Breaking out of the blogging doldrums

I feel like this from time to time; perhaps several times a year. It can be difficult to get out of this funk when all I want to do is just laze around the house.

I  was excited when Postcrossing published an interview featuring the creator of Lali cards. I was compelled out of my doldrums to blog about it because — Lali cards.

You see, I never owned any Lali card but I’m such a big fan! Which is a shame, to be honest. I want them but couldn’t get them anywhere here in Phnom Penh or other Asian countries.  Apparently, Lali cards are only available in certain European countries. *insert a sad face here*

Don’t know what a Lali card is? Well, you must have been living under a rock! Lali card designs are like normal cards only that it has riddles on them. The designs are playful, vibrant, whimsical and appeal to people of all ages. As I’ve said, every card  has a riddle written in front that needs to be solved. They’re in French but they’re a lot of fun even for non-French speakers like me. Every card design has fantastic details – I can only hope to draw like this!

Postcrossing has done a wonderful feature about Lali.It was nice getting to know the person behind these most-desired cards in their Postcrossing profiles. Hers is a story of heart, passion, and of course, hard work. How wonderful it was to read about her beginnings,  an affirmation that dreams do come true. That is, through hard work, perseverance, a burning passion, and a little dash of luck, too. Such an inspiration to girls and boys out there who are nurturing similar dreams.

To mark this occasion, Lali and Postcrossing joined together to give a chance to Postcrossing members to win – not one – but a whole set of Lali cards! How great was that? Of course, I had to join. I felt that lady luck was whispering in my ear so I dropped my name and comment there. I felt so giddy at the little voice in my head telling me that it would be awesome to win the Lali cards of my dreams.

And here’s an update:

Two weeks or so passed after that,  I opened an email from Postcrossing and — lo and behold! I read the most pleasant news evah! Ana told me that I was among the three Postcrossing members who have won the Lali cards giveaway. I was so happy I almost did cartwheels if not for my pet dogs blocking  my way, lol.

So just to humble-brag a bit, let me show you my  precious Lali cards.

My precious Lali cards! Some of them are going to be sent to dear family and friends :)
My precious Lali cards! Some of them are going to be sent to dear family and friends :)

I also have to mention the lovely handwritten note from the Postcrossing team :) Thank you, Postcrossing! Thank you, Lali!

#A to Z Challenge: Khmer New Year

AtoZ April2015Challenge

K is for the Khmer New Year!

Thevada
Thevadas (Cambodian angels) ushering the New Year of the Goat.

Yes, you read it correctly – this is the third time we are celebrating the new year! The whole Kingdom of Cambodia, as well as Thailand, Laos, Myanmar and other Buddhist countries are celebrating the new year. It is the third time this year that we are celebrating the new year – first was in January 1 (International New Year), followed by another celebration in February 19 (Chinese New Year). Here, and in other Buddhist countries mentioned above, the new year is based on astrological calculations. When the old year ends and the new year begins, is also based on these calculations.

Khmer New Year celebration cartoon by Chhoy D. Archi on FB
Khmer New Year celebration illustration by Chhoy D. Archi, nicked from a friend’s FB wall.
Buddhist wats (temples) are adorned with colourful flags and banners to celebrate the new year.
Buddhist wats (temples) are adorned with colourful flags and banners to celebrate the new year.

In Cambodia, the three-day celebration begins tomorrow, April 14. The first day of the new year is called the Maha Sangkran and, according to Cambodian beliefs, it is the time when new Thevadas, or angels, come down to earth to replace the old ones in watching over the earth. The second day is called the Vanabot, or the day when Cambodians go to the wats or temples, offer charity and give alms to the poor to gain merit. The third day is called Leung Sakk, when Cambodians wash images of the Lord Buddha with scented water.

Khmer New Year holiday rush 2009
Khmer New Year holiday rush 2009

Almost all of the population in Phnom Penh have already gone home to their provinces, as is the tradition, to be with their loved ones and relatives. As expected, taxi and bus fares hiked up to three times the normal price. Still, this didn’t faze travelers as hundreds of taxis and buses packed with excited passengers left Phnom Penh starting last week. I think Filipinos and Cambodians share the same anticipation and excitement, of going home and being with the family for the holidays.

Cambodian traditions
My landlady prepares her family’s offerings to their ancestors to welcome the New Year (2009).

It is a welcome change here in Phnom Penh where the usually busy streets will be quiet and still. But days before the KNY, it was pure madness as almost, if not all, locals descend upon markets to shop enough food stuff to last the celebration period as well as presents to family and relatives. Markets were teeming with shoppers spilling out to the pavements. Imagine how the traffic was like?

