BATU, Indonesia. Photo by Jes Aznar

Saturday, June 30, 2007

feeling like a tomb raider

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - I woke up at 4:30 a.m. today to witness the sunrise from the monuments of Angkor.

Angkor Wat is one of my favorite temples here. It is a majestic complex filled with darkened doorways, Buddhist shrines illuminated only by the flicker of a candle, the smell of incense and carvings of gods and demons.

Angkor Wat is said to be the largest and best-preserved temple at the site. It was built for King Suryavarman II in the early 12th century as his state temple and capital city.

According to Wikipedia, Angkor Wat combines two basic plans of Khmer temple architecture: the temple mountain and the later galleried temples.

"It is designed to represent Mount Meru, home of the gods in Hindu mythology: within a moat and an outer wall 3.6 km (2.2 miles) long are three rectangular galleries, each raised above the next. At the centre of the temple stands a quincunx of towers."

I stayed in Angkor Wat for almost two hours, admiring its grandeur and magnificence. Inside, in the labyrinthine walkways and stone-carved walls, I almost heard the gods and the demons call each other. It is an experience more profound than I had expected.

for Asian and non-Asian souls

SIEM REAP, Cambodia - The minute the plane touched the runway here, I thought I was in Batanes.

The wide expanse of greenery surrounding the airport and the eerie silence of the countryside reminded me of that isolated yet soulful island on the northernmost tip of the Philippine archipelago.

I soon realized, however, that Cambodia is different. It is a city still struggling to embrace the modern world, to be a major part of the Southeast Asian fold, to survive and develop but most of all, to forget its past.

Cambodians, my guide here says, have huge gaps in their stories. There are long silences when one remembers the time of Pol Pot.

"He eliminated the powerful, those with knowledge and education of the outside world," says my guide as we go around the city on his tuk-tuk. He is unable to conceal his sadness.

To this day, he says, every Cambodian is struggling to earn a living while forgetting their bitter past.

I look around. School-age girls are everywhere, selling scarves and bags for a dollar or two. In Phnom Penh, my guide says, it is worst.

The girls sell themselves for two dollars or more in stinking brothels and in dark corners, my guide says. It's sad.

But despite its bitter past during the time of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia is very much a charming place. Asian and non-Asian souls can easily find their place here. The people are friendly and the smiles are warm.

The food is good, with a mixture of Asian spices and Western influence.

These days, people earn a living from the hordes of tourists that flock everyday to have a taste of this Southeast Asian country.

The age-old temples of Angkor Wat are one of the favorite tourist spots. I look forward to my visit there.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

12 hours in Malaysia

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - No, I didn't find the rainbow's end here for I only had twelve hours to spare. But Malaysia -- the little that I saw -- is a charming place. The people are friendly. The sun is out. It's a beautiful morning.

In search for the rainbow's end

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - I arrived here in the middle of the night. The streets are empty. I'm staying in a budget hotel run by a sweet couple. Still groggy from a tiring flight. I'm hoping for a good night's rest.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Mapping the future through the past

Profile: Raphael P.M. Lotilla

When he’s not attending to the country’s crucial power requirements, Energy Secretary Raphael P.M. Lotilla is on a constant journey.

It is a quest that has brought him from the deepest waters of the South China sea and the southernmost tip of Borneo to the much-disputed Spratly Islands.

But don’t be mistaken. Mr. Lotilla isn’t neglecting his job for adventure travel. His journey is not really physical.
The energy chief, not many people know, is a passionate map collector, an interest that has brought him to different parts of the world.

Through these maps and charts — a mixture of antiquarian and modern cartographic pieces which he has collected through the years — he has traveled to many places and through different periods in history.

He has been able to embark on a mental journey through these rare cartographic masterpieces which he has found in as disparate places as Spain and his great-grandfather’s baul.

And through these experiences, he has learned previously undiscovered truths about the Philippines and untold stories about the Filipinos as a people. His passion may be likened to that of an insatiable booklover who can be totally lost in the pages of a good novel. "It’s something like an armchair adventure... a substitute for real travel. It challenges your mind to go beyond what you see," he told BusinessWorld one afternoon as he shared his passion for map collection.

Experts say most map collectors have a theme for their collections. Some might be interested in exploration, others in highly decorative maps, others still in those related to certain events such as the Civil War.
Mr. Lotilla, for his part, is interested in Philippine maps and charts that reveal something about the country and its history.

Other people collect examples of many cartographers or a single cartographer but Mr. Lotilla said this isn’t his style.
"My collection has a function. I don’t just collect," he said.

