Sharknado!!!


Okay, so it’s more like a shark circus.  Or at least that is what it’s called  aboard the MV Orion, a scuba live-aboard in the Emperor’s fleet that we were guests on this past September.  Jody and I booked this scuba vacation (her first live-aboard) coincident with our 5th anniversary, to a far away, exotic location that many Americans have never heard of:  The Maldives.  Go ahead, look it up on a map…I’ll wait.

There will be a lot more written about this particular vacation, but this video is all I wish to share at this point.  Oh, and listen with the music turned all the way up.  I have something in excess of 1,500 scuba dives from all over the world, but this dive easily tops the list.  The video was shot from sunset going on to full night, with a large domed wide-angle lens, so the action was really much closer than it often appears.

What else can I say, except what Jessica said upon surfacing from this dive:

BEST … DIVE … EVER!

 

A Blessing from Buddha: Banteay Kdei at Angkor


 Whether one believes in a religion or not,
and whether one believes in rebirth or not,
there isn’t anyone who doesn’t appreciate kindness and compassion.
~ Dalai Lama

The Temple's Inner Sanctum

The Temple’s Inner Sanctum

“Come here Lady,” the Buddhist nun said to Jody with an almost toothless smile. Like all nuns of that faith in Cambodia, her head was shaved, just as the male monks do. She was well into her 60s, thin and somewhat feeble, but seemed perfectly and happily suited to be the keeper of her faith at the central Buddhist altar in the Banteay Kdei temple.

Our Buddhist Nun Friend with our Guide

Our Buddhist Nun Friend with our Guide

She reached out her hand to Jody without getting up from the rug-covered stone floor at the base of the statue, and held out two loops of thread, one red and one gold. “Blessing from Buddha,” said more as a statement than a question. How can anyone turn such an offer away?

Blessing Bracelet from Buddha and His Nun

Blessing Bracelet from Buddha and His Nun

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, carved Khmer face WMIt was our third and final day in the Angkor Archeological Park, and the morning had been consumed with exploring the famous, massive and crowded Angkor Wat, a truly moving and spiritual experience for even hardcore atheists. Our Khmer guide had done well in the previous two days, moving from one temple complex to the next in a loose chronological order, approaching each site to both minimize crowds and position light to the best advantage of our cameras. And it appeared that she had saved the iconic tourist site of Cambodia as the climax of our visit to Angkor.

Idyllic Ruins

Idyllic Ruins

But she held back one final surprise. After cooling off and refreshing ourselves at lunch back in the nearby city of Siem Reap, we headed yet again back into the park, to a much lesser known and visited temple called Banteay Kdei.

Like the More Famous Ta Prohm, only BETTER!

Like the More Famous Ta Prohm, only BETTER!

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, doorways WMBanteay Kdei (Khmer: ប្រាសាទបន្ទាយក្តី; “Prasat Banteay Kdei”), means “Citadel of Chambers” (or “Cells”), but is more commonly known as the “Citadel of the Monks.” Built in 12th-13th centuries CE during the reign of Jayavarman VII, the temples’ mixed architectural features are contained within two successive enclosure walls. Within each, visitors will find concentric galleries from which emerge towers. It is believed that the site had been occupied by monks almost constantly since construction through the 1960s.

Still an Active Buddhist Temple

Still an Active Buddhist Temple

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, banded temple tower WMOur guide, like at most of our other visits to the various temples of Angkor, had us enter this center from its rear, where the angled afternoon light danced on the best features of the sanctuary. Compared to some of the other temple complexes nearby, Banteay Kdei is not large, but instead is tightly packed in a series of tight rectangular enclosures. Functioning originally as a Buddhist monastery during, it remains largely unrestored, resulting in an atmosphere similar to the stylistically famous Ta Prohm.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, tree root HDR WM

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, face-topped gate tower WMBanteay Kdei has suffered more deterioration than most other more famous temples found at Angkor, since soft but easy-to-work sandstone was used in much of its construction rather than the harder stone used extensively elsewhere. 13th century vandalism of Buddhist images is apparent and common here, as the temple and region waffled between Buddhism and Hinduism with the changing decrees of differing Khmer rulers through the centuries. Many of the originally vaulted galleries have collapsed at several locations, putting a good portion of the enclosures off-limits.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, tranquil wooded ruins WM

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, tree rooted in the ruins WMThe monastery is small and dense, packed in an area of only about 160×200 feet and consists of only a single level, making it easy to explore in its totality. Getting to the central area of the ruins, however, will take a bit time since the outer wall of the complex measures roughly 1000×2300 feet. The temple houses a treasure trove of sculptures in the architectural styles of the Ta Prohm, which it eerily resembles. Except without the paparazzi-like draw of Lara Croft and the Tomb Raider fame of that other hectically crowded place (see Tomb Raiding Angkor for more on Hollywood’s impact on the other side of the globe).

Buddha or the King?

Buddha or the King?

Column Carvings in the Hall of Dancers

Column Carvings in the Hall of Dancers

The smiling faces found here are thought to be of King Jayavarman II, although most visitors seem to be perfectly happy to assume they represent a very happy Buddha. Wall niches are found throughout the facility and many contain figurines of apsara (celestial nymph) and/or devatas (lesser deities) in single poses or in pairs as dancers. The temple is famous for its “Hall of Dancers,” where open courtyards display pillars covered in multitudes of sophisticated carvings of these supernatural females. The temple’s tiny inner sanctum (~9×9 foot square) is flanked by similar carvings and contains traces of long-lost statues. The temple is complete with tumbling and overgrown courtyards, where lichens and defacing oxidation add interesting splashes of color to the already spectacular Khmer architecture.

