Transformation could also mean Recovery

In response to Daily Post’s Photo Challenge: Transformation

The Sambor Prei Kuk temples (or”temples in the richness of the forest”) are located in Kampong Thom province, in Cambodia. Before all of these amazing archeological finds were discovered, the place was a dense jungle – ancient trees reached up to the sky while the ground below hid countless land mines courtesy of the Khmer Rouge.

Now, the Sambor Prei Kuk temples are a sight to behold – paths to the temples are cleared, and the ground you step on are finally landmine free. The temples aren’t as grand as those in Angkor Wat; nevertheless the place strongly exudes the same quiet, almost eerie atmosphere of a bygone civilization (note that the structures date back to 6th century pre-Angkor times. So they’re definitely way older than Angkor Wat!).

In July 2017, the Sambor Prei Kuk temples become a recent addition to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites, the second time now for Cambodia.

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Depth: The Eyes Have It

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Depth.”

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The eyes often speak about what is inside the very depths of our being.  Innocence in the case of this child, who stared directly at me as I took this picture.  His trusting gaze were like rays of sunlight, casting away the dark and the gloom that was hidden deep inside the recesses of my weary heart.

A Walk in the Park

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Serenity.”

It is located in the middle of a busy highway in Phnom Penh.  But in the mornings, as I have found out, it could be the most peaceful place there is for some quality time with the self –  a long, brisk walk, alone with your thoughts or with your playlist stuck in your ears.  To be one with a piece of earth and sky, and trees and flowers and grass.  And singing birds.  The crisp January breeze.

Serenity.  Good for one’s physical well being.  Good for the soul.

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The Ilocos Region, Revisited

The first time I’ve been here was way back 1996, one summer’s day in May.  My favorite aunt was getting married.  I was one of her bridesmaids.

I know that the province, located in the northern part of Luzon in the Philippines, is famed for its rich history and picturesque setting.

But all I remembered was the 12 hour drive.  The sweltering heat.  And the tacky gown that they made me wear for the wedding.

And the reception that followed? I swear that it was the longest wedding reception I have ever been to.  EVER. (It should have been quite a novelty since I was a city person, but the long travel and that silly gown left me sulking in a corner. I was so bored I was ready to cry.)

The province has its beguiling and irresistible charm, though.  And it was relentless in its persuasion, beckoning me to come back, to go on that 400 km joyride to the North, to reconnect with each other again.

And in 2012 I did.  This time I brought my husband and three children with me, to see with new eyes the beauty I have once shamelessly overlooked because of my own petulance and immaturity.

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The Quirino Bridge was named after the 6th president of the Philippines Elpidio Quirino.  I felt that this bridge connects Ilocos to the rest of the world. You can almost hear it speak, in full strength Ilocano (the dialect spoken by the locals), “Naragsakak nga isasanbay!”  Welcome! (Or something like that.)

 

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Sta. Monica Church, Sarrat, Ilocos Norte.  Believed to be the biggest church in Ilocos Norte, and perhaps the whole Ilocos Region. This was where my aunt’s wedding took place.

 

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The church’s bell tower.  Ravaged by time, but still hauntingly beautiful.

 

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Saint Augustine Church or commonly known as Bantay Church, Ilocos Sur.  One of the oldest surviving churches in the Philippines.

 

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The Marcos Mausoleum.  We just had to be here.  We want to see for ourselves.  But no cameras, please!

 

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Vigan, Ilocos Sur.   Proclaimed a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999, Vigan is “the best-preserved example of a planned 16th century Spanish colonial town in Asia.”

 

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The Bangui Windmills, set against the nearby Pagudpud beach.  We arrived there nearly sundown, against my aunt’s advice.  The windmills were more spectacular during the daytime, she said. No matter. The sight just took my breath away.

 

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The Marcos ancestral house is located just a stone’s throw away from my aunt’s house.  Whatever political leanings you might have, this place is still worth a visit.

A lot of people might say that the journey is more important than the destination itself. And I agree with that. But it’s way so much better if the destination is as fun and rewarding as the journey, isn’t it?

Ilocos will always have a special place in my heart. We were not properly introduced the first time around, but it was finally good to meet again. You are so very lovely indeed!

In my Father’s Garden

Few of the photos I took when we visited my parents’ home back in 2008. A Red Hibiscus, with a hint of bokeh. Bougainvillea in full bloom. Euphorbia.  In my father’s garden.

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It felt so good to come back to the place I first called ‘home’ .  Memories from a not so distant childhood came rushing all at once, like an engulfing wave, like heady wine.  Certainly there were changes:  A furniture that wasn’t there anymore.  A new painting on the wall.  Parents getting older.  It wasn’t what is used to be.  But still, it felt warm and familiar.  Like love.

