Erenlai - Items filtered by date: Tuesday, 20 November 2007
Wednesday, 21 November 2007 00:00

Interfaith dialogue goes beyong political crisis

Living freely in Taiwan
Pakistan holds a critical position in the international scene and does not have diplomatic relations with many countries. On one hand, the economy and the education system are not well developed, and the infrastructures are poor. On the other hand, Pakistan faces the negative repercussions following September 11th. This situation fails to give the Pakistanis stability in their lives to build their future in the country. “Most educated people grab any opportunity to go abroad”, Ali said. As they do not see any chance for the political power to become more open in the near future, they need to focus on their own lives, he explained. “I was lucky enough to have a friend in Taiwan who found me a job as a trading manager. Because Pakistan does not have any diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it makes it very difficult to find work opportunities. I needed a letter of invitation from the company, and to get a visa in Hong-Kong”. It is important for Ali to work in another Asian country, because he thinks that increasing economic ties between Asian countries can become a Regional help for Pakistan. “Taiwan gives me the chance to live a free life, which I consider is the most precious gift my Asian cousins could offer me.” Indeed, the political difficulties in Pakistan affect people’s lives. They cannot live a comfortable life, neither find good jobs”.
Religious interfaith dialogue can overcome cultural differences
Pakistanis can build special connections with other Asians on the cultural side because of the Pakistan diplomatic relations problems. Politically and economically, we feel excluded from international cooperation programs. Ali said, “I think religions can unite nations, and go beyond political crisis”. Religions are deeply rooted in Asian cultures. 97% of Pakistanis are Muslims, and through Islam for instance, people can assimilate culturally with other Asian Muslim countries like Indonesia or Malaysia. In this sense, he thinks religion can increase common understanding between Asians, and can help to understand each other better. Reading the Koran is part of their education and sets their cultural boundaries. However, he said it also teaches them that they all are Brothers. “If you believe in the same things, it makes it easier to communicate with each other”. It also teaches them to open their minds to other religions. “I believe I can learn from Buddhists and through interface dialogue, we can find links between our different cultures”, Ali said. In this sense, with increased communication between Asians, we can build multi-cultural ties in Asia and set the possibility to build cooperation.
Economic relations in Asia give a chance for Pakistan to develop
“I feel Asian”, Ali said. “We share a territory with other Asians and cultural ties with Asian countries, especially the ones close to us”. Pakistan and India used to be one big and strong power in West Asia, before they parted in 1947. In this sense, Indians and Pakistanis are not different. “I wished there would be less tension between these two countries to build more cooperation”. However, the bigger scale of Asia offers other opportunities of cooperation for Pakistan. Ali said that recently China’s investments became a crucial need for Pakistan to develop its economy. “Above the tensions between the big powers of India and China, Pakistanis rely on these economic ties, so we have a positive view upon China-Pakistan exchanges”. Ali thinks that more economic cooperation between Asian countries, set within the economic structure of an organization, could be a serious help for countries in critical situations like Pakistan. “The last few years, Pakistan made improvements; there is a better access to education for instance. Hopefully, the growing level of education of the population will raise the sense of personal responsibility. I hope the ones who have a chance to travel, like me, will be more concerned to apply what they have seen abroad when they are back in Pakistan”.
What do you wish for the future of Asia?
----------------------------------------
“I hope people will communicate more with their Asian cousins. I believe communication is a crucial step forward to build links between Asians, and can be more easily achieved within an Asian community. I wish all Asians could sit and discuss their differences, without barriers. It is really important for Pakistanis to create friendships in the world, because we need to give a better image of our country. It is our responsibility when we travel. According to the current political situation in Pakistan, I think we can contribute more by living abroad. We must learn to trust and love each other, like in a big Asian family. These are the basics of a successful cooperation. I hope the construction of a more united Asia will also play a role to help Pakistanis to improve the situation in their country”.
Reporter:
Aurelie Kernaleguen
Living freely in Taiwan
[dropcap cap="P"]akistan holds a critical position in the international scene and does not have diplomatic relations with many countries. On one hand, the economy and the education system are not well developed, and the infrastructures are poor. On the other hand, Pakistan faces the negative repercussions following September 11th. This situation fails to give the Pakistanis stability in their lives to build their future in the country. “Most educated people grab any opportunity to go abroad”, Ali said. As they do not see any chance for the political power to become more open in the near future, they need to focus on their own lives, he explained. “I was lucky enough to have a friend in Taiwan who found me a job as a trading manager. Because Pakistan does not have any diplomatic relations with Taiwan, it makes it very difficult to find work opportunities. I needed a letter of invitation from the company, and to get a visa in Hong-Kong”. It is important for Ali to work in another Asian country, because he thinks that increasing economic ties between Asian countries can become a Regional help for Pakistan. “Taiwan gives me the chance to live a free life, which I consider is the most precious gift my Asian cousins could offer me.” Indeed, the political difficulties in Pakistan affect people’s lives. They cannot live a comfortable life, neither find good jobs”.[/dropcap]
Religious interfaith dialogue can overcome cultural differences
[dropcap cap="P"]akistanis can build special connections with other Asians on the cultural side because of the Pakistan diplomatic relations problems. Politically and economically, we feel excluded from international cooperation programs. Ali said, “I think religions can unite nations, and go beyond political crisis”. Religions are deeply rooted in Asian cultures. 97% of Pakistanis are Muslims, and through Islam for instance, people can assimilate culturally with other Asian Muslim countries like Indonesia or Malaysia. In this sense, he thinks religion can increase common understanding between Asians, and can help to understand each other better. Reading the Koran is part of their education and sets their cultural boundaries. However, he said it also teaches them that they all are Brothers. “If you believe in the same things, it makes it easier to communicate with each other”. It also teaches them to open their minds to other religions. “I believe I can learn from Buddhists and through interface dialogue, we can find links between our different cultures”, Ali said. In this sense, with increased communication between Asians, we can build multi-cultural ties in Asia and set the possibility to build cooperation.[/dropcap]
Economic relations in Asia give a chance for Pakistan to develop