Apsara and Devatas Everywhere

Apsara and Devatas Everywhere

Within the temple one can find several small shrines safeguarded by female Buddhist nuns, all who offer you blessings and Buddhist-colored red and yellow threaded yarn bracelets, of course all in return for a small donation. We both offered a donation of a dollar or two, received our bracelets, and in return placed a freshly lit stick of incense for Buddha to enjoy.

Incense for Buddha

Incense for Buddha

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, dry fit falling down WMIn close proximity to Ta Prohm and every bit as beautiful (or even more), this temple does not get nearly as many visitors as the former more famous location. Banteay Kdei offers a uniquely quieter appeal than most other Angkorian ruins, a place where a visitor can sense the isolation and oppression of the jungle while they contemplate the many carvings and still-active shrines and altars protected by nuns and often visited by local worshipers. Like Ta Prohm, this temple offers a prime setting for photography, where the scenes are compact and close, and the tourists thin and subdued. In these ways, this set of ruins is the perfect antidote to the crowds suffered at Angkor Wat, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. It is, however, located conveniently close to those “big three,” so it’s an easy addition to most any itinerary, and a site visit that should not be missed.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, ruins by the jungle 2 WM

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, looker WMThe peace, quiet and solitude found here is alone worth the visit. “Tranquility” is not a word that is often used to describe a visit to Angkor, but it should be and can be found at this out-of-the-way place. It may be best to start your day early at this temple, then visit the other more popular sites in the afternoon when the Cambodian heat and humidity has driven those crowds down to more manageable numbers. The ancient breezeways running through the temple’s enclosures allow visitors to lose themselves, literally, in time.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, temple passage WM

Similar in layout to Ta Prohm, but less overtaken by the surrounding jungle, the approach to the ruins is shaded and cool, lined with more Cambodian concessionaires than fellow tourists. Some quality merchandise can be found here, from stone rubbings, to wood carvings, oil paintings, and rice paper reliefs. But of course all the other cheap trinkets and unwanted souvenirs you might expect at such a site can be had as well. After the initial asking price tumbled as we politely haggled (the lack of visitors I think helps drive prices down), Jody and I purchased a rice paper relief, something that had caught my eye the day before.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, wooded ruins WM

I continued to wear my Buddha-Blessing-Bracelet 24/7 after our visit (yarn is very hardy). And only recently lost it when changing out of a wetsuit after a scuba dive. Jody still has hers, but unfortunately can’t wear it to work; worries about possibly leaving it in a patient during surgery or something….

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, one of our favorite temple visits and our last

Even though the physical manifestation of my blessing is gone, the blessing of our visit to the delicate loveliness of Banteay Kdei lives on, in mind and spirit. It’s hard to fathom how anyone could be disappointed by its understated and underrated charms. Make this your final visit, make it in the afternoon, and enter the site from the rear. You will be blessed in more ways than one.

Cambodia 2015, Banteay Kdei, dwarfed by tree roots WM

For More Photos of Our Visit, See:  Banteay Kdei on Flickr

For More Information, Please See:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banteay_Kdei

http://www.canbypublications.com/siemreap/temples/temp-bankdei.htm

http://www.travelfish.org/sight_profile/cambodia/western_cambodia/siem_reap/angkor/356

Tomb-Raiding Angkor


“Soaring skywards and surrounded by a moat that would make its European Castle counterparts blush, Angkor Wat is one of the most inspired and spectacular monuments ever conceived by the human mind.” ~Lonely Planet

You can look at all the pictures of what is often called the 8th Wonder of the World you want. But NOTHING compares to visiting Cambodia and seeing the expansively moving temples in person. Even Lara Croft can’t resist their charms.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, rear entry of Angkor Wat WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, admiring the gallery of carvings WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, Buddha in the central tower WMAngkor (អង្គរ or នគរ, “Capital City”), as a preserve and park, is more than one of the most important archaeological sites in South-East Asia; it’s one of the most important in the world. Stretching over a massive region just outside of the city of Siem Reap, Angkor Archaeological Park contains the magnificent ruins of many different ancient capitals of the Khmer Empire from the 9th through the 15th centuries. As such, Angkor has been designated as a UNESCO world heritage site since 1992, and many programs have been emplaced to help safeguard this symbolic place along with much of its surroundings. While, yes, of course Angkor Wat is the most famous and perhaps best known, there are many, many more temple ruins that, in many ways, are even more fascinating than the prime tourist draw.

Lara Croft's door at the Tomb Raider Temple.  Ugh.

Lara Croft’s door at the Tomb Raider Temple. Ugh.

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm, ruined tree 2 WMBut please, for the love of god, don’t bring up Tomb Raider or what has become to be known as the “Angelina Jolie Temple.” Oh, right: too late. Our guide was only too happy to refer to the 12th century temple of Ta Prohm in just that way. I’ll admit, not being either a Tomb Raider or Angelina Jolie fan, I was almost completely unaware that filming had occurred there in 2000. But locals don’t suffer from such a lapse; they’ve renamed the temple from the scene above after her.

