Saturday, July 16

Like Kipling in Burma

At the mention of Yangon, the mind wanders to a land once called Burma. It sees golden temple spires reaching up to the skies and monks in saffron taking alms. The Lady appears as well, in a corner, with fresh flowers in her hair. 

And then there's Bagan. An ancient land untouched by time, Land of a Thousand Temples, shrouded in mist on the early morning when we got off the sleeper bus. Shivering in the cold -- surrounded by taxi drivers offering rates that are too good to be true -- we waited for our guide. 

A photo posted by esther c. (@checrys) on

Shwesantaw was already crowded when we reached. Everyone wanted a glimpse of the mythical Bagan sunrise, even when it was 19°C. The wait was excruciatingly long, especially when we had only a scarf to share. 

And then it happened.

A photo posted by esther c. (@checrys) on

The sun rose. The mist dissipated, almost languidly. A million temples appeared on the plains: hidden behind trees, perched on top of hills. 

You asked yourself if beauty exists only on a dimension parallel to ours, and if you're in that dimension now. Perhaps these holy ruins are entrances to another realm, for mankind is incapable of making such beauties. Legends could stem from scenes like these. 

A photo posted by esther c. (@checrys) on

Time didn't seem to exist as we traversed the landscape. A 3G-fuelled phone and an e-bike were the means that guided us around this ancient place. There were places where all the eye could see was an endless sea of brown trees and sand. Other places, temples were as common as wooden shacks in a village. 


How suddenly the people left this place, disappeared in time. Only the Irrawaddy River knows the full history, but it will never tell. 

A photo posted by esther c. (@checrys) on

Like waking up from a dream, gasping for breath -- no longer the cold, dry Burmese air -- Bagan retreated from reality into memory. Even in memories, the rustling of leaves on the Bagan plains sounds muffled, retreated into the mists. 

Kipling was on the road to Mandalay; we might have treaded the same path. 

Sunday, April 3

Maybe, Just Maybe, We Should All Expect To Be Ghosted.

The prospect of being ghosted is like the boogeyman in your closet: you're not entirely sure if it's in there, but you know there's a possibility that it exists, and it won't give you a warning before it attacks. 

It just appears. 

Similar to ghosting: it's not about whether they are harbouring the thought of cutting all contact with you; it's when they actually do it, and you won't see it coming. It just happens. 

Sometimes, you won't even know you've been ghosted until a few days or weeks later. 

Credit: Favim

It dawns on you slowly. He's busy, she's out with friends. The message has been read, but there's not reply yet. You wait. A day later, no news. You've grown so used to talking to someone on a daily, and even hourly, basis that you're not used to falling back to an afternoon of phone silence.

Another day goes by. Maybe they're out of town, or they lost their phones. Should you text to see if it goes through? Or does that make you look obsessed?

Yet another day. You find the best way to phrase a short sentence just to check on them. Nothing too clingy, of course. The most casual ways of saying 'hi, are you still there?' are usually wordless. You send a link, a funny photo, or just an emoji.

Message sent. Message read. No reply. Your confirmation.

We now have a fancy way of describing this phenomenon: ghosting. While many think it's new, it probably has been happening even before Marie Antoinette's time. It's inevitable. Communication indicates a willingness to stay in touch, to be close to one another. The absence of it implies 'I don't want to be with you anymore'. 

Credit: Gracenote27

There must have been at least a million of unreturned letters through the ages, thousands of unreturned phone calls, trillions of unreplied texts. We feel cheated and abandoned. We feel like they at least owe us an explanation, a statement that clearly states the truth that we might not actually want to know:

"I'm not interested in continuing this relationship anymore."

Be it a Tinder match or an actual relationship, they say this is the most irresponsible way to end things. But what makes us think that we're entitled to this explanation, especially when we're actually not even... anything?

By the very fact that we're humans, with feelings? Those who ghosted us perhaps too have the right to not say what they don't want to say. Or in a more apt way, not say anything because they have nothing to say. Perhaps it's the best way to end things, because it's the cruellest way to end things. 

Credits: Favim

So perhaps we should expect to be ghosted, as pessimistic and insulting as it sounds. In a world where everything has an end, some form of buffer should be installed to help us bounce back up. It seems that we'll be forever bound to the arrival of the postman and our phones, waiting for something that might one day stop. 