[dropcap cap="I"] feel Asian”, Ali said. “We share a territory with other Asians and cultural ties with Asian countries, especially the ones close to us”. Pakistan and India used to be one big and strong power in West Asia, before they parted in 1947. In this sense, Indians and Pakistanis are not different. “I wished there would be less tension between these two countries to build more cooperation”. However, the bigger scale of Asia offers other opportunities of cooperation for Pakistan. Ali said that recently China’s investments became a crucial need for Pakistan to develop its economy. “Above the tensions between the big powers of India and China, Pakistanis rely on these economic ties, so we have a positive view upon China-Pakistan exchanges”. Ali thinks that more economic cooperation between Asian countries, set within the economic structure of an organization, could be a serious help for countries in critical situations like Pakistan. “The last few years, Pakistan made improvements; there is a better access to education for instance. Hopefully, the growing level of education of the population will raise the sense of personal responsibility. I hope the ones who have a chance to travel, like me, will be more concerned to apply what they have seen abroad when they are back in Pakistan”.[/dropcap] [inset side="right" title="Ali Khan"] is a 33 year old Pakistani working in a Taiwanese online trading company in Taipei, for seven months. He comes from Karachi, the biggest city in Pakistan.[/inset]What do you wish for the future of Asia?[dropcap cap="I"] hope people will communicate more with their Asian cousins. I believe communication is a crucial step forward to build links between Asians, and can be more easily achieved within an Asian community. I wish all Asians could sit and discuss their differences, without barriers. It is really important for Pakistanis to create friendships in the world, because we need to give a better image of our country. It is our responsibility when we travel. According to the current political situation in Pakistan, I think we can contribute more by living abroad. We must learn to trust and love each other, like in a big Asian family. These are the basics of a successful cooperation. I hope the construction of a more united Asia will also play a role to help Pakistanis to improve the situation in their country”.[/dropcap]

Interview conducted and edited by Aurelie Kernaleguen - Photo by Liang Zhun (© eRenlai)
Tuesday, 20 November 2007 21:23

Shinbashi ruins

 

On my last trip to Tokyo before I came home, I was supposed to meet a friend at Shinbashi Station. Having never been to that district I went about two hours early and wandered around the backstreets, in which I came upon one of the combination demolition/construction sites that frequent the developing regions of a city.