The Majesty of Ta Prohm

The Majesty of Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm, along with the more familiar Angkor Wat both served as the setting for a long sequence of scenes in Tomb Raider. Okay, okay, I admit that we did rent and watch Tomb Raider when we got home from our trip, and although I kept falling asleep during most of the flick (not a fan, ‘member?), the scenes involving Angkor were curious and noteworthy.

lara-croft-ta-prohm1

Ta Prohm

Ta Prohm

For the movie, sets were built around Angkor Wat, providing more of a nondescript Oriental feel than that of Khmer. An exotically bucolic village was built around the and on stilts in the waters of the reflecting pond in front of the iconic temple. The scenes of Lara Croft paddling a canoe through the village are idyllic, but it’s the scenes of Lara following a sassy child and magical butterflies through Ta Prohm that have stolen the imagination for modern-day visitors to that site.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, tower through the trees WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, admiring the galleries WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved corridors WMThe ruins of Angkor are located amid dense rain forests and fertile farmland to the north of Tonlé Sap lake near modern-day Siem Reap city. The temples found there number over a thousand, although many are barely recognizable piles of rubble or as yet unearthed mounds still relatively lost in the jungle. Angkor Wat, the centerpiece and pride of the capacious complex, is described as the world’s largest religious monument. The place can be so spiritually moving to experience that almost two million visit annually, a unstainable number given the soft sandstone that those four million feet are trampling upon.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, arriving at Angkor Wat! 2 WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, restful doorjam WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, shooting in a corridor WMOur guide was crafty about visiting the various temple sites. Saving Angkor Wat for almost last (that last visit will be featured in its own blog!), we entered from the rear of the temple, almost entirely alone, with blue skies beaming over the steep ruins with the sun in our faces. Having been there previously in 2007 (see Power in Poverty for more on that particular Far East Fling), I had expected the “usual” entrance, walking the long King’s causeway to the main temple entrance. However, that route is what everyone else takes, and can be quite chaotic. We literally had the temple much to ourselves for the first half of our tour there.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, candlesticks 2 WM

Ruins at Angkor

Ruins at Angkor

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved ceremonial headdress WMIn the last decade international team of scientists and archeologists concluded that Angkor had been the largest pre-industrial city in the world approaching an area of 390 square miles of ancient urban sprawl, a figure of which any modern metropolis would be infamously proud. Angkor is perhaps best characterized as a “hydraulic city” due to its extensive water management construction and engineering which systematically stabilized, stored, and dispersed water throughout the area, key to sustaining such a large population by using irrigated agriculture. It is believed by some that the complex supported up to one million people, although the actual number is hotly debated and most likely will never be known with any degree of certainty.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved hands WM

Visiting Restrictions

Visiting Restrictions

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved hands WMThe temple was much as I remembered, except there were many more visitors to Angkor than I experience eight years previous. The biggest change was the control exercised by park officials in controlling not only the number of guests allowed at any time in the highest central tower, but the enforcement of a respectable dress code, which required women to have skirts/dresses below their knees and their shoulders covered.

Library at Angkor Wat

Library at Angkor Wat

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, khmer female carved in stone WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, temple tower 2 WMAngkor Wat was originally founded as a Hindu temple (Wat is Khmer for “temple grounds” or literally “enclosure”), but gradually transformed into a Buddhist temple toward the end of the 12th century, a not uncommon occurrence in ancient Khmer as different rulers declared different national approaches to religion. It was built by the Khmer King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century in the then capital of the Khmer Empire as his state temple and eventual mausoleum. It is, at once and without doubt, the best-preserved temple of Angkor, and is believed to be the only site to have remained a significant religious center since its foundation. It is so an indivisible part of Cambodia’s culture that it is the national symbol appearing on Cambodia’s flag.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, reflecting WM

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, carved woman WMCambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, Kevin resting at the top levelThe temple is at once a study in grandeur of architecture and harmony of purpose, and is known for its extensive bas-reliefs along the ground-floor galleries and for almost innumerable stone devata adorning its upper reaches. Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple-mountain and the galleried temple. The center of the wat is meant to represent the quincunx of peaks of Mount Meru, home of the devas in Hindu mythology (devas are also a feature of Buddhism). Surrounding the temples central towers are three long rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. This layered approach elevates the already tall towers, resulting in a primeval yet enduring skyline well above the surrounding jungle. The sheer size of the structure is stunning; I continue to attempt to fathom how a people living on the edge of existence could build such massive stone structures without tools or machinery. Constructing Angkor Wat today would be tough, even using our modern approaches and equipment.

Cambodia 2015, Angkor Wat, corner tower from the courtyard WM

It seems that Tomb Raider has really not done any favors for Angkor. Tourists come and perhaps role play the part of Lara as an adventurer and explorer, often climbing over and otherwise treating Ta Prohm more as a movie set than a profoundly sacred site that which it is. In fact, you can find the temple actually called “Tomb Raider Temple” in some guide books, and every tuk-tuk driver knows exactly where to take you when the movie or Ms. Croft is referenced. Back in town in and around Siem Reap, tourists can easily find the “Tomb Raider cocktail,” nothing more than a mixture of Cointreau, soda and lime, but which is claimed to be one of the favored adult beverages of Angelina. These modern facets of visiting Angkor Wat blurs the boundaries of what is real and authentic, with that which is purely fiction. The result is that Angkor for some (or even many) is slowly being cheated of its culturally and historically importance known to the few, and becoming more of a disemboweled Hollywood visual spectacle to the masses.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, in love with Angkor Wat WM

 

Getting There: A 5-6 hour bus, taxi or boat ride gets you from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. However, it’s the close and convenient airport in Siem Reap that offers the best option, providing regular service to Phnom Penh and abroad to international destinations such as Bangkok, Singapore, and Seoul.

