Tuesday, March 31, 2009

We have moved

I've been neglecting my blog a bit lately because we have just moved. We had been looking for something that involved less of a commute to school and work and a lot of our busy lives (and that we could still afford) almost since we arrived in Phnom Penh and finally we found something that ticks the main boxes.

I will give you an update when my hands are less covered in bleach....

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Elephants at East Mebon

Back down the road towards Angkor Wat is East Mebon. Where once there was a huge expanse of water called the Eastern Baray there are now dry dusty roads, rice planted fields and tall trees hiding an orchestra of crickets currently engaged in full midmorning song. Measuring two kilometres north-south and seven kilometres east-west, this vast, three meter deep, reservoir served to regulate the flow of the river and irrigate the surrounding plain. The baray was enclosed by an earth embankment and East Mebon itself, could once be reached only by boat. Now, with no watery skirt, there stands what looks from the tuk tuk to be a huge stage presided over by life size elephants on each of the four corners. Our tuktuk driver dropped us off to scout around the exposed and very very hot raised temple while he went and slept in the shade...Clever man!

The temple, again like many other temples we had already explored built to symbolise sacred Mount Meru, was at the centre of the baray. The main entry pavilion of the Royal Palace and the Victory Gate of Angkor Thom are thought to have been, subsequently, aligned along this axis.

Once up on the landing you find yourself inside a double walled area with the remains of long buildings close to the outer wall, evident. The use of these edifaces that run continously along the perimeter is unknown but they are thought to have once had a wooden roof.

The second tier, too, has two meter high elephants on each corner and is sufficiently high to mask the true extent of the quincunx of towers and the central temple prasat on the upper tier.

(Looking towards the centre of the temple mount)

The gopuras are set back, double walled and watched over by Khmer lions.

(Looking back towards the outer wall and landing stage)

Several inscriptions found in the vicinity as well as the foundation stele describe the placing of the linga of several gods including Shiva and Parvati 'in the likeness of the mother and the father' and Vishnu with Brahma. Eight linga of the god in eight forms were also said to have been placed in the eight small towers of the surrounding court.

Eight prasats, eight linghams dedicated to the eight aspects of murti; sun, moon, wind, land, water, fire, ethereal space and atman or soul.

This one houses M :).
He didnt realise at the time but apparently the Mebon belongs to a group of temples consecrated to the memory of deified parents.

The five prasats on the upper terrace, like the previous eight prasats, are made of brick and are significantly larger than the lingham houses. Open to the east they each have three false doors boardered by finely carved figures.

All the brickwork appears heavily pitted but hammer marks and very obvious round holes in an intriguingly uniform pattern. It turns out the walls were originally covered with a lime based plaster, similar to our modern stacco, which required this intricate preparation for it to successfully stick.

Like many of the other temples in the Angkor complex this temple is still curently in use albeit in the form of Buddhist worship instead of its intended Hindu tradition.

Five hundred meters south of East Mebon, following the road back to Angkor Wat, is Pre Rup which Cambodians have always regarded as having funerary associations.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Banteay Samre

Last Sunday J was playing golf in Siem Reap. He flew up early Friday morning to get in a day of work before we joined him later that evening. We ended up having dinner at the Victoria (we have stayed here so often now we have our own suite- at least it feels like we do!) by the pool and going to bed early in preparation for an early start the next day.

( This is the room we get each time with a door to an adjoining room just behind the camera-person.)

Despite good intentions and the alarm going off at 6 we didnt get out to the tuktuk until after 8 and it was hot already!

After explaining to the tuktuk driver where in the Angkor Archeological Park we intended to visit we arranged ourselves on the plastic seats of his vehicle and began our day.

We had decided to do the four temples to the east of Angkor Wat beginning with Banteay Samre about 5km through the village of Pradak towards the much further out Bantreay Srei (which would have to wait till another day when we braved the 4 hour plus road trip with the car from Phnom Penh).

Banteay Samre is a small compact temple thought to have been built by Suryavarman II or his successor Yashovarman in the mid 12th century. It is considered to be one of the most significant examples of its period behind the much larger and more famous Angkor Wat. It's name means 'citadel of the Samre' after the people of the same name who lived in the region.

It has been respectfully and extensively reconstructed using a method called anastylosis which involves painstakingly numbering each piece and its components before deconstructing and then reconstructing it like a giant jigsaw puzzle.

Sometimes the carved pieces have been recreated and sometimes simply pieced together. Sadly you can often see where bits, such as a demons head or a particularly expressive part of a lintel storyboard, has been 'harvested' by temple thieves and has probably ended up on someones mantel or been bolted to the outside of a house far away both geographically and culturally from its intended home. Sometimes, as in the picture above, bits have been worn away by the elements and it takes a little guessing or sleuthing to work out what they are. We were amused by this row of little 'heads' that was repeated on many of the building walls and columns. Little halloween pumpkins? Chubby cheeked man-in-the-moon's? After further inspection we thought... lotuses!

