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Cambodia: Khmer Temples, Khmer Peoples, Khmer Rouge

On Sunday 30th June we flew from Changi Airport over to Siem Reap, Cambodia. I was highly surprised at how nice the plane was, after all ‘Jetstar’ is the economically-valued equivalent of Ryanair. 

As soon as I stepped off the plane I experienced heat, not the humid heat that I had become accustomed to in Singapore, this was the heat of a roaring fire or a furnace! 

After adjusting we went through customs, which was highly frustrating as none of the representatives or staff of the airport could speak English, only Khmer. Now I feel hypocritical for saying this, but who in the world is going to know Khmer except people from Cambodia and researchers with interests in the country. 

Talking of researchers I forgot to mention that on the plane I met Geok, a specialist in the history of Myanmar (Burma), and by far the most interesting and fun person on the trip! It was a bit awkward because when we were given seats on the plane they were random, I ended up near Geok, and we didn’t really speak until we had to fill in the Visa forms. Once we did speak, however, I found out that she was a very interesting person and over the trip I learnt a lot from her. 

We then met the tour guide, and found the coach, eventually embarking to our new destination, the Lin Ratanak Angkor Hotel. 

During the drive there the tour guide introduced us to various aspects of Khmer life, society and culture, so I was highly shocked when we arrived at, what seemed to be in comparison to everything else, our luxury hotel! 

Once everything was unloaded we were paired into rooms, I was paired with David which I was quite happy with. 

We settled in, freshened up, then David and I met with the wonderful Rahavie in the lobby, and she then took us to the market area, which was a few metres away from the hotel. 

Never in my life have I experienced what I felt in that Market. My senses were continuously attacked and my emotions couldn’t keep up. The smell of human fluids mixed with durian; the sight of children wandering parentless; the sight of trash everywhere; within this unlit shelter there was the impossible comprehension that these peoples homes were their markets, and their markets were their homes. POVERTY! POVERTY! POVERTY! my mind screamed at me. Yet just a few metres behind me RICHES! WEALTH! PROSPERITY!. You hear and view articles, TV programmes, and radio programmes about things like this, but nothing ever informs you like the empirical attack of reality. 

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Just from 10 minutes in this market my entire outlook of life immediately changed. I was completely thrown outside of everything I was ever used to. Thankfully we eventually left and returned to the hotel. We (uncomfortably) wined and dined (I had my first ever cocktail – Blue Lagoon) on Western cuisine. WAIT! WHAT?! Yes, the hotel served western food as Khmer food is notorious for being terribly unhygienic. 

Post-dinner events included a trip to the Night Market, a very charming place. Now, transport in Cambodia is interesting to say the least. In Siem Reap there are only 5 sets of traffic lights, so naturally there are a lot of accidents and deaths on the road. Similarly there aren’t many cars! What there is, are these fantastic little vehicles called Tuk-Tuk’s, which is the most exciting form of transport I have ever been on! A tuk-tuk is a carriage attached to a motorbike. Most Tuk-Tuk drivers have 4 customers a day which would be about $12-16…Not a lot really! Their vehicles are usually given as donations from sponsors. Although it sounds like this would be incredibly unsafe it’s ironically the safest form of transport in Cambodia. 

The Night Market was a fantastic and vibrant place, so much was going on! I knew that I would have to buy things there, which I eventually did, at a later date. 

After the Night Market we went to an Irish bar where we got raped by mosquitos. We then returned to our hotel. 

We started the next day bright and early and went to various places. We first visited the Centre for Khmer Studies, where two monks gave a lecture on the types of activities that went on there. We then visited Artisans creating various things such as paintings and Buddhist statues. Following this we went on to the War Museum where we met with a Vietnamese man who had lost an arm. His story was saddening as was the environment we were surrounded by. Through everything the man had been through he still managed to relay his experiences. The site included all manner of treacherous weapons of war: tanks, anti-air artillery, land-mines etc. 

What struck me most was the pictures from the war that were stuck to boards. To see children wielding guns is incredibly distressing. 

After the museum we went forward to Tonle Sap. He was my first experience of Traditional Khmer Music and what a wonderful experience it was! The sound was glorious! I even bought a CD of Traditional Khmer Wedding Music! 