Expats, like us, who opted not to go away for the holiday will enjoy the empty, quiet streets of the city. No traffic! It is going to be a great time, really, to be able to ride my bicycle around the city without having to fear about reckless drivers. On the other hand, in the towns, I can imagine the merrymaking and revelry. The Khmer New Year, after all, it is the biggest and the happiest holidays in the Cambodian calendar. There will be lots of food, drinking, and, of course, dancing, too! So expect loud Khmer karaoke clashing in the airwaves as well as lots of traditional games played from today till Thursday, night and day.Oh, and don’t forget the water fights – banned in the city but still a traditional practiced in the towns :)

#A to Z Challenge: Independence Monument

AtoZ April2015Challenge

I is for the Independence Monument! In Khmer language, it is called the Vimean Eikareach.

Independence Monument, Phnom Penh
This is the Vimean Eikareach, or the Independence Monument, an obra of Mr. Van Molyvann who is Cambodia’s most influential modern architect. Built in 1958 to commemorate those who died during the wars and Cambodia’s independence from France.

The Vimean Eikarech monument is located right smack in the city centre, on the intersection of Norodom and Sihanouk Boulevards. It’s a reddish-brown monument that’s in the form of a lotus-shaped stupa, a style or design that is seen in the temples of Angkor and other historical sites. There is a pedestal in the middle where a ceremonial flame is lit by a royal or high official during important occasions.

From afar, it looks like a giant fireplace. At night, it is beautifully lit and locals stop to enjoy the light show for a moment.  Also, in the above postcard, take note of the tuktuk (left) and the moto-dop, or a moto-taxi (right), in the foreground. They are two of the common modes of transportation here in the Kingdom.

APAD 004 Independence Monument
This photo was taken from my photo blog, Inside Cambodia.

Norodom Boulevard is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the city and it is a rare treat to be able to take a photo of the monument (above) with only a few vehicles coming and going.

#A to Z Challenge: Heavenly bodies on stamps

AtoZ April2015Challenge

H is for heavenly bodies !

I have always been fascinated with heavenly bodies and the stories different cultures all over the world have about the night sky. They teach us about our history, geography, astronomy, the origins or the beginnings of our world, and our race. I have observed in many folk tales, we discover how we, humans, struggle to find our place in the universe and in the world we live in.

Here are two of my favourite stamps:

Botswana's Sky at Night: The Moon and the women of Setsana.
Botswana’s Sky at Night: The Moon and the women of Setsana.

References to the moon are ubiquitous in local cultures. This stamp depicts a Setswana group of women who, it is said, bring a gentle light to the home, unlike the oppressive heat of the sun. The lunar waxing and waning also coincides with monthly fortunes, the waxing moon being U-shaped, carries problems and diseases, whereas the waning moon spills theses misfortunes on the people. Here the moon is accompanied by the recent concatenation with Jupiter and Venus. “Maphatlalatsane”, the brightest celestial object after the sun and moon. (Source)

This is the complete set of Botswana’s Sky Night series issued in 2009:

From left to right: The Southern Cross and four giraffes; the meteorite and shamans shooting arrows; the solar eclipse and the magical lions; and lastly, the moon with a group of Setsana women.
From left to right: The Southern Cross and four giraffes; the meteorite and shamans shooting arrows; the solar eclipse and the magical lions; and lastly, the moon with a group of Setsana women.

The second one came from Finland, a beautiful black and white Europa-themed stamp:

europa-astronomy-stamp

The year 2009 was declared as the International Year of Astronomy. The theme year was endorsed by the UN and organised by the International Astronomical Union, with the slogan, The Universe – Yours to Discover. Here’s the complete set of stamps depicting a fantasy landscape with lakes and different heavenly bodies.

Imaged nicked off GoogleImages.
Imaged nicked off GoogleImages.

The stamp on the left bears a comet on its left side, accompanied by a lunar eclipse. The large planet shown on the stamp on the right is Saturn. I like Saturn the most because it looks more than just a lump of rock. It is amazing to see these heavenly bodies above us and with the help of modern technology, we can also see those that are in the far, far side of the universe. Imagine a starry night, or a moon-lit night, one can’t help but wonder about life and the vastness of the universe. It never fails to give me shivers, in a positive kind of way. Now, imagine seeing them up close!

A to Z Challenge: Girl on a thrift-hunt

AtoZ April2015Challenge

G is for a Girl-on-a-thrift-hunt!

Yes, that’s me. I’m just an ordinary girl who’s on the look out for a good bargain. I descend upon the many thrift-shops and garage sales from time to time. I love it so much! Why? Because it saves me money on a whole lotta things.

Here are some of my finds:

Noritake-salad-plates
Noritake salad plates with a cheerful floral design.
Vilbofourquichedish
Villeroy & Boch Amapola quiche dish, for only $3.