Sunday, November 15

Amidst Angkorian Ruins

I've always been fascinated by ancient ruins. It's a sentimental thing, really. I like walking around ancient ruins, thinking about the hands that built the monuments, the feet that once stepped on those very grounds, and try to imagine the untold stories of the owners of those feet.

Beng Melea temple

Temple-goers, novice monks, travelling hermits; nobilities, palace guards, servants of the royal households. Everybody's life story is worth telling, and I wonder what secrets these otherwise forgotten people once kept. It doesn't have to be a fantastic story, with clandestine meetings, political assassinations swept under the carpet, secret love affairs, and dark desires. I'm intrigued even by the simplest bildungsroman. 

It has everything to do with my obsession with existence. I hate to be forgotten, to have my existence wiped off with time. 

Girl with lotus flower in Banteay Srei temple

We landed in Siem Reap International Airport early in the a.m. and hopped onto the tuk tuk sent by the hostel. The Cambodian air was crisp, the weather lovely despite it being the height of the dry season. We stayed in Golden Temple Villa, a hostel which provides the services of a 5-star hotel at the price of an inexpensive youth hostel. The hostel was recommended by my fellow travel buddy, Reuben Teo

Credit: Tripadvisor

You can get a private double room with ensuite bathroom for USD27 per night. It comes with free airport transfer, welcome drink (which was terribly refreshing and good. We even ordered it again the next day after exploring temples in Phnom Kulen), complimentary 1-hour massage, coffee or tea and bananas throughout the day, wifi, and 2 bottles of mineral water daily. 

Besides being really friendly and helpful, the staff actually take the trouble to remember their guests. We were pleasantly surprised when they recognised even the water bottles we're carrying, and returned it to our room when we accidentally left one of them in the hostel's restaurant. 

Food served in the hostel's restaurant was really good, be it Western or local. For USD4 you can get a breakfast set that includes eggs (any style), sausages, grilled tomato, yogurt with fruits, and a cup of coffee or tea. You may also opt for a local breakfast of simple grilled chicken with steaming hot rice, served with coffee or tea as well, at only USD2. 

The hostel also offers transport packages to Angkor, via tuk tuk or sedan car. Prices vary depending on the locations chosen and the mode of transport. We paid USD15 for transport to the major temples in the Angkor Archaeological Park, covering Ta Prohm, Angkor Thom gates, Bayon, Baphuon, Angkor Wat, Prasat Kravan, Ta Keo, and Sras Srang). This is excluding the entrance fee to the park, rates differ according to the different packages. 

Ta Prohm temple



Angkor Wat

It was my second time visiting the Angkor Archaeological Park. The bas-reliefs in Angkor Wat had left a deep impression on me 5 years ago when I first went to Angkor Wat. A personal favourite is the Churning of the Ocean of Milk, which showed the devas and asuras working together to extract Amrita, the nectar of immortality. 

There's a kind of majestic aura to it, especially when you're walking on the causeway towards the central temple structure, flanked with Naga balustrades. Ruins, scarred with the occasional bullet holes from the civil war, but what opulence and grandeur it exudes. It remains one of the grandest reminder of the once golden Angkorian empire it represents. 

The many faces of Bayon

Some find the thousand faces of Bayon eerie and unsettling. An interesting irony, since these are the faces of a boddhisatva. Alone he is serene, in hundreds he is like Big Brother (we were reading Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four during the trip, hence the reference). 

x x x x x

We hired a private driver and guide, Kimleng Sang (a friend of Reuben's), for a day trip to Banteay Srei, Phnom Kulen, and Beng Melea. It cost us USD235 for the whole trip, inclusive of petrol, parking, entrance fees (Phnom Kulen National Park is not part of the Angkor National Park, hence you'll need to purchase a different set of tickets for this), and bottled mineral water. Kimleng is very well-versed with the history of Angkorian temples. He's also a professional photographer, and always happy to point out the good shots. He even gave us a brief photography tutorial with his DSLR throughout the trip.

