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Merry Christmas

Wishing you peace and joy, dear readers, from my home to yours.
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Image by Charie Card by Photo2cards for IPAD

On the Wat Trail

Pre Rup
There are many temples in Siem Reap, each one unique and worth a visit.  Some temples are within a few minutes of the other so it makes good sense to view them on the same day. I saw Pre Rup from across a rice field on our way to Banteay Srei. This was such a pleasant surprise that I begged my guide and tuk tuk driver to let me explore the ruins. In this temple we can see the pyramid style of construction crowned by five lotus towers (in this photo you only see three).

Banteay Samré
Farther afield is Banteay Samré which is one of the least crowded temples we visited. There's a pleasant walk between tall trees leading up to the walled temple grounds. Unlike Banteay Srei where you can only walk around the perimeter of the temples, at Banteay Samré we could enter the central temple. It is bare now but once upon a time within this hallowed walls, only the high priests or Brahmin were allowed entry.

Phnom Krom
On our way back to Siem Reap from Tonlé Sap Lake, my tuk tuk driver to…

Wat Thmey

In what was once a killing field during the Pol Pot regime, there's a memorial to the people who were executed by the Khmer Rouge. It is believed that as many as two million people were killed and their remains left in one of many killing fields throughout Cambodia. Wat Thmey, a monastery with a large temple, is located on that killing field in Siem Reap and within its grounds is a collection of skulls found in the area. They say that after heavy rains, teeth and human bones rise to the surface and these would be gathered by locals and laid to rest in the glass fronted stupa within Wat Thmey.

Wat Thmey
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Images by Charie

Banteay Srei - The Citadel of the Women

Entrance to Banteay Srei
This is arguably the most beautiful temple in the Angkor complex. It is referred to as the Citadel of the Women and many would like to believe that this temple was built by women because of the intricate bas reliefs found in the walls and pediments throughout the temple. But in fact, this was built by a Brahmin and dedicated to Shiva. Her image is everywhere as the venerated Creator and Destroyer in the Hindu trinity.
Causeway leading to the inner sanctum
What's so appealing about this temple? Perhaps it's the intimate scale or the pink sandstone walls or the doors that lead to more doors behind which garudas sit in the sunshine. But at every corner you turn, there's something that will catch the eye. It could be a well preserved and artfully carved pediment or a delicate apsara or a column still standing since the 10th century. 

Banteay Srei is about 30 minutes away from the center of Siem Reap. It's a pleasant drive through green countryside wit…

The Floating Village of Chong Kneas

About 20 minutes away from Siem Reap is Tonlé Sap Lake where you can catch a boat to the floating village of Chong Kneas. During my visit in October, the water level of the lake was quite high. Monsoon rains had inundated many areas of Cambodia and Thailand. I saw houses under water along the road to Tonlé Sap and the surrounding rice fields were flooded making no distinction between land and lake. Cows lined the highway where they were safe from high waters. My tuk tuk driver deftly plunged into washed out roads or heavily potted ones like the one shown above. At one point we got stuck in a deep pothole but he thankfully got us out of it. I swayed in all directions inside the tuk tuk as we rode out of town. (It is not unusual to see red mud as it comes from red soil common in Siem Reap.)


From atop Phnom Krom, we had this view of the extent of the flood. The waters had risen to the roofs of houses.  
We made it to the dock without further ado and I boarded a boat to Chong Kneas. There …

The Faces of Bayon

Bayon was built in the late 12th or early 13th century by Jayavarman VII as a Mahayana Buddhist temple in the center of Angkor Thom, the capital of the Khmer empire. There are more than 200 facial sculptures on 37 surviving towers. Four faces are carved in each tower staring at four different directions. These faces are believed to be the bodhisatva of compassion, Avalokitesvara or Lokeshvara.