One piece in his valued collection is a sea chart of anchorages and ports in Mindanao. About this particular piece, which dates back to 1870, Mr. Lotilla raves about the different islands of Zamboanga del Norte.

Some of these rare cartographic treasures fill Mr. Lotilla’s office at the Department of Energy inside Bonifacio Global City in Taguig. Unlike the walls of other executive offices, Mr. Lotilla’s are not covered with paintings or photographs, but with navigational charts, maps and sea charts that are all framed and preserved elegantly.

And somewhere beneath his stack of energy-related documents, oil exploration contracts and confidential memoranda, one can find rolls of antique maps, sea charts and even the modern plastic-covered maps used in schools today.
Mr. Lotilla refuses to reveal how much he spends on acquiring maps or the value of his cartographic pieces. He simply says that maps can range from as low as "three dollars to a thousand dollars."

Experts say a host of factors can affect the value of a map. There are more collectors of maps of some regions than others, affecting the size of the market and thus the value of maps of those areas. World maps, for instance, have a universal appeal. Some areas that have small populations but that are vacation destinations such as Bermuda, Malta and some of the islands of the West Indies are popular.

The value of maps is also affected by their historical importance. Other maps might depict an important battle or similar event. Generally, the closer such maps date to the event, the more importance and thus value they have.

More importantly, it is how rare a map is that makes it more valuable.

For Mr. Lotilla, the value of a map also depends on what it means to the collector. "How much value you put on a map really depends on that personal link you have with it," says Mr. Lotilla.

As he says this, he carefully unfolds a discolored piece of old paper. He is careful not to ruin it or to leave even slight marks on the sepia-colored piece.

"It is a sketch of my hometown that goes back to 1850," he said, pointing to the possible location of the ancestral house of the Lotilla family in Sibalom, Antique. He never knew this piece existed until a cousin found it among his great-grandfather’s belongings. It is a hand-drawn sketch, with the dark blue ink still very distinct.

As such, he said, maps can be as interesting as a sketch.

"I mean, who knows how your hometown must have looked like before?"

Mr. Lotilla then showcases an old folding map made of linen material, which he bought in San Sebastian, Spain.
And to find out who really has a claim on the much-disputed Spratly Islands, one only needs to look at Mr. Lotilla’s maps which may provide answers to age-old questions that have brought countries close to war. Mr. Lotilla dismisses this observation in jest but agrees that there may be no territorial disputes if only people would look back to the past.
The Spratly Islands, which are surrounded by rich fishing grounds and potentially by gas and oil deposits, are claimed in their entirety by China, Taiwan, and Vietnam, while portions are claimed by Malaysia and the Philippines.
"If only people would look back... There’s a wealth of knowledge in maps which you can actually use to look to the future," Mr. Lotilla said. "All of these studies show and reinforce that the Philippines has an undeniable entitlement to the seabed in these areas," he added.

Mr. Lotilla started collecting maps in the 1980s when he taught law at the University of the Philippines (UP).
Life as a law professor, he said, stirred his interest in maps and charts because of the legal interests that go with it.
He served as vice-president for Public Affairs of UP in 1991 and as Director of the Institute of International Legal Studies of the UP Law Center from 1989 to 1996. He was appointed Professor of Law in 1995.
Mr. Lotilla has always been interested in history. He holds undergraduate degrees in Psychology and History.

He joined the government in 1996 as deputy director-general of the National Economic Development Authority.
He then headed the Power Sector Assets and Liabilities Management Corp. before being appointed as the country’s Secretary of Energy.

All through these jobs, Mr. Lotilla was passionately collecting maps and charts.

"When I deliver a paper abroad, I make it a point to try to look for maps," he said.
Still, he refuses to consider himself a collector.

"I don’t have a treasure chest of maps. What I can say is that my focus is on the Philippines and the South China Sea," he said.
And from years of collecting these cartographic treasures, Mr. Lotilla has discovered that in the past, people were more concerned with passages and navigation and not with who owned which islands.
"I collect in pursuit of something real, which is to understand things about the Philippines," he said.

Does it relax him just as much as reading a good book relaxes a booklover?

Mr. Lotilla finds it difficult to explain the high he gets while studying maps. What’s clear, he said, is that it challenges him to think about the past and the future, about what could have been and what might be; about what is the truth and what is perceived to be the truth.

"A sea chart or map represents a congruence of science and mathematics... Seacharts are unique that they have latitude and longitude... On the other hand, you also have the aesthetic part of it...There are things to discover," he said.

Of greater value to him is the geopolitical significance.

"What is important is to understand Filipinos as an archipelagic people. It explains the kind of values that we have... It defines many of our problems and provides many of the solutions for this country," he said.