Banteay Srei temple

The intricacies of carvings will delight any artist, designer, and photographer. A very breathtaking site, looking at dancing apsaras in their resplendent garments, with their beautifully carved belts and rich jewellery. The story of Rama and Ravana was also meticulously recorded in Banteay Srei: from the abduction of Sita to Ravana's final defeat. It's time I start reading the Ramayana and Mahabharata. 

Kimleng also told us an amusing story of how a certain French man tried to steal part of a bas-relief from Banteay Srei without success, and ended up as the Minister of Cultural Affairs in France later in life. Where do you find that kind of determination and confidence nowadays? Oh well. 

Kbal Spean: River of a Thousand Lingas

If you've read the Kama Sutra (which, I assure you, is not as scandalous as popular belief) and are as immature as I am, you'll have to try your best to hide that childish urge to laugh when you're at the River of a Thousand Lingas. The carvings are said to be at least a century older than the temples at Angkor Wat. 

Though some say it's best viewed when the river is dried up, I think the site more beautiful with a shallow river. And if you're lucky, you'll manage to see glimpses of carvings depicting Vishnu and Lakshmi on the river bed. 

Vishnu and Lakhsmi

Water current contributes to the natural erosion of these ancient carvings, which is actually really sad considering that the carvings were purposely commissioned to acknowledge the sacredness of this river, only to be gnawed away by the very waters they pay tribute to. We didn't manage to explore the river bed extensively, missing out on the famous waterfall carving of Vishnu and Lakshmi. 

We headed to Preah Ang Thom after that, a temple that houses a huge statue of a reclining Buddha carved out of a stone boulder on the mountain itself. According to Kimleng, the statue used to have diamonds for its eyes, which were unfortunately stolen. 

Entrance to Preah Ang Thom temple

Expect it to be crowded as it's a popular pilgrimage spot for Buddhist devotees in Cambodia. Near the steps of the temple is also a little fenced area, where you'll see the footprints of Buddha imprinted on the stone ground. Monks can be seen blessing devotees and chanting prayers in the temple compound. The mountain is thought to be sacred, so is the temple, you'll need to remove your shoes before stepping into the compound as a gesture of respect. 

Reclining Buddha in Preah Ang Thom

Speaking of which, I personally feel that it is very important for tourists to be respectful at religious sites. It is appalling to see some tourists walking around temple ruins in bra tops, cropped tops, micro-mini shorts, and sometimes even topless. As much as you would like to criticise the Asians as being overly conservative, it doesn't hurt to show a bit of respect to their culture and religion. As the saying goes, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. As much as the heat is suffocating, what makes you think the locals aren't sweating just as much as you are? 

x x x x x

The waterfall at Phnom Kulen is a great place for a short respite from the unforgiving Cambodian mid-day sun. It's also a popular holiday spot for the locals, many of them renting the gazebos nearby for a big family picnic. The local children are nimble, and like children around the world, fearless. They would climb up the slippery rocks and dive, performing impressive mid-air somersaults. 

Phnom Kulen waterfall

There are clothes for rent if you're itching for a dip in the cool waters but forgot to bring extra clothing. Feel free to haggle, I managed to rent a simple blouse for 2,000 riel (about USD0.50). The water is clear, you can see fishes swimming around your legs, which made me even more paranoid about accidentally stepping on fishes. 

x x x x x

I used to regard Bayon as my favourite temple, until Kimleng brought us to Beng Melea. While Ta Prohm enjoys its fame as 'Tomb Raider temple', Beng Melea is affectionately known as the 'Jungle temple'. However, do enquire further when tuk tuk and taxi drivers offer to bring you to the 'Jungle temple' as they could sometimes mean Ta Prohm as well. Like Phnom Kulen, Beng Melea is another park all by itself, so you'll need to pay an entrance fee of USD5 to enter.

One of the ruined gates of Beng Melea temple

Beng Melea seemed to be consumed by the jungle and its own ruins, the latter being yet another legacy of the civil war. It seemed like one of those ruins that you could only look from the outside, what with the entrance being buried in piles of large stone bricks. We followed Kimleng's queue and climbed up the walls to peer inside the temple. It felt very much like a real life Temple Run game, us treading precariously on fallen stones. 