There are studies suggesting that the faces in the temple are similar to that of Jayavarman VII from existing statues of him. This is not far fetched in light of the traditional belief among Khmer rulers that they were devaraja (god-king), but unlike other rulers who practiced Hinduism, Jayavarman VII was a Buddhist and would have aligned himself with Buddha and the bodhisattva (enlightenment being).
Khmer army marching to battle
Bas reliefs cover the walls of  Bayon in exquisite detail. There are scenes of battles, celebrations after the battle, everyday life, the next life. It's a picture bo…

Ta Prohm

Of the many amazing temples I saw in Siem Reap, Ta Prohm is definitely my favorite. It seems on the verge of collapse under the weight of the roots of towering trees. The scent of decay is pronounced and more so after a tropical downpour. While seeking refuge inside one of the temple structures, we were enveloped by an oppressive and dank air which no amount of incense could erode. But this is to be expected of an enclosed space that is being choked by its surroundings.

There's so much drama in this jungle which is why I like it the most. Piles of stones are everywhere. Moss and lichen cover the walls and roots the size of an elephant wrap over and around the structures. Built in 1186 as a Buddhist temple dedicated to the mother of Jayavarman VII (the greatest ruler/builder of the Khmer empire), it was abandoned until the 16th century when Portuguese explorers visited the Angkor complex.  

The jungle has been tamed but there are many traces of its past existence. In these grounds th…

Sunrise at Angkor Wat

I got up at 4:30 a.m. to meet my tuk-tuk driver, Vanna, at 5:00 a.m. to make the trek to Angkor Wat for the famous sunrise over the temple.  The air was nice and cool and I could have used a light sweater but what a welcone change from daytime temperatures! At the ticket checkpoint a few miles from  Angkor Wat, the attendants there asked for my temple pass which had expired the day before. But since I had no intention of going inside the temple (as it is under renovation and the front terrace is covered in  tarpaulin), my driver negotiated for me to enter the grounds but not the temple. This worked out perfectly and at 5:30 a.m., I was well positioned to view the sunrise.
First blush
From where I stood, I had a great view of the causeway and the first wall which has three round towers. Behind that are the three conical towers of  Angkor Wat. There were many people around who woke up early to see this momentous event. On the causeway leading to the temple was a steady procession of tour…

Gourmet Food Trucks

Nom Nom
Dont just eat. Nom!

Food trucks have been called many names, "roach coach" for one. But they serve business areas where there are no restaurants nearby. You can grab a soda or muffins, candy and chips besides a hot meal.  We used to have a food truck come to our office. It was driven by a very personable Vietnamese who allowed his hungry patrons to "eat now, pay later". I always ordered a bacon and tomato sandwich from him. After he retired, his niece took over and I bought steamed rice from her. She no longer comes to our office as she found a more lucrative location to park her truck. I now buy rice (Mexican style) from the taco truck down the street.

Lobster sandwich from the Shack Mobile
Recently I read that the famous gourmet trucks from San Francisco are now serving the Peninsula in two locations, San Carlos at the Hiller Museum parking lot and Palo Alto at Embarcadero. So I told a friend and we went to investigate. It was pouring hard when we arrived …

Great Glass Pumpkin Patch

It was challenging to rewrite this children's rhyme so I could allude to the glass pumpkins.  It was worth a try:

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater
Found a pumpkin but couldn't eat her
Ripe and luscious
Oh so sumptuous
But alas
Peter had to pass
The squash was made of glass!!!


Thousands of glass pumpkins were on display at Rinconada Park in Palo Alto for the 16th Annual  Great Glass Pumpkin Patch. What a delight to see the unique artistry in each of these fragile pieces neatly arranged in rows. There were baby pumpkins.


And there were see through and candy striped pumpkins.


A pumpkin teapot.  Don't you wish you had one of these?


Alas, October 2nd  is the last day of the exhibition and sale. Don't miss it! The Great Glass Pumpkin Patch is at Rinconada Park, 777 Embarcadero Avenue, Palo Alto.  Go to this link for more info: http://www.greatglasspumpkinpatch.com/

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Images by  Charie

Empire Tap Room

Outdoor Dining
Nothing beats outdoor dining when the weather cooperates. We've been having warm and sunny days lately so when our office staff had the opportunity to eat lunch together, I suggested we go to the Empire Tap Room in Palo Alto where we could sit outdoors in their beautiful patio and enjoy Indian summer temperatures.