 

rugmakingyarnsandneedle

There are lots of thrift shops in Phnom Penh nowadays, especially those coming from Japan. Plus, Cambodia has a big expat community and there is always an organisation holding a garage sale as a fundraising activity for charity, or a leaving expat community. So there is really no shortage. It is not a surprise that young Cambodians have now developed a liking for secondhand clothings and are flocking the many thrift-shops around Phnom Penh.

I used to be a regular shopper, you know, buying stuff in a department store or a mall but after reading about ways of saving the environment (secondhand stuff do not come with excessive packaging anymore) plus, in this economic situation, garage sales, thrift shops and red tags are the best way to stretch your dollars.

How about you?

#A to Z Challenge: Finished!

AtoZ April2015Challenge

F is for finished!

No, not the A to Z blogging challenge. I’m referring to the letters and postcards that needed writing.

I’ve put it off for weeks now as I wasn’t feeling the mojo. But last Sunday, the weather was great – the sun was shining, there was a lovely breeze and no karaoke singing in my neighbourhood (this rarely happens!). It was a perfect setting for letter and postcard writing, and finish my half-done handmade cards and envelopes.

So last Sunday, this happened.

Made some mess.
Made some mess.

Some of the postcards:

Calligraphy added a lovely personal touch to the postcards :)
Calligraphy added a lovely personal touch to the postcards :)

And here two of the finished handmade cards:

Simple folded cards with Mehndi design and calligraphy.  I used Pentel poster colours, in gold and white, as ink and black card stock.
Simple folded cards with Mehndi design and calligraphy. I used Pentel poster colours, in gold and white, as ink and black card stock.

#A to Z Challenge: Endearing Elephant

AtoZ April2015Challenge

E is for Elephant. Today I’m going to introduce you to one of the lovable and enduring figures for locals as well as visiting tourists in Phnom Penh.

Friends, this is, Sambo. Ermm, just a back-view, lol.

Sambo the Elephant
Photo taken from my Photo blog, 2013.

Sambo’s touching story is known to most Phnom Penhois and one that could be made into a Hollywood movie. Her siblings (yes she is female) were killed by the Khmer Rouge when she was young. A nine-year old boy took care of her but were separated during the civil war. After the end of the war, they were reunited and were inseparable since then.

The Story of Sambo starts all the way back in the 1970’s when he was split up from his owners during the civil war and Khmer Rouge takeover and Sin Son. the boy who had raised Sambo had feared him to have perished along with so many others until after surviving the brutal Pol Pot regime he returned to his old village to find his only remaining neighbor who informed that Sambo had survived the Killing Fields but was now across the other side of Cambodia.

Sambo the Elephant was a legendary figure  in Phnom Penh.
Sambo the Elephant was a legendary figure in Phnom Penh.

I first met Sambo in 2009. That was the time when she and her mahout works in the city with Sambo carrying tourists and locals on her back for a short walk around Wat Phnom, to the detriment of her health. And, between 4-5pm everyday, Sambo and her mahout are seen walking along Sisowath Quay as they head home. While I wasn’t really keen on getting a ride on poor Sambo, I had the opportunity to see him up close one afternoon. I was waiting for a tuk-tuk when I spotted her ambling along the riverside. She stopped at La Croisette, just a few meters across me, and patiently waited for treats from the restaurant employees, customers and bystanders. She returned the kind gesture by entertaining them.

After years of carrying tourisnts on her back, Sambo, with the support of several wildlife conservation organisations and government departments, finally retired in November last year and resettled in the Elephant Valley in Mondulkiri province. An elaborate Buddhist ceremony was held in celebration of her retirement and locals and tourists joined to send Sambo off.

#A to Z Challenge: Dogs

AtoZ April2015Challenge

D is for Dogs.

In my years of living here in Cambodia, one of the things that keep homesickness away are my dogs. I have three – Maxx, Joe, and Red. Aren’t they cute?

Maxx, 9 yrs. old.
Maxx, 9 yrs. old.
Joe, 5 yrs old.
Joe, 5 yrs old.
red and his bike
Red, nearly 1 yr. old.

 

Since my husband and I do not have kids yet, our pet dogs keep us on our toes. The first two, Maxx and Joe, were bought at a local pet shop here. Red, on the other hand, is an offspring of Joe from a summer fling last year. All three dogs were properly vaccinated and trained. They are well-behaved dogs, not picky eaters and they keep us company – and a great one at that – whenever I or my husband is away on a trip. The love their morning walks, ball chases, belly-rubs, and always get excited with their treats.

One dilemma we face every holiday is that, for the past three years, we have avoided going away as we do not have anyone to mind the dogs. Good thing there are now kennel facilities, or pet-sitting services, in the city.

