Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

2012: May we receive it with an open mind, a generous heart, and a renewed sense of purpose. All the best.

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Saturday, December 24, 2011

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

Sunday, December 18, 2011

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 took me to Phnom Krom which is situated on a hilltop. We climbed a long flight of stairs and walked for several minutes before we got to Phnom Krom. It was a tough walk in the afternoon sun and I had to stop to catch my breath and rest my legs a little. There's a stunning view from the top of surrounding villages which were flooded during my visit in late October. We saw a rainbow in the distance, a promising sight in the midst of ricefields and houses under water.

Baphuon

Baphuon has such a spectacular secret hidden in its ancient stones. When the French archaelogists were restoring the retaining wall in the western side of the temple, they pieced together an unfinished reclining Buddha which may have been built by the Buddhist faithful around the 15th or 16th century. The temple itself was completed during the reign of Udayadityavarman II (1048-1065). In the photo above you can discern the head of the Buddha, his eyes, nose and ear.

Arrange with your hotel for a personal guide. They are licensed and wear a uniform. The hotel can also arrange for a tuk tuk driver or if you prefer, a chauffeur and car. The rates are quite reasonable, around $25.00 for a full day guided tour and $15.00 for the driver.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, December 11, 2011

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 with surprising views of temples like Preah Rup and Banteay Samre. And there's a nice walk around the premises through a forest of trees that leads to a gallery of photographs of archaelogical work done in the area and narrative descriptions of some of the bas reliefs found in Banteay Srei.

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Images by Charie

Monday, December 05, 2011

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 was thin traffic on the lake away from the pier. Water hyacinths grew profusely in some sections of the lake.


Many of the floating homes had one room and you could see through to the back of the house. Most villagers make a living by fishing. In the neighborhood are a village store, a basketball court which doubles as a hall for parties and weddings and a school which I visited. Life on the water is as normal as possible until the residents have to move depending on the season.


The floating village store is like a mini grocery store. I was able to buy a box of ramen noodles and pencils for the kids attending the nearby grade school. I also found notebooks and other school supplies as well as snacks and beverage. I'm sure they carry most of the villagers' daily needs.


This is the Truong Tieu Hoc grade school where I brought the noodles and pencils for the schoolchildren. It's a Vietnamese school as most of the villagers are Vietnamese who have lived in this area for a long time. If the child's family has no boat, sometimes they improvise.


These boys are in a plastic tub. My boat driver told me he often lost his books and school supplies because his little boat would turn over often. But he survived and now he is a boat driver who speaks English fluently. The students I met in class were well behaved, wore white uniform blouses though not all of them had the same color pants or skirts.

This trip to the floating village was quite a good break from visiting temples. There was so much to see and learn and it was a great way to meet local people.

Boat tickets are sold at the dock. Most passengers arrive as a group so they are placed in one boat. I came solo so I had the boat to myself. It costs US$35.00 to hire a boat for one person.

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Images by Charie. These photographs may not be used without the sole permission of the photographer.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

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 book of the Khmer empire for all generations to come.



There's an important architectural element in the positioning of the towers shown above. Notice the diagonal perspective. The guides are quick to point this out.

To enter Angkor Thom, you need to purchase a pass before you enter the Angkor complex of temples. A single day pass cost US$20.00. For a three-day pass, you would pay US$40.00. It's best to buy a multiple day pass if you are planning to see temples beyond Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, November 27, 2011

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 there's an uneasy symbiotic relationship between man's oeuvre and the force of nature. Uprooting one will surely bring down the other.

Little boy selling raincoats at Ta Prohm

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Images by Charie. Images may not be used without the expressed permission of the photographer.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

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 tourists who wanted to catch a glimpse of the sunrise.

A few minutes later

The reflection of the temple on the man made lake surrounding it added to the ethereal beauty of this unique place. All was calm when everyone from the bus tours had entered the temple. It was really a beautiful time of day as I waited for the sun to soar higher in the horizon, but not too fast. I wanted to savor the magic.

The sun rises

As the sun rose slowly and gently, the colors of the sky changed from purple to blue to soft blue and the lake became a mirror of gradients of light and cloud formations. Until finally the sun dazzled us all.


And the tourists marched back to their tour buses to return to their hotels.


While others were about to embark on their early morning cycling tour.