These signs are at nearly every temple but even so you often see people wearing sleeveless tops sometimes with plenty of cleavage too. Can you see the little tee shirt in the picture? Come on people, I know its hot but it's not your country, you are guests, these are places of significant religious and spiritual significance and some are still in active use. At least be respectful even if it does result in an unflattering temple tan that starts at the end of your sleeve!

The temple complex at Banteay Samre consists of two double walled enclosures, skinny dark passageways and four small gopuras (gates) facing north, east, south and west separated by a now grassy wider corridor. The inner gopuras are more elaborate and topped with lintels decorated with scenes from the Ramayana and Hindu mythology.

This one has a Hindu god above a fiercesome toothy kala. Scholars think the use of the Khmer inspired kala may have arisen from an earlier period when the skulls of human victims were incorporated into the architecture of the buildings as a protective element.

A scene reminiscent of Durga's great battle with the buffalo demon Mahisha atop the great Mt Meru. The story goes that after every other god had tried to stop Mahisha's destructive rampage, which had already extended across three (of the 9)worlds, Durga confronted Mahisha and threw her arsonal of weapons at him only to watch each one bouncing away with little effect. Finally, frustrated and furious, she dismounted her lion steed and lept onto his back. With her bare feet she kicked at his head and he fell into a senseless heap on the ground. Quickly she raised her trident and plunged it into his heart conquering the unconquerable.

Dont you love a good powerful godess story!

The inner side of the second pair of walls a walkway that circumnavigates the whole area, it's corners framed by naga balustrades. Steps lead down and then back up each of the inner buildings.

You can see the fanned head of the naga just behind the tourist.

Inside the protective walls is a central prasat, the temple, and a series of library buildings their raised platforms lifting them from what was once a monsoon filled moat.

The temple complex would have felt very different its inner sanctums filled with a quiet river of fresh water.

After exploring each building andf taking our fill of photos we made our way back through the series of gopura we had come through to find our tuk tuk driver.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


(from mrlukeharby on flickr)

Sometimes I find my usually optimistic self awake at 3am when the seeping darkness fills my head full of worries and what ifs. I learnt a long time ago not to lie and toss and ponder but to get up find a room where I can read until my eyes feel heavy and my mind begins to quiet. In the morning the worries no longer have the same potency although they are still there, lurking in the depths, fingertips ready to peel back the days activities and creep back into my dreams.

(from jcoyle on flickr)

What do I worry about? The boys of course! Is a mothers mind ever truely still? I am thinking not...

Monday, March 16, 2009

Daily Heroes

'All the women I focus on are for me daily heroes that you dont usually hear about.'

The French installation artist and photographer, JR, is on a mission to bring attention to women whose lives have been marginalised globally and within their own communities.

"I am interested in small fights of anonymous people."

JR's journey has taken him to some of the poorest countries in the world including Sudan, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Kenya and Liberia, where he uses a 28-millimeter wide-angle lens to get an extreme close up resulting in images that truely are windows to the soul.

He finds his subjects by asking women if they have women they admire, finding those women and asking again.

He posts his photos on walls and surfaces in the places these women come from giving the local communities the power over whether the work is shown and how long it stays. Sometimes the walls have new 'owners' and often the work is removed within hours or days.

Uneven crumbling walls, crinkled corrugated iron doors, half demolished buildings of, in this case, a forcably evicted community, the side of a rubbish truck, the collapsed roof in a floating village. The texture and reality of the places giving strength to the emotion and intimacy of the womens stories, their lives.

The works are meant to provoke discussion and usually do but here in Cambodia he found it much more difficult to create discussion among Cambodians many of whom had never had any direct experience of contemporary art before.

Here is JR at work in Africa.

Photos are all from JR's website.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

No talking!

M has taken a vow of silence for 24 hours.

No talking....
No texting.....
No phone calls....
No email....
No instant messaging....
No chat....

The kids at school are all doing it. M LOVES to talk. He LOVES to communicate.

He will be cut off from the horde of friends he has made during our travels and at MUN conferences, who live in different countries, but it is only for 24 hours.

They have chosen to stop speaking to recognise and stand up for children who do not have the right to speak up for themselves. Children including those exploited by armies to act as soldiers, sex slaves and servants, those denied the right to attend school, and those who die from poverty every day. Children M sees everyday at the traffic lights, at the market, at major intersections, outside stores, on construction sites, pulling rubbish carts, at tourist sites and near the river.

