“Old House with Horns”

Friday, 18 December 2009

My old friend Allen jokingly refers to the profile image I use in my face book- a small buddhist stone temple (which to his way of seeing is an “old house with horns”)- as my current look. It’s a smart poke on me at my upcoming birthday. Getting old again, blah blah, edging closer to nirvana or hell. The striking similarity with age and the old house is nowhere near the truth; of course, something I must parry off over beer drinking philosophical discourse, haha.

Actually, the old house with horns is the Wat Sumpo Pram at Bokor Hill Station in Kampot province. Nestled on the 3540 ft peak of Bokor mountain, the buddhist monastery is one of the interesting sights in the area that overlooks the panoramic southern coast of Cambodia. The station was built by the French in the early 1920’s as a reatreat away from Phnom Penh. At present, visitors to the hill station will find the once elegant hotel and casino, a catholic church, former royal residences, and other buildings that are in perpetual state of neglect, a tableaux of eerie experience as they are enshrouded by clouds and fog. Because of its elevation and strategic location, Bokor was fiercely fought over by the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnamese, as noted by one travel blogsite. “The entire mountain area around Bokor has recently been placed under protective status as a National Park by the Cambodian government. This will ensure that the beauty of Bokor (including the magnificent view of the coastline and pristine jungle which serves as habitat for wild elephants, monkeys, and other jungle animals) will not be encroached upon by future development.”

The image of the temple with an old monk in crimson robe walking through is one that stays with me among the hundreds of images that I have seen in various media. The sight of monks especially holds some kind of facination to me, a source of wonder. It is a dimension of reality that seems to play tricks on my mind in that it possesses an absolute sense of mysticism, an aura of forbidding transcience, while in the same breath I am pressed to frame it against the tangible senses of the world.

I guess this partially answers Allen’s seeking for a story behind the “old house with horns”.

Koh Kong, Cambodia


Do they know that it’s Christmas?

Thursday, 17 December 2009

While having lunch with the project staff, it occurred to me that ACPC- my former office back home for a good solid ten years (1990-2000)- is doing its Christmas party today. The sudden thought triggered an onslaught of memories of all those happy parties I had been to. On this occasion each division or work unit in the office presents a talent show in which the best presenters go home with, well, a token prize. I remember at one time, I think in 1998, we bagged the title for a simple loony bit of Carribean theme dance we pulled off on the beach of Caylabne in Cavite. It was at once crazy, funny, and bizarre because our group did a last minute rehearsal in our office in Ortigas, Pasig when everybody had already arrived in the party venue hours before. After we thought we had achieved perfection we hailed a taxi to take us to Cavite. A taxi ride from Pasig to Cavite! We arrived hours after dark and the program was about to start.Yeah, as I mentioned we were the eventual winner… or bummer that evening.

Looking back on those merry times at Christmas, I see the stark contrast of the setting where I am in now. Another December in a remote village of Bhuddist Cambodia, sharing lunch with the Khmers as we talk about work spiced up with jokes, while bubble thoughts about Christmas hover above my head.

Koh Kong, Cambodia


En route to Vientiane, Laos

En route to Vientiane, Laos

Leaving Bangkok the train journeys into
The dark hours heading northeast,
Passing through central Thai provinces
Where the pulse of home and street
Lights blink and fade,
Some stay awake. From my sleeper’s window
I gather whatever remains visible
To the eye through the glass,
Vast universe of darkness:
A cathedral of sky pale
In moonlight sheen, sudden silhouettes
Of hills and mountains coming on past
Some curve tracks in the way of philosophic
Turns at every sea-change, unexpected
And forbidding; intermittent shift
Of light and shadow in serial molding
Of mindscapes crossing over
The terror of beauty and death.

When morning light comes,
We stamp our arrival in the plenitude
Of new stirrings. The fields of Nhong Kai
Awash in intense green, and we inhale
Rarified air through the light silver
Drizzle, the flurry of longings
And intentions brisk in the shuffle
Of feet and conveyances.

With my heavy backpack I emerge
From the train station
Occupied with further moves,
The longer tracks to cover,
The hunger that will take me
Farther and farther, forever
At the point of desperate flights.