#A to Z Challenge: Creating Calligraphy

AtoZ April2015Challenge

C is for the beautiful art of Calligraphy.

Last year, I was contemplating on sending handmade cards to family and friends. I was browsing through the Internet to find some inspiration when I suddenly came across a simple yet beautiful design. It only had a drawing of a Christmas tree in watercolour accompanied by an elegant calligraphy. Oh, I fell in love with the swirls and flourishes that just scream beautiful! The lettering geek in me got envious and prompted me to teach myself how to write like that.

I bought stuff (online) to begin writing practices. To my utter horror, I feared somebody would throw rocks at me once they see my first attempts! I think the use of computer has changed my handwriting into its deteriorated state now. So I practiced more and more. I was delighted to discover a treasure trove of tutorials and free downloadable practice sheets over the Internet. Thank you, generous people! That – and a good friend who’s learning calligraphy on her own – inspired me to go on. I practice writing an hour in the morning and another in the afternoon, and one more hour before I go to bed, for weeks. If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what that is.

After so many wasted paper and spilled ink, I think my hard work is paying off – I am seeing improvements!

Creating calligraphy
Ready to practice. These are the basic tools - dip pen, ink and dotted pad.
Creating calligraphy
Daily drills.
Creating calligraphy
Getting bolder every day. Here I used mixed gouache paints as ink for the henna-ish effect.
Creating calligraphy
Getting bolder every day. Writing spiral text with mixed gouache paints.
Creating calligraphy
Getting bolder every day. Silver poster colour as ink and written on a black card stock.
Creating calligraphy
Getting bolder every day. Silver poster colour as ink and written on a black card stock.
Creating calligraphy
Getting bolder every day. A birthday card I made for a friend, with a simple calligraphy and flowers.

I am still far from being an expert, I know that, but practicing calligraphy is very therapeutic and relaxing. I’m going to hone further my skills, and think of other ways where I can incorporate calligraphy into my snail mail hobby. While I do not expect to have any wedding commissions to deal with or make money out of this, I think calligraphy is a lovely, personal touch to handmade cards for any occasion. And boy, oh boy, it feels really good when you create something by hand. What was the last thing you made by hand?

#A to Z Challenge: Bokator battle

AtoZ April2015Challenge

A bit of action for today’s post.

B is for Bokator, Cambodia’s ancient and mysterious martial art that includes weapon techniques. It is believed to be created more than 2,000 years ago making it, according to some, possibly the oldest existing fighting system in Cambodia and may be the predecessor of Southeast Asian kickboxing styles. Many Khmers also believe that the bas-reliefs carved on the walls of Angkor Wat temple prove that the origin of Khmer Boxing predates Muay Thai.

Bokator, Cambodia's martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.
Bokator, Cambodia’s martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.
Bokator, Cambodia's martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.
Bokator, Cambodia’s martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.

Bokator, or more formally Labokkatao, translates as “pounding a lion”: “bok“, to pound and “tor“, a lion.

This martial art has techniques that mimics animal movements while incorporating diverse kicks, knee-kicks, punches, elbow smashes, ground fighting, and many others, into its attacking postures. When fighting, the Bokator practitioners still wear symbols of the uniform of the ancient Khmer army. A krama (scarf) is tied around their waste and magic sangvar (silk cords) are tied around their heads and biceps for increased power and stamina. Ropes are also tied around their hands and wrists. The kramas also show the fighter’s level of expertise, very much like the belts used in most martial arts. White, green, blue, red, brown (lower levels) to black. The highest is the gold krama which is awarded to a grand master.

Bokator, Cambodia's martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.
Bokator, Cambodia’s martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.

However, during the dark days of the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot, Bokator was almost lost as practitioners were sort out and exterminated along with other educated Cambodians, as they were perceived to be a threat to the society. However, Bokator is enjoying a revival these days.  San Kim Sean, the grandmaster of Bokator, survived the genocide and fled to the US where he settled for many years. But because he love his country so much and he had a burning passion to revive the Bokator, he returned to Cambodia in 2001.

Bokator, Cambodia's martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.
Bokator, Cambodia’s martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.
Bokator, Cambodia’s martial art. Photo published with permission from my brother, JEDA.

There was a renewed interest in reviving Cambodian culture after years of a repressive regime and San Kim Sean found followers of Bokator, young and not so young as well. Even foreigners sought him to learn this ancient martial art. It has gained a lot of popularity since then and there are a lot of Bokator Clubs all over the country. These days, too, there are national and international Bokator tournaments held in the country and they are televised on national TV. It is a beautiful and exciting martial art, albeit it looks brutal to most, as any other martial arts there is. I have never seen a tournament yet so I’m keeping my fingers crossed to see a live match soon, and not on TV.