Judging by the empty lots, the entire neighborhood of aesthetically undistinguished and mediocre in quality post-war construction seemed to have been marked for replacement with the gleaming high rises that most people around the world associate with Tokyo.

Sandwiched between the fenced in dirt lot on one side and the only symbolically roped-off already demolished lot, still covered with what appears to be the tile surface of the vanished building’s ground floor, remained an isolated block. Although the building was clearly labeled off limits, the barriers barely covered one third of the perimeter, and many of the doors were wide open, if not missing entirely. The ones that were present were decorated with signs declaring “DANGER!” or the demolition schedule. There was a typical example of hastily build postwar concrete and wood construction, the ground floor was occupied entirely by shops-a bar, a “snack” bar, a locksmith and a small restaurant. With the construction worker in the empty and properly fenced in neighboring lot asleep in his tiny crane and the security guard distracted, I sneaked inside the first open door to see an expectedly decrepit and yet surprisingly full restaurant.

Slipping out of the long closed and forgotten restaurant, I entered the neighboring husk of a so-called “snack bar,” that had apparently once been called Azumi. Having been in a number of abandoned and pre-demolition buildings before, I found the left-behind contents in Azumi to be unusually numerous and diverse. On a shelf above and behind the bar I spotted a tiny glass, still shiny enough to reflect the room even in the dim light, and yet so laced through with microfractures that I imagined it would shatter into a thousand pieces if touched.

Exiting Azumi, I checked the next door which led into the living room of what was presumably a flat belonging to the proprietors of one of the stores enterable from the front-side. Of all the vacant buildings or abandoned sites I have ever set foot in, I had never seen such an abundance of furniture and personal artifacts. The sheer presence of so much personal property strewn about left me wondering: what happened? You wouldn’t normally expect people to leave both their business and their homes, to move away without bringing anything with them. The presence of subtle details of life in motion, such as this yellowed and crinkled shopping list caused me to picture not a family simply moving to a new house, but being dragged off suddenly in the wake of a Chernobyl-like toxic disaster, or at gunpoint by an armed militia. From the hardware left around, it seemed as if the former residents were in the very middle of improving maintaining their home as they vanished. A disquieting feeling of wandering through lives interrupted was continuing to grow.

Among the scattered papers, my attention was attracted by an incongruous writing in English: the lyrics were the final verse of the song ’I Could Have Danced All Night’, from the musical ’My Fair Lady’.

"Eliza I could have danced all night,
I could have danced all night.
And still have begged for more.
I could have spread my wings,
And done a thousand things I’ve never done before.
I’ll never know What made it so exciting.
Why all at once my heart took flight. I only know when he
Began to dance with me I could have danced, danced,
danced All night!"


What is the significance of the errors in the handwritten lyrics? Was it being transcribed from the radio, or perhaps a record? Was the transcriber a child or adult? Male or female? Was it the last music ever heard or hummed in the room before the residents moved on?

As I stood there pondering all the mysterious and melancholy possibilities of the sweet, sad scrap of lyrics I heard the sudden noise of a construction worker in the next room, and I cut my explorations short and fled the building, as quickly and quietly as I could manage. As I walked away, I took a quick snapshot of the view across the street from the front door of the condemned building, standing on a border between a piece of the past and the future.