Child labour is still widespread in Cambodia according to the report on children's work by the International Labour Organization, UNICEF (United Nations International Children Emergency Fund) and the World Bank; 'Children forced out of school and into labour to help their families make ends meet are denied the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills needed for gainful employments, thereby perpetuating the cycle of poverty.' This is despite Cambodian Labour Law which sets a general minimum working age of 15 years, but allows children aged 12-14 to perform 'light' work that is not 'hazardous to their health' or does not 'interfere with their schooling'. The government claims not to have the resources to enforce these laws. The proportion of working children has decreased slightly over the past few years, but still over 50 percent of 7-14 year olds in Cambodia are engaged in economic activities, a number that is very high compared to other countries with similar levels of income, according to the report.

Cambodia also has one of the highest rates of child trafficking in the world. According to Mu Soc Hua Cambodia’s minister of women's affairs an estimated 30 000 children are trafficked a year both domestically and across international boarders. It is considered a hub, somewhere it is easy to find children and cheap to buy them, poor and relatively lawless. trafficking is the worst form of child labour. Trafficked children are particularly vulnerable. They have been separated from their families and communities often isolated in another country or region they do not know. They probably can not speak the language, can not get help and even if they did know where they were, have no way of getting home. Isolated in this way, they are commonly the victims of abuse and at the mercy of their employers or the people who are controlling their lives. They risk sexual aggression, starvation, loss of liberty, beatings and other forms of violence. Cambodian children (and adults) are trafficked for the commercial sex trade, as couriers in the drug trade, to work in factories, agriculture, as domestic maids and into begging rings in neighbouring countries.

'Free the children' was started in 1995 by the Kielburger brothers, who, at 12 years of age, decided they could make a difference. It's primary goals are to free children from poverty and exploitation and to free young people from the notion that they are powerless and to affect positive change in the world through empowerment, education and leadership programs and a partnering up of children in the developed world with those in the developing world. It is now the world's largest network of children helping children through education, involves more than 1 million young people in 45 different countries and now works in partnership with the United Nations. It has received the World’s Children’s Prize for the Rights of the Child (the Nobel Peace prize for Children) and been nominated for the Nobel Peace prize 3 times.

It is a child led revolution.

On the river

A couple of weekends ago after an saturday afternoon workshop J hired a boat (for the princely sum of 12USD an hour) for a couple of hours.

Just as it was getting dark the wooden two storey vessel was loaded up with food, drink, music and about 50 excited people and we set off down the murky waters of the great Tonle Sap around the bend and up the equally shadowy waters of the mighty Mekong.

It was cool and breezy on the water and nice to have a different perspective of Phnom Penh- from the river. As the sun began to set the lights of the city danced onshore like little fairies.

Things began quietly as people unwound but soon the alcohol began to flow and once quiet subdued personalities became talkative, animated and gregarious.

On the way back the music was turned up and inside the open cabin the dancing began.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Men use only 7 000 words a day while women use 20 000.

( picture from subcomondata on flickr)

The 8th of March was International Womens day which is marked by a public holiday in Cambodia.

Why do we still need Womens Day?

Because 70% of the world's 1.2 billion people living in poverty are women.
Because 1 in 3 women are surviviors of gender based violence.
Because 2/3 of the 110 million children not in school world wide are girls.
Because 90% of sweat shop workers are women.
Because many women around the world are still considered property of men.
Because women own only 1% of the worlds land.
Because 80% of the world's 27 million refugees are women.
Because women do two-thirds of the world's work but receive only 10% of the world's income.
Because one year out of college women earn 20% less than men and 10 years later 31% less.

Because even in the developed world gender equality is still a long way off...

(Is that Joanna Lumleys voice I hear?)
This year the theme is violence against women.

Coincidentally the next day, the 9th of March, is the 50th birthday of a persistantly youthful, fashion icon, Barbie Millicent Roberts from Willows Wisconsin.

At only 11.5 inches tall you wouldn't have thought she'd ever make it on the catwalk but she has held her position as a style muse to more than 70 designers from Baby Phat to Vera Wang, Gucci to Calvin Klein, Versace to Donna Karan, Prada to Dior. According to Barbies official website Barbie has had an estimated 1 billion outfits designed for her out of 105 million yards of fabric making Mattel one of the worlds largest clothing manufacturers.

The first ever barbie commercial

And now New Zealands very own Karen Walker (who's designs have graced the bodies of Madonna, Kate Hudson, Claire Danes, Bjork, Claudia Schiffer and Cate Blanchett) has designed a range.

(picture from stuff.co.nz)

Walker remodeled some of her key looks from her new Autumn range, which debuted at New York fashion week in February, including this brown twist front dress...

...a powder blue peacock print frock in silk crepe...

...a similar print in browns with long puffed mutton sleeves...

... a tailored beige pant and black leather jacket ensemble with ubiquitous check shirt...

... and a steel blue woollen dress....

For more of Karen Walkers Autumn range you can go to http://features.elleuk.com/fashion_week/134-5-Karen-Walker-autumn-winter-2009.html

My person favourites from the range are....

...although I don't really have cause to wear Autumn clothing much any more!

I think the designs looked better on the catwalk. What do you think?