Visiting: The bustling tourist town of Siem Reap is the gateway to Angkor. There one can find lodging, dining, and tour-packages to match any budget or taste. Those interested in exploring more remote and off-the-beaten-path areas can hire cars with guides, tuk-tuks for a day for about $20, or, as the cheapest option, motorbikes which provide perhaps the fastest if not most dangerously adventuresome way to tailor an itinerary. The yellow tethered Angkor balloon ride is a great way to get a unique aerial perspective of Angkor Wat, but only go in the afternoon when the sun favors the view from above. See Monkeying Around in Cambodia for a truly terrific zip-line experience that can be had within the archeological park..

When to Go: Peak tourist season runs late November through early February, during Cambodia’s dry season where temperatures and humidity are not so oppressive. “Feels-like” heat starts to soar in spring, peaking in April and holding steady through the monsoon season of May and June. Rains continue, albeit reduced, through the summer until October, becoming more sporadic the longer a traveler waits. In my opinion, avoiding the crushing crowds is worth risking a rain shower (or two). Plus, the surrounding fields turn green and rice paddies flood with the rains, although some of the more remote sites can be washed out due to poor roads and limited access.

Cambodia 2015,  Angkor Wat, Kevin and Jody enjoying the wat 2 WM

For More Information, See:

http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/668/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angkor_Wat

http://travel.nationalgeographic.com/travel/world-heritage/angkor/

Fortunes of Cambodia


“Oh Rollo, if you truly knew what the gods have in store for you, you would go down now and dance naked on the beach. (LAUGHING)” ~Seer’s oracle, The Vikings

The fortune-teller glanced down and stated to silently read my prophesy. And just as quickly as he started, he immediately slammed the small booklet of Khmer palm-leaf writings shut.

“No good,” flatly said Thalay, our Cambodian tour guide, without any further explanation or elucidation.

“Well that’s not good, not good at all,” I thought to myself. Good thing I had two more choices at my fortune’s revelation!

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

Entry into the Silver Pagoda Compound

We were visiting the Silver Pagoda, located adjacent to the Royal Palace in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. A couple of lessor shrines here specialize in fortune-telling, a common belief throughout the Far East, and I was eager to indulge myself.

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

The Library Adjacent to the Silver Pagoda

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, burial stupa WMWe watched as a young, well-dressed man received his fortune. The teller was located in small library just outside of the Silver Pagoda proper. Here were stored many old and historic Buddhist manuscripts written on palm leaves using Sanskrit, preserved in glass-faced cabinets, which were also lined with more modern translations in bound books. Thalay explained to us that this student was here to get his fortune regarding the future of his studies. Apparently, and unlike me, he got a fairly good one.

And on his first choice. Lucky.

Palm Leave Fortunes

Palm Leave Fortunes

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines 2 WMPalm leaves have been used for millennia both for writing and painting because of their thin and flexible qualities. From the first millenia up to the 16th centuries, manuscripts were written on palm leaves called Tādapatra. They provide an excellent surface for writing which is easily preserved and transported as rolled bundles. The rolled palm leaf manuscripts here were stored in small boxes, themselves placed inside modern steel and glass cabinets to further protect them from dust, dirt and thieves.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer rooflines WM

The mystic had a small bundle of fortunes written on palm leaves but in the more modern Khmer script. The leaves were bound top and bottom by a hard covering of bamboo, and the entire collection was held together with what appeared to be a hemp-like cord.

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Clarity & Focus before Fortune-Telling

Before my first attempt it was explained that one must clear their minds entirely and focus on the one thing for which the fortune would apply. On my knees in front of a sacred bull, I closed my eyes, bowed my head and took a few deep cleansing breathes to help clear my thoughts. Then I started to hone my mental energies in order to focus the fortune’s predictions.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Buddha's Tripitaka, sacred bull closeup WM

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, metal-worked gate WMI wished to know the prospects for my health in the coming years. Last May, almost exactly a year previous to this fortune-telling, I had started to become very seriously ill (see Offshore Okinawa: A Scuba Diver’s Paradise to Lose). And my condition, one which I will remain “stuck” with over time, is also one for which the Western medical establishment has no clear answers…or cures. When I felt my mental energies were sufficiently engaged and fixated, I was ready for my second attempt at better providence.

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

The Silver Pagoda and a Stupa

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Royal Palace and Silver Pagoda, Khmer spire WMThe Silver Pagoda is a small walled compound adjacent to the Cambodian Royal Palace complex, both located in the busy riverside district of Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh. It features a royal temple commonly referred to as Wat Preah Keo (Khmer: វត្តព្រះកែវ), which houses many national treasures, most notably the Emerald Buddha of Cambodia, a small 17th century baccarat crystal Buddha, as well as a near-life-size standing Buddha figurine encrusted with 9,584, diamonds dressed in royal regalia. The Pagoda itself is inlaid with more than 5,000 silver floor tiles, most of which remained covered for their protection.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking another fortune WM

This time I placed the bundles of fortunes on my head as I saw the student do. Attached to the bundle via a worn and fibrous string was a small wooden dowel, which is used to select the fortune in question.