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Words & photographs by Moeun Nhean
SEAPA Fellowship 2007
----------------------
Mighty and vast, the Khmer empire, stretched across modern Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. It left cultural and architectural legacies throughout South-east Asia and, though Thailand has used this inheritance to lure tourists, historical sites in Southern Vietnam remain practically unknown.
Ancient Khmer architecture has mostly survived unscathed in southern Vietnam. The local Khmer Krom people practice Khmer Buddhism in temples very different to those of ethnic Vietnamese. These places are becoming hot tourism destinations.
Sites in the Mekong Delta, such Long An, Tien Giang, Ving Long, Tra Vinh, Bac Lieu, and Soc Trang, are the most popular. Picturesque villages, traditional farming methods, and verdant fields charm all who visit. The focal points of this emerald land are the sparkling golden roofs of elaborate Khmer Krom pagodas.
Soc Trang province, known in Khmer as Khleang province (‘warehouse’ or ‘storage place’), could be seen as a vessel of traditional Khmer culture, preserved unchanged since the province was ceded to Vietnam by the French in 1949. There are a total of around 500 Khmer pagodas in South Vietnam, of which Soc Trang has around 100 ancient Khmer pagodas. Most are preserved in their original condition, without the modernisation common in Cambodia.
"In this area, there are many beautiful Khmer pagodas," said Miss. Thach Long, Guide Officer of Soc Trang province. "The most popular sites among visitors are Wat Khleang, Wat Serey Dejo Mohatub, Wat Sa Lon and the provincial museum."
The number of tourists is increasing.
"During the last few years, at least 300 to 500 visitors per month came to visit this area," said Long. "Most are European, American, Japanese, and Asian."
Khleang pagoda, Soc Trang province was built in 1533. It has kept its original architectural style and decoration. "This is one of the most interesting pagodas because it was built from wood," said Long. "Fantastic Khmer traditional carvings and beautiful painted murals still remain. There have never been big scale renovations, only minor repairs."
The 50-something Mr. Eang was a monk here for almost 8 years. He said the Khleang pagoda had a reputation as a cultural centre for centuries as Khmer monks from all over the Mekong delta came to study the tenets of Buddhism.
"This school was run strictly according to Buddhist rules," said Eang.
Just a short distance from Khleang pagoda is another pagoda named ‘Serey Dejo Mohatub’, though many know it simply as ‘bat pagoda’. Built in 1569, this architectural masterpiece features decoration incorporating dragons, garaudas, tortoises, and phoenixes. The pagoda is also a haven for thousands of flying fox bats (Pteropus). The sheltered grounds, shaded by towering fruit trees, provide the perfect bat habitat (though the apparently bats shun the fruit from the temple trees). In 1999, the pagoda was recognized by the Ministry of Culture and Information of Vietnam as a cultural and historical relic.
Egbert Weiss, a German tourist, spent hours wandering around Mohatub pagoda. He was impressed. "I never saw what a real fruit bat looked like, except on television," he said. "It was interesting to see and hear the bats close up." Weiss and his tour group spent 3 days in the Mekong delta visiting plantations and fisheries as well as pagodas. "It is unbelievable that so many ancient wooden pagodas are here," Weiss exclaimed. "The constructions are still strong even though they are 500 years old."
Weiss was also astounded by the quality of the painted scenes inside the pagoda. "The paintings on the pagoda walls are amazingly artistic," he said. "They are still colourful even though they are very old."
‘Sa Lon’ pagoda lies 12 km outside of Soc Trang town. The temple is distinct, with walls and pillars studded with thousands of plates, bowls and cups. Originally given by local people for monks’ use, as more and more donations were made, monks used them to decorate the pagoda, giving it a unique appearance.
The pagodas are more than empty relics however. Still used by the devoutly Buddhist Khmer Krom people, the temples are living monuments. ‘Kampong Mean Chey Tuek Pray’ pagoda, located in Long Phu district, about 20 km from Soc Trang,, gives an insight into the daily life of Khmer Krom Buddhists.
Every religious holiday elderly women don white shirts and multi-coloured Hol or Phamoung skirts and amble towards the temple, betel nut boxes containing incense, candles, and flowers clutched in their wrinkled hands. Their male escorts inch along, careful not to spill their bowls stacked high with rice, soup, sweet desserts and fruits.