And then Kimleng hopped into what looked like a makeshift 'entrance'. I got really excited when he confirmed that we could actually enter the temple, that this was the less known 'entrance point' for tourists. I thoroughly enjoyed jumping from brick to brick, walking along the edges of temple walls, and peering into empty, abandoned chambers.

From the inside

The causeway

Broken walls

Still not much is known about the temple, enhancing its mysterious allure -- a dilapidated temple engulfed in vines, trees, and little flowers. It's really poetic, with a name that means 'lotus pond' in Khmer, hinting that there used to be one in the temple during its glory days.

We also saw a smaller version of the Churning of the Ocean of Milk in this temple, a broken piece posed on the ground among the other fallen stones. 

Churning of the Ocean of Milk

The journey back to Siem Reap took a little more than an hour. We also stopped by the exhausted quarry of Phnom Kulen, where the rocks used to build many Angkorian monuments were taken from. The rocks were transported to the building sites via a canal, a 35km journey. 

History remembers names like Suryavarman II and Jayavarman VII, but what about the nameless men and women who once carved, built, and walked the grounds of these temples? Only traces of the daily lives of ancient Khmers on the walls of the temples remain. Perhaps the beauty of a carved lady in Banteay Srei was inspired by a labourer's wife, the face of Ravana an inkling of a man's boyhood nightmare, the faces of Bayon a representation of the ideal serenity they seek. 

Sunday, September 13

Stop Trying To Make Interracial Dating a Thing. It's Not a Thing.

Image from Betty Anderson

This is something more digestible, straightforward, and close to heart (as usual). So here it goes.

One of the questions I hate hearing, and being asked about, is

How is it like being in an interracial relationship?

It seems to me that by inserting that phrase - "interracial relationship" - one tends to single out the relationship as a 'type' of relationship that is unusual. An other. 

Interracial dating, or romantic interracial relationships in general, has become a trend and a cause to fight for. 

"Oh!! He's into Indian girls! Interracial couples are so cute."

"You date Chinese guys, so inclusive. More people should do interracial dating."

I get the whole point people are trying to make:

  • The occurrence of interracial relationships means that there are people in this world who can look past race, and that's what we all need right now. Especially in Malaysia. 
  • That means more mixed babies, ie. people with 'exotic' facial features.
  • That one day race will be an obsolete topic, and politicians cannot play the race card, because everyone is mixed race. 
In short, some people are happy to see interracial relationships popping up like mushrooms after a rain because this means that society will one day move past the need to discuss about race. As mentioned earlier, this is a matter close to many people's hearts, especially in multi-racial nations. 

However, by talking about it in such a manner only serves to magnify the topic of race. 

Because you're making a big deal out of the fact that 2 people of different race can fall in love and form a romantic bond with each other. When, in fact, the thing the same group of people want to prove, is that race is not a hindrance to anything.

But since people are so interested to know the answer to that bolded and italicised question, here's my answer:

I am aware that I'm Chinese. I am aware that he's not. 

But I never once viewed it as an interracial relationship. It never occurred to me that "hey, I'm a Chinese and I'm dating a non-Chinese". All I knew was that I really liked this guy, who felt the same way for me, and hence we're dating. 

The same goes to when I see interracial couples. I never see it as a Chinese-guy-dating-Indian-girl thing; all I see are two individuals who are very much in love with each other. 

Of course there are cases where interracial couples face social ostracism, even from their own family members. They don't deserve to be treated thus, and it's a sad thing that this is still happening in many places. All the more reason we should normalise it, and not single it out as a 'thing'. 

Because it is not. 

It's just two normal individuals coming together to form a beautiful bond.

Just think of it this way: quacking about "interracial relationship" is like saying "fetch", it's never gonna happen. So stop trying to make it happen.

Sunday, August 23

Koh Rong

Flashback to the island tucked in the south west corner of the Kingdom of Cambodia: of clear waters, smooth white sand, blue skies, and white people high on pot.

The ethereality lies not in the mythic realm where water meets sky, but in the lack of mobile data and almost non-existent wireless connection. 

24 hours of sun, sand, water, terrible barbecued dinner, mosquitoes, diarrhoea, insect-induced insomnia, and mindless swinging on a hammock. Not a care in the world, except for when the ferry departs for Sihanouk. 

Time stood still for one night.