“You can use your left hand,” said Thalay. I was using my right hand to do the choosing. After thinking about her somewhat odd comments, it suddenly dawned on me. Maybe I was doing it wrong.

“You mean I should use my left hand?” “Yes,” came her reply with a smile. Ah, perhaps I had discovered the cause of the first fortune failure. At least that’s what I chose to believe.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, Kevin picking a fortune WM

I select my fortune and hand it over to the seer. He silently reads the fortune. And continues reading for quite some time. I look at the palm leaf, and this fortune is quite long; the beautiful twists and twirls of the Khmer language written small and without margins right to the edge. I attempt to read his tells during his contemplation, and I’m struck that again he is not happy. I turn to Thalay and give her a rather pleading look.

After an extended discussions with the fortune-teller, Thalay starts to give me her interpretation. I can tell that this is not easy for her, and she is struggling with an explanation after two or three false starts. Finally, after even more discussion with the oracle, she comes up with this analogy:

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes WM

“It is not good, but not bad,” she starts, obviously trying to diffuse the growing anxiety that she clearly sees on my face. “It is like this: a fisherman can work hard all the day all his life, and at the only short time that he relaxes, the fish he wants swims by….”

Now for my third attempt. And my last. I took a few extra moments to center my mind and spirit. And again I take my chances with the bundle of what has only been, for me, bad or sad news. I turn over my choiced chance to the soothsayer.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortunes and the fortune teller WM

This time the slightest of a smile comes across his face. So, either he is amused at my exceedingly bad luck over three attempts, or actually I finally found a fortune worth having. What was it this time?

Well, after another difficult translation, it apparently comes down to this: that what I seek will require a life-long struggle, one that is fated to be not easy over time, and that will require the active support of my wife Jody. Jody, Thalay and I all make light of the situation, finding the obvious humor in having my health in the hands of my nurse-wife (literally – she’s a nurse). But of course, for me, in the recesses of the darker parts of my consciousness, this resonates true.  Maintaining my health may not be easy as I age, but with Jody’s help I will in fact keep aging.  Which is a good thing.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda Buddha's Tripitaka, fortune teller checking my fortune again WM

Most of us are drawn to having our fortunes predicted, as it has been throughout time. Almost everyone at some time or another wishes to know the Kismet with which we have been blessed…or cursed, and have the opportunity to confront the unchangeable fate to which we are bound.

But most of the time, it’s better to not openly know. Let the gods plan and scheme; we, like the Viking Rollo, simply strive to make the most of the lot we have drawn, waiting for our destinies to take hold. We never really know what the gods have in store.  We should dance naked anyhow.

Cambodia 2015, Phnom Penh, Silver Pagoda, Cambodian greeting and show of respect WM

Sources

http://www.dsbcproject.org/manuscripts/short-history

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silver_Pagoda,_Phnom_Penh

Lotus Flower Folding & Enlightenment in Cambodia


“The spirit of the best of men is spotless, like the new lotus in the [muddy] water which does not adhere to it.” ~From the Lalitavistara, a sacred text of the life of Buddha by Dhrarmaraksha (308 AD)

“I worship the Buddha with these flowers; May this virtue be helpful for my emancipation; Just as these flowers fade, Our body will undergo decay.” ~Buddhist Chant upon offering flowers

Hand-Folded Lotus Flower Bouquet

Hand-Folded Lotus Flower Bouquet

“Those petals ARE folded,” I whispered with excitement to Jody as we watched our Cambodian guide quickly fold back the green outer petals of the lotus flower she just purchased at the temple.

We had noticed various lotus flower bouquets in the high-end hotel where we were staying, and Jody was convinced that the green outer petals of the flower were all hand-folded and tucked away to show the flowers’ beautifully colored hearts. I was not yet a believer; some of the bouquets literally have hundreds of flowers, and thinking about the work that goes into folding each individual bud, I thought maybe there was another way or that the folds were a natural result of this flower’s blooming mechanism.

But of course then there is Occam’s Razor, of which I am a firm believer: simply said, all things being equal, the alternative with the least complex assumptions (the simpler one) is usually the “right” one. Yes, these flowers – and bouquets – are all individually hand folded and arranged.

Cambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, central tower of a village temple WM

Cambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, temple tower in stone WMWe were visiting the ruins of a 12th century Buddhist temple well off the tourist-beaten path about 20 miles south of Phnom Penh. Ta Prohm, a temple built by Jayavarman VII, was still a very active religious temple, where local poor people were allowed to maintain various Buddhist altars in what’s left of the individual towers of its compact complex. Our guide felt compelled to buy lotus flowers during our visit, and I too joined in with a few American dollars. I had learned earlier in the day, quite surprisingly, that it is the locals in Cambodian who predominantly support beggars, rather than tourists. The purchases weren’t just a form of charity; the items are worldly and long-standing offerings made to Buddha, and there’s little doubt that we all could use a little more karma in our lives.