The group then boarded the boat and we started our journey through the Floating Villages of the Tonle Sap Lake. 

Just like my 10 minutes in the market by Lin Ratanak, I experienced a further attack on my senses, only this time I couldn’t escape! Here lived people who spent their entire time on the water, none lived past the age of 40 and children were tools used as benefactors of tourism. One dollar for picture! they would scream. Children in boats were wearing snakes around their necks; babies were left without clothes, children were forced to learn to swim, else they would perish (understandable considering the surrounded terrain); people would bathe in large groups not cleansing themselves, only adding to the lake of watery hell. On numerous occassions I felt ill. I even found some things incredibly difficult to comprehend, which is why it took a while to take pictures. It is here in Tonle Sap that I took, or at least by my own thoughts, my most powerful picture from the entire trip. 

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I was glad once we returned to land. 

After our time on the lake we trekked up a mountain to experience one of the most beautiful sunsets in the world. We went to Phnom Krom, a 9th Century temple, where we stood on a hill for about 40 minutes watching the sunset. It was ironic that the next morning I was going to experience the sunrise at an equally splendid place.

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The company then went onwards to dinner. Here I had a rather heated debate about ‘Art’ with the photographer Eric, who invited us to join him at 4AM to experience the sunrise at either Bayon or Angkor Wat (it wasn’t yet decided). We returned back to the hotel with a rather drab talk with a historian…

The most wonderful part of Monday was that I met up, or at least was visited, by my most wonderful friend Dom! He joined me at the hotel and we chatted for about four hours! I then decided, as it was 3AM (at this point Dom, sadly, went back to where he was staying) to get ready! Yes! I had no sleep! Haha.

I met Eric in the lobby, and then, to my surprise, Lina also joined us! A tuk-tuk driver then picked us up and we travelled for about 20 minutes to the most fascinating of all, Bayon. (Angkor Wat is so overrated).

Watching the sunrise at Bayon was an absolute glorious experience, and definitely a once in a life time one. We arrived in total darkness. The entrance to the temple was unlit. I think we were all about nervous. The tuk-tuk driver guided the three of us into the temple and then left us there. We explored the temple of the Four Faces and watched as the sun illuminated the marvellous display of stonework that was, seconds before, cast in shadow. The temple maintained its mystical feel even in broad daylight. This was by far my most memorable experience of Cambodia, if not my whole time in Southeast Asia. 
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Many photos and 2 hours and a half later we departed for Angkor Wat; but before that, BREAKFAST! We then explored a small part of Angkor before rendezvousing with the rest of the group. 

After my time at Bayon no other temple impressed me, so I shall not go into the details of how wonderful and sublime each and every one was; from this point we visited A LOT of temples, Angkor Wat and Ta Prohm included. We also revisited Bayon, although this time I forgot my pass in the Bus, so Julius had to accompany me back to where the bus was parked to retrieve it, which was incredibly embarrassing. 

After the many MANY temples we had dinner and watched an Apsara show,  only I fell asleep in it. Quite embarrassing as my topic of research for the field trip was “Performing Arts and how they are affected by tourism”. 

You would have thought that after getting back to the hotel I would have gone to bed. Nope. I went out clubbing instead, and this was my first time! Never again! As if people enjoy that?!

The next day arrived and we visited several museums, none of which enchanted me that much, except for a small art gallery in the corner of one. We then had dinner. After finishing everything in the day we had a talk on the evening about what we were going to write about. We then went back to our rooms to get ready to depart to Thailand on the following morning. 

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The Not So Little Discovery

On Saturday 27th June I travelled down to Dartington. After a wonderful journey with my Grandparents and my cousins (please note the sarcasm) I entered into a world that was entirely surreal. 

The grounds of Dartington are enormous, and it took me quite a while to find out where I was going. I must have got lost at least five times! 

The first person I met was a recorder player named Caroline, who I got along with very well! As the week progressed I gradually met more and more people, both young and old. I was incredibly shocked at the number of people at Dartington, especially the number of students and the number of older people; there were no middle aged people attending the school. 

Some of the people were composers, but the majority were early instrumentalists and singers, as the first week of Dartington is traditionally dedicated to Early Music. 