No matter how far you might have come in terms of successes, people and friends you came to know, the many places you called home, the love of parents will always remain the constant thing that will anchor you back to who you really are.

This is New!

In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “New.”

The Independence Monument in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, taken while on board a tuk tuk for a truly authentic Khmer experience.

This is my husband’s latest foreign posting.  We just got here last September 2014.  And we’re still learning to embrace the varied sights, sounds, scents, flavors, and emotions of this city.

Newness can be overwhelming sometimes.  But, yeah, kind’a exciting too.

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United Arab Emirates: Thanks for the Memories!

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‘Assamalaikum, Welcome to Abu Dhabi!’

It was December 2005.  I can still clearly remember those  welcome remarks upon setting foot in this Arab city.   I was standing in front of an immigration officer, waiting quietly as he inspected my passport. My then 8 month old daughter was snuggled close to my chest,  and the weight of the baby bag hung heavily on my shoulder.  I’ve heard about ‘horror’ stories happening in airports in the Middle East, where people were detained or imprisoned for some vague, undisclosed reasons.  And there I was, suddenly afraid, wishing that my husband was with me.  (He and my eldest daughter went two weeks ahead.)  Perhaps it was because of the long, 8 hour direct flight that suddenly got me paranoid.  I was holding a diplomatic passport, for god’s sake, I reminded myself. And I was informed by my husband that a protocol officer from our embassy was going to be there, to make our arrival at the airport a bit easier.

But no sign of the protocol officer.   I was very exhausted at that point, and still the immigration officer was carefully scrutinizing my passport, and my daughter’s too. Maybe he was looking for something, anything that would make him say, ‘Aha,  fake passports!  Off with your heads!’  That would seem likely at that time, given that I didn’t look the least bit ‘diplomatic’ upon arrival.  There were dark circles under my eyes because my baby did not allow me to sleep on the plane.  I have barely combed my hair, forgot to powder my nose.  And my clothes were crumpled in all the right places. (Good thing I was able to chew some breath mints!)  Yes, you could say that I had a terrible flight.

“Enjoy your stay in Abu Dhabi, madame,” he said at last as he returned our passports.

Finally got through Immigration.   I saw my husband at the waiting area, wearing a crisp white linen shirt.  Yeah, I can recognize him from anywhere. Even from a distance, even in a crowd.  He saw us and smiled.   I think we were both relieved that at last our family were all together.

Oh, and the protocol officer?  He was finally there! My heart skipped with unexplainable joy.

He mumbled something like an apology and an explanation that  he was really looking for us inside the terminal. Maybe we have overlooked each other’s presence, yes? Like a proper lady who was too weary to care, I accepted it all with graciousness.

As we drove past the airport, amidst sand, date trees and expansive roads, I saw the city looming large and cosmopolitan in front of me, like an expensive jewel, glittering in the sun.  This will be home for the next six years. A mix  of emotions surged inside me.  Joy.  Fear.  Panic.  Anticipation.   Of the future.  Of the unknown.

“…living abroad is a trip that will profoundly change your life and who you are.  It will shake up your roots, your certainties and your fears.  Maybe you won’t realize it, or even believe it…but after some time, one day you’ll see it crystal clear.  You’ve evolved, you’ve got scars, you’ve lived.  You’ve changed.” – Angie Castells

Fast forward to November 2011.   A lot of things happened in those six years.  There were lots of flag raising and diplomatic receptions which required our attendance, as well as cultural shows and community events.  Learned how to dress like somebody important, though of course I wouldn’t have done any of that stuff if it was not really necessary.

I was working full time again. Made plenty  of good friends too. Awesome people I would have missed the chance of knowing if I have not stayed.

Pregnancy came for the third time as well – after we have decided long ago that two beautiful daughters were enough. And it was going to be a boy!

Despite recurring bouts of homesickness, a slow acceptance to the strange Emirati culture had began to grow. They were a peculiar lot – all of them, with their hijabs and kandurahs. And their driving was infuriating most of all.

We had a hard time admitting it but, well, the host country became home at last.

Then it was time to say goodbye.

What have I learned from all of these?  That living the foreign service life is exactly like living in a suitcase.  You go from one country to the next with no sense of permanency, only a sense of here and now, of living in the moment, whilst nurturing and building your hopes and dreams for the future.  You get to leave behind everything, yet at the same time carry them with you, in your heart, everywhere you go.  Like accompanied baggage, more or less.

“…Home is the person traveling with you, the people you leave behind, the streets where your life takes place. Home is also the random stuff in your new flat, those things you’ll get rid of in the blink of an eye when the time to leave comes. Home is all those memories, all those long-distance calls with your family and friends, a bunch of pictures. Home is where the heart is.”  – Angie Castells

And to you, Abu Dhabi, my heartfelt thanks for the lovely memories.  Like a good friend, a lover, a family member, you are sorely and immeasurably missed!