Buddha is very often depicted sitting on a lotus flower. But why is this particular flower the symbol of such a long-standing philosophy which teeters as a religion?

Huge Buddha on Lotus at Peace Prayerl Park, Okinawa

Huge Buddha on Lotus at Peace Prayerl Park, Okinawa

In Buddhism, the lotus flower represents good fortune. But please don’t think about this in terms of prosperity or abundance as in material wealth. Rather, the flower represents spiritual fortunes in this life…and in the next.

Cambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, facial carving WMThe lotus grows in muddy waters, where it rises above its dirty and humble beginnings to blossom to its full potential, attaining a form of natural enlightenment. Coupled in this process of fully flowering is the notion of purification: we are all born into the muddy murkiness and dirty suffering of our physical lives, where we must strive to rise above and purify our spirits. This itself takes faith and perseverance, more important symbolism found in the lotus blossom.

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, rustic flowers and gates WMFlowers, especially in a religious context, can be thought of as exceedingly pure, and proper in every respect. They are rich in beautiful colors, emit soothing fragrances, and offer soothing touch. Worldwide, flowers are a supreme source of joy and comfort; they are used in celebration of birth, marriage, and even death. Flowers cover the earth, and can be obtained without engaging in evil or tainted deeds. Even the most humble among us can collect them without fear of depletion and without exchange of monies or other types of barter. Likewise, flowers can be offered without fear of regret or loss (as opposed to, say, tithing), so such offerings can be made with a pure mind and heart.

My Attempt at Lotus Flower Folding

My Attempt at Lotus Flower Folding

But they are offered in a certain way to the Buddha in Cambodia. The unopened bud’s green protective petals are individually peeled back, folded over on themselves and then tucked back under in order to uncover the next layer of wrapping. But soon the inner “heart” of the lotus starts to peek into view, and then is completely revealed, uncovering its sublime beauty for all – especially Buddha – to see and admire.

Jody's Folding her Flower

Jody’s Folding her Flower

I was surprised at how well my folded lotus turned out. Although Jody and I took much longer than our guide did in folding, and ours looked rather like a 5-year-old attempted the task, we were all ready to provide our own offerings at various altars within Ta Phrom.

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, folding a lotus flower for Buddha 4 WMCambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, folding a lotus flower for Buddha 3 WMLotus coloring also holds important meaning. White flowers, like in most of the rest of the world, implies purity and perfection, of both the mind and the spirit to the True Nature of Things, called Bodhi in Buddhism. It generally has eight petals corresponding to the Buddhist “Noble Eightfold Path of the Good Law,” and is the lotus on which depicted Buddha’s sit. Red, again like in most of the rest of the world (we are more connected than we are different), refers to compassion and love that is the original nature of the supreme heart (hrdayam). The blue lotus represents the perfection of wisdom, logic and knowledge, all of which are needed to obtain true enlightenment, always displayed only partially opened with its center never fully in view. Pink flowers, or the “Supreme Lotus,” help to recall the history of Buddha and the legends and myth which surround him. And finally, gold, the color which Buddha wears, reflects awakening or enlightenment.

Temple Ruins

Temple Ruins

Our particular flowers were purple, which reflect the magical mysticism found in following the teachings of Buddha. A perfect choice for non-Buddhist lay people with only the most basic understanding of what is not so much a religion but a way of life, one which seems to circumvent most of the thorny issues that make monotheistic faiths so exclusionary, divisive, and generally incompatible with even their own core teachings.

Temple Gate Ruins

Temple Gate Ruins

The growth cycle of the lotus holds other important symbolism in Buddhism, primarily as physical representations of the stages one moves through to attain enlightenment. When closed they represent those in search of enlightenment, while a bloomed and open lotus flower signifies divine rebirth in the form of full enlightenment and self-awareness.

Temple's Central Tower

Temple’s Central Tower

Buddha Altar

Buddha Altar

Cambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, celestial dancer carving 2 WMWe had three flowers to offer to Buddha, one each: our Cambodian guide Thalay’s (her nickname pronounced Tah-lay, where an “h” is not pronounced in Cambodian unless it’s a double consonant), Jody’s, and mine. Thalay offered hers first at the main altar in the temple, always found under the tallest, most central tower. Hers was a ritual we watched closely to help ensure that we didn’t later offend any of the locals…or more importantly, Buddha! She presented her folded lotus, took and lit incense, dropped to her knees and placed her hands together in the Cambodian sompeyar, a form of greeting and show of respect. In praying to Buddha (or showing respect to the King), the hands are held in front of the forehead while the upper body is bowed. Monks are greeted with hands in front of the face, while a standard show or respect is with the hands over the chest. Basically, the higher the hands, the more reverence shown. This type of prayer is very common to both Thailand and Cambodia, countries of the Therevada tradition of Buddhism. In such traditions, the offering of lotus flowers is commonly supplemented by incense and/or candles.

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, incense offerings WM

Cambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, crumbling tower WMCambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, facial carving WMThe act of offering is called dana – an act of generosity, itself an emotional and physical expression of veneration not just to the Perfectly Enlightened One (Buddha), but also to Buddhism’s Dharma – The Truth – and to all the other lessor but still Noble Enlightened Ones, like the Bodhisattvas. And since flowers are the some of the most beautiful, pure, and untainted creations of the natural world, they are perfect offerings in most any setting. Even when they fade, they often remain at Buddhist altars as a reminder that all things in this life fade as well; as a Buddhist teaching goes, “whatever is of the nature to arise is also of the nature to cease.”