Other people who I got to know well, or at least as well as one can within a week, were Claudio, Chloë, Louis, Mark and Ray, who were all wonderful people! I also met a lot, and I mean a lot of people with the name John… 

 I was enrolled on two courses, choir and Song, but I also attended an Emma Kirkby masterclass, which was really informative. It is a shame to say that the main course I was there for (song) was unstructured and poorly run. I didn’t learn a thing. In the choir I sang part of the bass section of Rosenmüller’s Vespers; Rosenmüller is a composer who was completely unknown to me, WITH GOOD REASON! Nevertheless, I thoroughly enjoyed the performance, even though the music was pretty bad. 

I composed my piece on Wednesday, and was fairly pleased with it. I had a tutorial with Dominic the next morning, and I thought that he too was pleased with it. That was until it was workshopped. He decided to criticise the piece and verbally rip me apart, and this is something he did in front of the entire group. I was so shocked , after all he said nothing in the tutorial. Every member of the class was also surprised at how cutting he was, some even told him after the class how harsh he was, so he later came and found me to see if I was OK. I was OK, but as with all people I come to not like, I was highly defiant to his suggestions and thoughts. 

The person I received the most help off was James Weeks, a very successful composer and conductor. I learnt an awful lot in a very short space of time off him. 

I attended many concerts, and most of them were early music: Emma Kirkby, Ensemble Meridiana, The City Musick, Fretwork, Exaudi and a contemporary music concert. After the contemporary music concert Mr Woolrich invited Chloë, Claudio and I back to his VIP lounge for drinks and snacks! Chloë and I attended, but Claudio did not feel that he could attend for fear of being an underaged drinker! 

The food at Dartington was a disaster, sometimes I didn’t even eat because there were just so few, or awful options. Even the waiters and those serving food made the food even worse just by being there. They were the moodiest bunch of people I have ever come across! 

All of the above being said, I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Dartington and I learnt a lot! I cannot wait for next year so that I can attend again! Hopefully I will be able to do the Advanced Composition course…who knows? 

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NB. I will be posting more on Singapore/Thailand and Cambodia, it’s just this was already written for me to type up! 

Cultural Explosion

My schedule is so jam packed so the blogs are coming quite slowly!

Wednesday was the first day of proper lectures, and although I have very little knowledge of anthropology and cultural studies, at least of that of Southeast Asia, I found the lectures to be very interesting and incredibly stimulating. There were topics on Culture, Heritage, Architecture, Religion, Archaeology, Modernity vs. Tradition, Ethnicity, Identity and Race (perhaps the last one lesser so). An interesting element was a case study of the Paranakan  people of Singapore.

 

On the evening I met up with a Singaporean student at NUS called Eileen, as well as some of the people from Copenhagen. Eileen took us all to a restaurant where I had some Nonya food, which is food cooked by the females of the Paranakan, and so far it’s the best thing I have tried in Singapore. I also had a Thai Milk Tea that was bloody lovely. Ngiam, Maggie and Kareem then joined us for dinner!

 Thursday there was the highest Haze PSI since 1997; it hit a new high of 371! So we had to stay primarily indoors in air-conditioned rooms! On the government health website in Singapore anything about 300 is considered ‘Hazardous’ – frightening! I went with one of the Danish people on the course, Victoria, to find Central Library, as I wanted to start the Film Review assignment, but that was a huge palaver.  We returned to UTown and then parted. After doing some reading I went out for some lunch with my suite-mates. We then came back and played cards! Woooo!

On Friday I had two lectures; the first look at Southeast Asia as a region, in particular its contextual and historical development, whilst the second looked at the importance of Rice in Southeast Asian cultures. Both of these lectures had interesting elements, especially the former. After a long day in lectures (a day that, may I add, hit 401 on the PSI reading of Singapore) I met with Trent, David, Rahavie, Charlie, Victor and Carl for dinner; we decided to go to Clementi Mall and we found a Japanese restaurant there, and it was divine!

The day that has exhausted me the most, so far, has been Saturday, where we went out to various places in Singapore. We started the tour at 8:45 by visiting the organization that the Hokkien Huay Kuan belongs to, and that consisted of a rather unexpected and dreary lecture.