When the food has been delivered to the Sala Thoama Saphea (hall where Dharma – the Buddha’s teachings – are taught and discussed), worshippers make their way to the Preah Vihara (east facing hall containing a temple’s largest Buddha statue). Here everyone sits according to their grade of Dharma knowledge [see ‘10 Rules’]. The most senior sit at the front, where long curling columns of incense smoke swirl around the golden Buddha statue. Monks lead the loud Pali chants that echo from the hall into the sultry dawn.
"The separation of seats into different areas is to respect those people who have practiced Buddhism for a long time," explained a wizened grand father, one of the many worshippers. He added that Khmer Krom people are devout in their beliefs, unlike many ethnic Vietnamese.
"We follow our religion precisely as our ancestors did," he said. "We like to honour our ancestors and keep our identity as Khmer Krom."
Preah Dejakun Thach Nong, Head Monk of Peam Boun pagoda agreed. "Almost all Khmer Krom people follow Theravada Buddhism," he said. "They love their religion. They preserve the traditions in their lifestyle and society. Even people who don’t have money to offer the pagoda always give what they can – things like food and accessories needed by the monks and the pagoda.
Despite the relative poverty of the 40 Khmer Krom families who sponsor the pagoda, refurbishments that took 10 years have just been completed.
"The most of the funds and materials came from local people, even though they are only subsistence farmers and fishermen," said Nong. "People from So Trang town donated construction materials such as cement and iron. Some donations came from outside the local area."
Pagodas in the Mekong Delta are accessible, their doors always open to the local community. On festive days like Chol Chnam Thmey (Khmer New Year celebration), Ok Am-bok (Moon Prayer), Bon Om Tuk (Water Festival), or Pchum Benn (Ancestor Festival) the temples are crammed with celebrants.
Mr. Chhoam Chhat, Director of the Administrative Department of the Ministry of Cults and Religious Affairs of the Royal Government of Cambodia, said there are 3,980 officially registered Buddhist pagodas, with 59,470 monks living and studying in them in the kingdom of Cambodia.
"In the past, especially in the post-Angkor era, and throughout French and Japanese colonial rule, the pagoda played an important role in the field of education," he said. "Religious ceremonies and other national festivals are held there. Even today, in almost every village, the tradition of building schools in or near pagodas continues."
Finally, the ancient and noble culture of Khmer Krom is beginning to get the attention it deserves, though its future depends on the ideas of the young.
*******************
---Sidebar story---
THE 10 RULES
Attending a ceremony in Kampong Meanchey Teuk Pray is not as simple as finding a spot to sit – position is dictated by a level of knowledge, known in Khmer as ’Sil’. "The first few lines are ’Sil 10’, the middle line ’Sil 8’ and the rear parts ’Sil 5’," said a local villager.
Preah Phikho Sam Sinan, a Phnom Penh based monk, said that ’Sil’ are organised into three categories – ’Sil 5’ is the normal state of a practicisng Buddhist, while ’Sil 8’ and ’Sil 10’ are for more devout worshippers. Most people never reach the upper levels, he said, as the rules dictating membership get stricter with each level. The numbers refer to the number of rules that must be adhered to he explained. ’Sil 5’ means following the first 5 rules and so on.
Sil 1 – Pana-ti-pata – Do not kill of animals or people.
Sil 2 – Attinea-teanea – Do not steal, destroy, or covet.
Sil 3 – Kame Somachha-jare – No infidelity.
Sil 4 – Mussa Vieta – Honesty in all speech.
Sil 5 – Sora Meryak – No intoxication.
Sil 6 – Vikala Phhouchaneaha – No greediness or eating after midday.
Sil 7 – Nachaky Tak Vea – No dancing, singing, or taking part in raucous entertainments.
Sil 8 – Mealea Kunthak – No vanity.
Sil 9 – Ucha Sayanak – Must not sit or stand in a higher position than one’s social betters or elders.
Sil 10 – Cheat Roub Tarak – No touching of any kind of jewellery or precious metals.
Though very few people follow all 10 rules, Sam said many strive to attain a high level of discipline. "If all people reached Sil 5," he added, "the world would be happy, harmonious, and peaceful."
=============================================
Another article by Moeun Nhean about Mekong River

Attached media :
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