When you enter the main door of the restaurant, you are immediately confronted by the shiny and well polished bar which extends the length of the dining room.  Then your eyes are directed to the patio where vines cover the walls, trees and white umbrellas provide ample shade and the drip drip of water from the fountain complete the relaxed ambiance. It feels like a mini getaway to sit in this patio.
Dungeness Crab Cakes
It's been awhile since I've had crab cakes. Very few places around here have my favorite crab cakes on their  menu.  How terrific that they serve them at this restaurant!  The red bell pepper sauce heightened the taste of the tender cra…

Six years of blogging

On September 27, 2011, I will celebrate six years of blogging at Blogspot. Prior to that, I had a travel blog in the now defunct Yahoo Geocities where I took my baby steps into travel writing. The first article I published here in 2005 was about my visit with my friends, Klara and Sonya in Berlin. It was called Berlin - a Tale of Two Sisters.  I have not gone back to Berlin since but I keep in touch with both Klara and Sonya who are now octogenarians. They don't travel anymore and live in a senior home. Both of them have had health issues but have survived them. I'm hoping I'll be able to see them again soon.

Yesterday I watched this video of the Sing-Off contest on NBC where the contestants sing a cappella. I really enjoyed the group Kinfolk 9 singing "Secrets" by One Republic. I kept replaying the video. Couldn't get the song out of my head. Let me share with you this beautiful music on my blog's anniversary.

Here's part of the lyrics:
"I need …

The Allied Arts Guild Gardens

The Court  of Abundance
A super find in my neighborhood are the gardens in the Allied Arts Guild  in a quiet part of Menlo Park, California. They are as beautiful as the Alhambra's Generalife gardens after which it they were planned. The Guild is an organization that raises funds to support the Lucille Packard Children's Hospital. All its profits from the shops, restaurant and private events held onsite go to the hospital.

Fresco Painting by Maxine Albro
Maxine Albro learned the art of fresco painting in Mexico with Paul O'Higgins, an assistant to Diego Rivera. Later she painted side by side with Rivera while working on some projects in San Francisco.  Notice the woman carrying a heavy basket laden with fruit. It is reminiscent of Rivera's The Flower Vendor series where the vendor is carrying a basket of calla lilies on her back. The little girl to her left is holding white lilies which further alludes to The Flower Vendor. This mural with a Mexican motif complements thi…

A Museum in the Middle of an Orchard

The Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture is unique among its peers. It has an unlikely location in the middle of a vast orchard in the small town of Hanford in the Central Valley of California. Which makes it all the more interesting.

The Four Elegant Pastimes by Shibata Zeshin
The Center boasts of a considerable collection of nealy 250 woodblock prints, 500 scroll paintings, folding screens, sculpture, kimonos, baskets and ceramics. Unfortunately only a tiny fraction of these are on display at any given time. When I visited the museum this month, there were no woodblock prints at all on display. There was one beautifully preserved 6 panel folding screen, some baskets and ceramics and two scroll paintings from the collection. The museum is small so it would be impossible to show the full collection. It's best to check first before going so you are aware of what is currently on exhibit.  The two-part exhibition, Woven Identities of Japan, will be on display through January 28,…

Woven Identities of Japan - Ainu and Okinawan Textiles

Bingata kimono
In the first of two rotations, Woven Identities of Japan highlights the Ainu and Okinawan textiles from the late 19th c to early 20th c. Now on display at the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, California are kimonos and robes worn by these two distinct ethnic groups. The contrasts in the types of fabrics, ornamentation and color used by the Ainu and Okinawan people speak of their traditions, beliefs, social divide and geographical influences.

In  Okinawa, textiles were embellished with a stencil dyeing technique called bingata which was for the exclusive use of the Ryukyuan court. The Ryukyu Kingdom was established in 1429 and was a maritime power in Asia. Cotton, silk and banana leaf textiles were solely for the use of the upper classes  The kimono shown above is light and transparent, appropriate for the tropical climate in southern Japan. In contrast, the robes of the Ainu from Hokkaido in the north were made from elm tree or nettle fibers which …