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I did, however, learn a considerable amount about the way Singapore allows things such as Clans to run, how important Clans are to Singaporean society, and, more importantly, some temple etiquette. We then explored the Chinese Temple of Hokkien Huay Kuan for about 10 minutes before departing to our next destination that was one of the most quaint yet marvelous buildings of a Baba House.

‘Baba’ is a Paranakan term to mean ‘Man’, and Paranakan’s, like many other cultures, differentiate their items by gender, so a house is Masculine therefore it is ‘Baba’, whereas a window pane is feminine, and therefore is ‘Nonya’. Paranakan culture is perhaps one of the things that has fascinated me since learning about it. House etiquette, for example, is particularly interesting: when entering a Baba House one cannot go beyond the first room unless a member of the family or a close friend. The architectural design of the house is sort of a synthesis between traditional Chinese architecture with that of Western architecture. Traditionally the women were to be cooks and were educated in how to sew; the merit found in their cooking and sewing were the factors which determined who would take them for their wives; once married the woman would leave the Baba House (where traditionally all of the family would stay) and live with her husband, whether she liked it or not.  After the Baba House we went to a Hawker Centre where I tried the ‘renowned’ Hokkien Chicken Rice, and, wow, was it good! 

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After coming back to the room I watched ‘Rice People’, as we have to do a film review on a Southeast Asian film, set in a Southeast Asian language: Rice People is one based in Cambodia, therefore it’s a film in Khmer.

I then went to a concert that the Danish people suggested: it was that bad I walked out at the interval. As I was returning to the residence I saw my suite-mates at an Italian restaurant, so joined them. Some then went on to go out, whilst the rest of us went back to the suite where I then played more card games with people!

I started Sunday with writing my Film Review assignment and then went out with Trent, Charlie and Victor to Labrador Park, a lovely picturesque place. David, Trent and I then went back to the Italian restaurant from the day before, this time for food. We then returned to the suite for card games!

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Yesterday was a day of exploration! I started the morning off with a lecture about religion (I should also note that I have been buying coffee from Starbucks – I used to have morals…). The first part of this lecture was based on Islam in Southeast Asia, in particular Indonesia, and this part was fairly dull. The next part, however, blew my mind. It has been the most traumatic lecture I have ever had: the lecturer’s research topic is Pain, in particular the self-mortified pain of the Filipino’s in Pampanga; during Holy Week people self-mortify themselves through flagellation and crucifixion (they are actually nailed to the cross…). It was absolutely sickening seeing all of the pictures and images that depict the horrors of, what is in the Philippines, a very normal thing.

I have been questioning my purpose on this Summer School; the Indonesia trip was cancelled so, musically, I had very little to gain. Not being an anthropologist, or an archaeologist, or any ‘ologist’ that has precedence on this course, I turned my interest to the religious part of the course (religion is after all one of the few things I am able to talk about). The next part, however, hit me like a rocket – four months ago I decided I would write an opera, but my question was “What on?” Being in Southeast Asia I have just found the answer to that.

After the lecture I met up with Rie and Michelle to go to Chinatown and Little India for some research. Chinatown is one of the most brilliant places I have visited in Singapore so far. It is so alive with so many interesting people who bring their own identity to Chinatown. The ‘research’ element turned into more of a photo taking expedition! We visited the large Buddhist temple there, and I have never felt like I did in that temple. During our time there they were in a service of sorts – whether it was just ‘prayer’ or a ritual of some sorts I do not know, but it was mesmerizing watching ordinary people sitting behind Monks, singing lines non-stop from a huge book in Chinese; it was an incredible yet mystical experience. We then went to a restaurant in Chinatown, which was a bit expensive but it was good food.

Our next excursion was to Little India. After getting off the MRT we went backwards and forwards trying to find the certain part that Michelle knew, and we eventually found it. I don’t think we spent longer than 30 minutes in Little India. It wasn’t a particularly nice place and I have no intention of returning there. 

We then went forward to Harbour Front where we went to a huge shopping mall! Like when I say huge, I mean huge. Singaporean shopping malls are just insanely big. We got some ice cream, and then looked for book and stationary shops but they didn’t seem to exist. We returned back to UTown, and then I played piano to Rie, Michelle and Lina, which they seemed to enjoy! I then came back to the suite and played Uno with Trent and David until … very late … 

The Journey to the Garden City

Greetings from Singapore!