"Life is a great sunrise." Vladimir Nabokov

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Images  by Charie

Saturday, October 08, 2011

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 at the Hiller Museum but found that people were already in line in front of their favorite food truck. We went to the Shack Mobile which serves lobster sandwiches in toasty French bread. For $11.00, I had a fat lobster sandwich with cole slaw and chips. My friend got a pork sandwich for the same price, also from the Shack Mobile. The sky cleared long enough for us to check out the Naked Chorizo and discovered that they sell chicken adobo and lumpia. Couldn't resist buying a plateful of lumpia for $6.00 and took it to work with me. My officemates helped me demolish the little appetizers.

Lumpia

There were four gourmet trucks in San Carlos - Mayo and Mustard which serves hot deli style sandwiches, NomNom is famous for its banh mi sandwiches, Naked Chorizo and the Shack Mobile. I was hoping Mama's Empanadas would be there too but it wasn't. We did check with the truck proprietors if they'll continue to come to San Carlos and the answer is yes!  This is good news as we'd like to savor the specialties of the other trucks. The trick is to arrive early to beat the lunch crowd. The trucks are at Hiller Museum parking lot from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays. There are tables and chairs on the driveway and inside the museum lobby for those who wish to eat their lunch there.

Hiller Museum is located at 601 Skyway Road in San Carlos. It's off of 101 at Holly and beside San Carlos Airport.  To find a gourmet truck near you, check this link:  http://the-mobile-gourmet.com/wordpress/

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Images by Charie

Sunday, October 02, 2011

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 crab flakes. And the fried potatoes were surprisingly tasty. Wonder what they added to it? It was specially good.

This is a fun place to get together.  The Empire Tap Room is located at  651 Emerson Street, Palo Alto, CA. Their phone number is 650-321-3030. To view their menu, follow this link: http://www.etrpa.com/.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, September 25, 2011

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 another story
Something to get off my chest
My life is kind of boring
Need something I can confess....."

It ends with "I'm going to give all my secrets away".

I hope you enjoy this rendition of "Secrets" as much as I have.  Thanks for following my blog.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

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 this courtyard with its Spanish colonial style buildings and fountains.


Detail of a window with wrought iron bars and intricately carved door hearken back to Spanish colonial architecture and design.

The Rose Allee

The Rose Allee begins at the Archway Building and leads to The Barn which is the oldest structure in the property. Roses line the path on each side while tall trees lean to form an arch and provide welcome shade.


Lunch is served in the Café which overlooks the Garden of Delight (or the Blue Garden).  The menu includes a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches and some hot entreés. I ordered the vegetable cannelloni (shown above) and it came with a generous serving of side salad. It's open Mondays to Saturdays from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

For more information about  Allied Arts Guild and its gardens, follow this link: http://www.alliedartsguild.org/.
75 Arbor Road at Cambridge
Menlo Park, CA
Phone: 650.322.2405
  
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Images by Charie    

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, 2012. (See article below about this exhibition.)

Across from the museum is a library for browsing and behind this, a small zen garden. There is a private Japanese garden with a pond that is visible through the trees from the pebble path that leads to the bonsai collection area. The third annual Kazari Bonsai Display Competition will be held here at the Center on November 5, 2011.


It's peaceful out in this part of the Valley and if the heat wasn't so intense during this time of year, it would be nice to sit outdoors after viewing the exhibition and enjoy the rows of fruit trees until it's time to head back home in the cool of early evening.

For more information about the Center, follow this link: http://www.ccjac.org/.  Admission fee is $5.00 for adults, $3.00 for students and the military and free to children under 12.

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Images by Charie

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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 provided insulation against the cold and harsh climate. Notice also the tapered sleeves of the Ainu robe compared to the wide and longer trailing sleeves of the Okinawan kimono.

Attush robe

The Ainu were hunters and gatherers. Their robes essentially expressed their religious beliefs. The Attush robe above is woven from elm tree fiber which the Ainu believed protected its wearer from evil. They also thought that evil spirits entered their body through the openings in their robes so hems and sleeves were therefore elaborately adorned with applique and embroidery. The Attush robe was worn for special occasions.

 Ainu man

The exhibit continues until October 29, 2011. The second rotation will start in November 2011. For more information please click on this link: http://www.ccjac.org/
The Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture
15770 Tenth Avenue
Hanford, CA
Phone; 559-582-4915

The kimonos shown above are from the private collection of Thomas Murray. The scroll is from Clark Collection.

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Images by Charie