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, lotus flower for Buddha WM

Jody and I placed our offerings at two smaller altars under minor towers to the sides of the main, central tower of the temple complex where Thalay left hers. When we provided our flower, and in return were given freshly lit incense to also place before the Buddha statue, which often are missing their heads, most stolen eons ago since they are much easier to transport than entire solid-stone effigies.

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, lotus flower for Buddha 2 WM

Incense is thought to have a calming effect on the mind, although you must see my blog Serene Sanctuary for quite a different take on the role of incense in Buddhism served up by a head monk himself. In offering incense to Buddha, we are, in essence, offering our own peace of mind. It serves to remind us that we always wish to offer a little bit more patience, calmness, and peace to the world, thereby attaining those qualities for and in ourselves.

Cambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, temple attendant WM

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, incense for Buddha WMOf course not being practicing Buddhists, Jody and I only did what we were comfortable doing. I have and always will respect the worlds’ great religions, but I will admit that I feel much more spiritually centered and less conflicted in a Buddhist setting than I do or have in any other religious setting. In making my offering, I paused to reflect on all that I have to be thankful for, and for all that I still have left to do in my own journey forward towards fuller awakening. In no way do I claim to be on the path of enlightenment. Or on any path to that end. What I will admit is that I remain a student to what spirituality can teach me, and love, unity, and peace in our lives is an obtainable goal worthy of which to strive.

Cambodia 2015, Ta Prohm & Yeay Peau, weather stone and wild flowers WM

In the meantime, however, I continue to swim in the muddy waters to which most of us seem relegated. For me, however, the lotus blossoms at the surface become clearer every single day.

Cambodia 2015, Tonle Bati Ta Prohm, ladies peek WM

 

 

Sources used in this Blog:

http://buddhists.org/buddhist-symbols/the-meaning-of-the-lotus-flower-in-buddhism/

http://www.buddhanet.net/e-learning/history/b_lotus.htm

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offering_(Buddhism)

http://www.lotsawahouse.org/tibetan-masters/dodrupchen-III/offering-flowers

https://essenceofbuddhism.wordpress.com/2013/09/28/why-do-buddhists-give-offerings-to-the-buddha/

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/theravada.html

“Dear Cat-Sitter”


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Cat sitter (black text) and cat owner (blue text) correspondence (both raw and unedited), along with a few musings of the cats (green text) left behind during our recent 9 day vacation to Cambodia….

Day 1

Hello, Kevin san, how are you? I could enter into your house, so I was relieved! ^^; Kurio chan & Mayonaka san are fine. Kurio chan is ok but Naka san is so cautious. But he ate his wet food for me, hide now but he will be better day by day. Kurio chan looks sad but plays fine! So don’t worry! Takeyo

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Takeyo-San, thank you so much! We are in our hotel in Cambodia. Naka will warm to you; Cleo is friendly but aloof. I’m glad she played! Thanks for the pics and update. Cheers, Kevin

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Dear Cat-Sitter, Who the hell is this “Kurio” of which you speak?? Sad? Sad?!? I’ll tell you about sad: the doors to this prison never open and the windows stay closed. I take only the mildest of pleasure in playing “fine,” which serves to mask my own feeble attempts at gaining access to your jugular…and the keys to my freedom. The Little Black One appears so strong as he hides, in stark contrast to my lack of will power when confronted with those damned new toys. I vow to join the kitten in his clear acts of civil disobedience during your next visit. Cleo


Day 2

Dear Kevin san, Cleo chan and Naka san are very fine. Naka san also starts to play. I’m so happy (^_^o) Have a nice trip! Takeyo

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Great! Thanks so much!

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Dear Cat-Sitter, Finally, you got my name right. And as my captor, I must object to you continuing to taunt me with the damaging psychological torture of the little red dot that’s impossible to catch. At least the Little Black One has lowered himself to our level now, giving up his campaign of civil disobedience, so I’m no longer alone. I’m glad someone is “so happy”…. Cleo

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Kevin san, Hi, how are you? We are doing well! Cleo & Naka san are getting used to the situation, and the amount to eat dry food increased. They are very fine! Have a nice day! Takeyo. PS I give to a plant every day, don’t worry about that!

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Dear Cat-Sitter, I object, once again, to the forced rations of tasteless dry cereal, and surely we are to starve with only two rationed meals a day. “The Situation?” No, sorry, “The Situation” is some jack-ass from New Jersey on reality TV. What is happening here is just plain sad. Hey, here’s an idea: let me outside and I’ll take care of the plants for you! Cleo

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Day 3

Hello, Kevin san, They are very fine this morning too! They ate all dry food for me last night, and all wet food this morning too. They are interested in a new toy that I have and excited very much. I wonder whether I can park in the parking #501 while the sitting. Is the # 501 yours? The street is very is crowded very much during the G,W holiday. Thank you. Have a nice day!