My journey to this wonderful island has been one full of different feelings and emotions of excitement, of apprehension, should I really continue? This is the first time I have left Europe, and it was all on my own! Scary business. 

I departed on Saturday at 8:35pm UK time with Singapore Airlines, perhaps the best flights company ever. My experience whilst flying was phenomenal, the staff were ever so friendly and efficient (which are some of the stereotypes of Singaporean’s). This was my first long distance flight, and it was awesome! It was the first time I experienced proper turbulence, which was thrilling, even though at one point the plane just dropped…but that was as exciting as it was scary.  I made two friends on this flight, one was from Australia, and the other was from the UK but born in Vietnam. I was surprised at how long we were in conversation for; I never had to take out an electronic device, or use the facilities supplied by Singapore Airlines for entertainment, because we were locked in conversation for most of the 13 hours, except when we were ‘sleeping’. (An impossible thing to do when upright and flying). I landed two days ago at 4pm (Singapore time) and I was overwhelmed at how amazing Changi Airport is. I have never seen a system that is so efficient (a word I am probably going to use A LOT). Immigration was so simple (hahahaha as if I properly believed that). I walked out of the Immigration point and picked up my case as I approached the conveyer belt – seriously, if Singapore can do it so fast, why can’t the rest of the world?! The arrangement Changi Airport had with Taxi’s also surprised me: there is a continuous flow of taxi’s, and one of the airport staff directs each person in the queue to one of the many taxi’s (a service that is incredibly simple, but so effective, and isn’t a free for all). After some difficulty finding out the address of my destination the Taxi driver gave me some very interesting information about Singapore and its architecture. 

Once I arrived onto campus, or at least University Town (UTown), I met up with one of the most helpful and lovely people I have met in Singapore so far, Xing Yi Ngiam, or Ngiam for short. He has helped me with everything, from checking in, to learning about various foods and from really useful information to buying a bottle of water for me when a rather rude lady wouldn’t serve me…

I have met lots of great people and I hope to build up fantastic relationships with them all! Being part of an international programme is such a fantastic privilege because it provides no end of contacts, which is crucial for networking later in life, and it is also wonderful to have the opportunity to make friends with people from all over the globe. I have made friends with people from Canada, the USA, Denmark, Norway, Australia, Southeast Asia, Poland, as well as my own country the UK. Some of the Non-UK people have told me that I’m incredibly British…but I think most British people would laugh at that. 

The food here is very weird and wonderful, I have tried a reasonable amount thus far, and will continue to try as much as possible, if not everything by the time I leave! I just need to give my stomach time to get used to these new foods. The price of food and drink is so eclectic, at the university dining hall it’s possible to get a delightful meal and a drink for about $4SGD, whereas somewhere else would cost no less than $10SGD. The first two evenings were spent at the UTown dining hall, and last night we went to a place in Clementi and that was lovely! Tonight I spent some time exploring on my own so had a bit of a nibble to keep me going! The one thing I’ve noticed is that because the food is so new, it fills me up really quickly, and then because it’s so hot, I don’t want to eat that much! So I haven’t eaten much since arriving but I’m sure that will change the more I get used to the food. (I am drinking water like a fish though…) 

The programme I am on is Southeast Asia in Context, and there is another module called Southeast Asia’s Cultural Mosaic, and part of that is a field-trip to Thailand and Cambodia which I am really looking forward to. 

The ironic thing is, I have no knowledge WHAT SO EVER on these subjects. I decided to do the summer course to learn about Gamelan, but the module for that was removed, which left a module on areas of which I have never even read about. I am hoping I will be able to write an essay on a religious subject, because I actually know stuff about that!

For the last few days there has been a haze (that rhymes!). This happens when neighbouring countries (in particular Indonesia) burn trees, and wow, does it sting my eyes! 

Today I spent 3 hours in the ICA Building, to get my student pass, which is one of the most tedious and stressful things I have done so far! ARGHGHGHHG TO PAPERWORK. 

Pictures will start to arrive soon, I just haven’t really had the time to even get my camera out! Now that all of the paperwork is out of the way, and the course is actually about to begin there is going to be a lot more time to explore. So please tune in for more blogs! 

MG