hope for the future after all the tragedy has passed.