13 March 2003
Phnom Penh, Cambodia


Pagsampa sa Bundok Banahaw

Pagsampa sa Bundok Banahaw

Marahil ito na nga ang pusod ng kabanalan,
Ang unang puwesto sa pagtanggap ng kaluwalhatian.
Rumaragasang ilog ng Santa Lucia
Na pinananahan ng mga batong wari’y
Mga peregrinong nangagtipon
Para sa pangwakas na paghuhukom,
Ngayo’y di matigatig sa kanlungan
Ng kasagraduhan at kalikasan.
Ito nga ang pook na malaon ko na ring hinahanap,
Ngunit laging nawawaglit sa kalooban
Dahil na rin sa likaw-likaw na pagbabaybay ng buhay.
Kagabi kahit na winawakwak ng halakhakan
At makamundong kuwentuhan ang katahimikan
Sa Dolores sa piling ng mga bagong kaibigan,
Ang tinig ng ilog na ito ang bumubulong sa akin,
Lumalagaslas sa kanuutnuotan ang aking puso.
Ngayon naisakatuparan na rin ang pagdating.
Pagkatapos magsamo sa birhen, magbasa sa buhos
Ng tubig-bundok, tumawid sa sungki-sungking mga bato,
Ako’y naghunos-dili saglit nang may paruparong dumapo
Sa aking braso, mabilis at kagyat umalis,
Marahil isang tapik ng pagbati, isang mahikang
Pag-aalis ng mga dusa at dalamhati,
Habang umuulan ng liwanag at naglalagas na mga dahon
Mula sa makakapal na puno sa itaas.
Sa aking pagtingala sinasambit kong
Ito na nga marahil, ito na nga…

Published in TOMAS (University of Sto. Tomas; September 2000)



Pinays in Sovanna Baitong

Thursday, 10 December 2009

For three days now I’ve been having  a  good and easy time at being able to experience a “Filipino moment” in Sovanna Baitong village. That’s because of the presence of the two Filipina staff from the head office in Phnom Penh who are on a three-day “mission” in our project site. It surely gives a good feeling whenever some countrymen are around as I am a lone Pinoy in the area; for one thing, I could reclaim and unloose the Tagalog language after a long interval of non-use. It gives me a proper mooring, tosses me back to the native shore.

Mary Anne and Fatima seem to be enjoying somehow the new task they need to accomplish. Far from the comfort of an air-conditioned office and the fun derived from virtual farming in facebook, they tread through the agriculture plots of our village to see for themselves how the families that we brought from the forests five years ago have managed to use the land provided to them by the government for agriculture and sustainable livelihood. This community agriculture development program is one of the successful approaches to biodiversity conservation implemented by Wildlife Alliance (www.wildlifealliance.org) in Cambodia. About two hundred families who used to engage in forest destruction and wildlife hunting and trading in the southern Cardamom mountains have committed themselves to save the environment by active participation in the program; that is, by doing permanent agriculture and small enterprise, and building a progressive community underpinned by strong solidarity of the people, strong local leadership,  and a clear and stable vision of development as an alternative to a life of uncertainty and threats against nature.

Koh Kong, Cambodia


Finally to Nha Trang

Finally to Nha Trang

This night trip on a bus from Ho Chi Minh,
where accommodations are narrow steel beds
(and WC at every designated stops),
rolls down a quirky turn in the passage.
Not alien from every journey I make, I think.
A traveler’s eureka of “same same but different”.

No idea of where we are now. How far still
to Nha Trang. A stop by the roadside for nature’s call.
At daybreak, I’m taking all this in even
in my world-weary years. The mountains near and far,
bushes which we water with piss,
a waft of cool breeze grazing my skin, earth and pebbles
under my sandals, a handful of stars fading, fading…
pinch of light coming intense, spreading across the sky,
all are on a new page of magnificence and strangeness,
burning in the mind, burning, and burning.

24 April 2009
Nha Trang, Vietnam


Last Smoke

Last Smoke
(Hualamphong Railway Station, Bangkok)

The chiaroscuro atmosphere that swirls
About like Van Gogh’s night sky
Looks metastasized
Through the haze of orange light.
Objects and figures are shrouded
In a mist of transitory sphere;
And it seems history is pervasively
Aired out from us.
As I locate my boxcar
I sense life losing its grip,
Pulling away, and I see it
Behind me shatter
In specks of light.
At the same moment a new
One is constituted breath by breath
In the dark spasm of air
Until I reach my berth
And brace myself
For the brave lonely journey
Towards geometric blues.

9 March 2003
Phnom Penh, Cambodia