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Takeyo, Of course park in 501!! I’m sorry we didn’t talk about parking. Please leave a little more food out for the cats. We always leave a bowl of dry food put in the kitchen. Naka is still growing and very hungry! And thank you for bringing new tots to share with the cats! Thanks, Kevin and Jody

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Dear Cat Sitter, With only two choices of food we starve. This is the only reason we eat for you And the Little Black One is…just plain gluttonous. I continue to regret the mildest of pleasure which I cannot resist given your harassing new playthings. Holiday? It must be “Take Great Pleasure in Cat Confinement” week. Enjoy your rock-star parking in our Beloved Warden’s spot while it lasts. Cleo.

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Day 4

Kevin san, Thank you for an answer about parking. I’m just in your house. Yes, I will add dry food for them when I go out. They are just eating wet food now. Have a good night! Takeyo

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Dear Cat Sitter, Thanks be to our Beloved Warden who cares enough to see that our basic food needs are adequately met. We may survive this week after all. Cleo

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Day 5

Kevin san, Hello, How are you? It was a pretty day today, I think Cleo chan & Naka san spent very comfortable. But they looks miss you, so sweet day by day. Cleo loves brushing and Naka san loves play with a new toy everyday!

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Thank you so much! We miss them back. Keep the updates coming!! Cheers, Kevin and Jody

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Dear Cat Sitter, Pretty day? Oh, the Little Black One and I wouldn’t know anything about that since we remain confined with even our exercise yard privileges revoked. Yes, the Little Black One is much too easily amused. I continue to search for his missing feline pride and integrity…while you brush me. Cleo

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Day 6

Hello! How are you ? We are doing well! They are relaxed very much. Naka san is not shy boy anymore. They love CIAO treat and Sheba, eat well. But I worry that the main food does not decrease very well. Their box (toilet)has no problem. Have a good night! Takeyo.

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Takeyo, Many thanks for the update! They are mainly wet food eaters. As long as they are eating the normal wet food we are okay with that. If you cut back on treats they will eat more dry, but it’s okay to spoil them while we are away! We will be home soon now. Thanks for watching over our furry friends! Cheers, Kevin

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Dear Cat Sitter, As much as I long to lodge prolonged protest with a hunger strike, the Little Black One lacks the will power and intestinal fortitude to see it through. Thanks be again to our Beloved Warden for demanding additional treat rations be distributed! We may be lost and locked away, but not forgotten. Cleo

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Day 7

Kevin san, Thank you for the advices about the food for them. If it is so, they are normal and they are eating the dry food little by little. They have no problem! Naka san attacks to Cleo, then he is scolded by her. He looks like a near state for daily life. It’s a fine day this morning, but a rainy season seems to start Okinawa.

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Takeyo, Hello! Yes Naka wants to play fight, but Cleo has never been like that, even with her brother before he went missing. We tried to stop him, but there’s no way. There is no harm and they get along okay! Thanks, Kevin and Jody

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Dear Cat Sitter, If cats could cry tears the rainy season would’ve started seven days ago. And as far as this “state of daily life,” I remain mystified as to why I am continually subjected to the Little Black One’s bullying and harassment with proper intervention by the authorities. If I wasn’t such a proper and proud maternal dignitary, my scolding would involve a lot more blood. Cleo

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Day 8

Kevin san, How are you? Cleo chan & Naka san are very good! They eat food well and their box has no problem, I’m so happy. Naka san looks for his fevorit toy in my bag and waits it out. Cleo chan also play with toy, goes around, watches outside, and request me to drain the tap water of bathroom. She looks very relaxed. A typhoon aproches to Okinawa, I hope that it go away and you have no problem coming back. If you have any problem please let me know to extend to visit. Cleo chan miss you. She is waiting for you and crying. She is so cute!

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Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, I fear drinking from the same stale stagnant water that the Little Black One enjoys with open abandon. For me, I demand clean fresh untainted liquid nourishment, a basic animal right, confined or not. Cute is a relative term. Cute is me biting off the Little Black One’s ears. Or brining home fresh gecko-meat from the exercise yard. And my crying: crocodile tears. Cleo

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Day 9

Hello Kevin san & Jody san, Cleo chan & Naka san are very fine! They will meet you well tomorrow. The typhoon will come here on 12th or 13th, so I believe you are safe. I am glad that we got used very good friends for these 9 days and they are doing very well. So I miss to say them Good bye tomorrow, but they will be so Happy to see you again! Please be careful on your way to home. Takeyo.

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Takeyo-San, We are at the airport in Cambodia and will be home in just about 14 hours. Thanks so much for taking such good care of our family! Please leave the key where you found it after the morning visit. Thanks again!! Regards, Kevin

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Dear Cat Sitter, Yes, very good friends aside (and this characterization is more than debatable), we will be equally has happy to say goodbye to you and finally be paroled by our Beloved Warden from this infernal confinement, storm or no storm. Cleo

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Day 10

Dear Kevin san, How are you doing? I finished my work just now. I left a key in pacage on the point where you left before, please make sure it. Cleo chan and Naka chan are very fine, so don’t worry! Thank you for the everything! Takeyo

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Dear Cat Sitter, All my bitching (and scolding) aside, on behalf of me and the Little Black One, THANK YOU for everything. Until we meet again. Cleo

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For a truly wonderful pet-sitter on Okinawa, please contact Takeyo Yamamoto at (cell) 080-6495-9365, email at Okinawa-chatan@petsitter.co.jp.  See her company “Pet Sitter SOS” website at http://pet-Okinawa.jp

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