All told, Mr. Lotilla’s map collection is his source of mental challenge when he is not busy cracking his brains thinking about the country’s energy needs. It is a kind of mind game that gives him a high.

It is thus no surprise that despite his difficult job as energy chief, Mr. Lotilla always looks relaxed and cool.

One only needs to look at the walls of his office to realize that he can readily, albeit momentarily, take a respite from the stress of his job, embarking on a journey that will bring him to another place, at another time.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Ang Mga Nawawala by Jose F. Lacaba

Isang araw sila’y
nawala na lang at sukat.
May hindi pumasok sa opisina,
hindi sumipot sa apoyntment,
nang-indiyan ng kadeyt.
May hindi umuwi ng bahayat
hindi nakasalong pamilya sa hapunan,
hindi nakasiping ng kabiyak.
Ang inihaing ulam ay ligalig,
at ang inilatag na banigay ayaw dalawin ng antok.
Nang hanapin sila’ywalang masabiang kamag-anak at kaibigan,
walang ulat ang pulisya,walang malay ang militar.
Kung mayroon mang nakakitanang sila’y sunggabanng
malalaking lalakiat isakay sa dyip o kotse,
pabulong-bulong ang saksi,
at kung pakikiusapangtumestigo sa korte,
baka ito’y tumanggi.
Pagkaraan ng ilang araw,
o linggo, o buwan, o taon, pagkaraan ng maraming
maghapon at magdamag,
pagkaraang ang agam-agamay magparoo’t paritosa
mga manhid na pasilyoat ang pag-aasam-asamay
mapanis sa mga tanggapan,
pagkaraan ng luha’t tiyaga,
ang ilan sa kanila’ymuling lumitaw.
Lumitaw silasa bilangguan, sa bartolina,
sa kubling bahay na imbakanng ungol,
tili at panaghoy, himpilan ng mga
berdugongeksperto sa sanlibo’t isangistilo ng pagpapahirap.
Lumitaw silangbali ang buto o sira ang bait.
O kaya’y lumitaw silanglumulutang sa mabahong ilog,
o nakahandusay sa pampang,
o umaalingasawsa mga libingang mababawna hinukay ng mga asong gala.
Lumitaw silangmay gapos ang kamay at paana wala nang pintig,
o watak-watak ang kamay, paa, ulo, o tadtad ng butas ang bangkay,
likha ng bala o balaraw.
Ang iba’y hindi na lumitaw,hindi na kailanman lumitaw,
nawala na lang at sukat,walang labĂ­, walang bangkay,
hindi malaman kungbuhay o patay,
hindi mapaghanduganng lamayan, pasiyam, luksa,
hindi maipagbabang-luksa,hindi maipagtirik ng
kandilakung Todos los Santos.
Nakaposas pa ba silasa paa ng kinakalawang na
kamasa loob ng kuwartong may tanod,
busog sa bugbog,
binabagabag ng bangungot,
sumisipol kung nag-iisang “Saan Ka Man Naroroon,”
iniisip kung ano ang iniisipng magulang at anak,
kasintahan o kabiyak?
O sila ba’yumayaw na sa pakikibakaat nagbalik
sa dating buhay,o nagtaksil sa simulainat nagtatago
sa takot,o nag-asawang muliat nangibang-bayan,
o tinamaan ng amnisyaat lalaboy-laboy sa lansangan,
o lihim na namundokat nag-iba ng pangalan?
O sila ba’y pinagpapasasaan na ng uod?
Nag-ugat na ba ang talahibsa mga mata ng kanilang bungo?
Bahagi na ba silang kanilang lupang tinubuan,
ang lupang kanilang ipinaglaban?
Sinusulat ko itopara sa mga kakilalang hanggang ngayon
ay nawawala,para kina
Charlie del Rosario
at Caloy Tayagat
Manny Yapat
Henry Romero
at Jun Flores,
at Rudy Romano
sila na kahit hindi ko
nakilala nang husto ay alam kong naglingkod
sa api at hikahos.
Buhay man sila o patay,sa aking alaala’y mananatili silang buhay.

Monday, June 4, 2007

How to Climb Mountains

By Paulo Coehlo

Choose the mountain you want to climb: don’t pay attention to what other people say, such as “that one’s more beautiful” or “this one’s easier”. You’ll be spending lots of energy and enthusiasm to reach your objective, so you’re the only one responsible and you should be sure of what you’re doing.

Know how to get close to it: mountains are often seen from far off – beautiful, interesting, full of challenges. But what happens when we try to draw closer? Roads run all around them, flowers grow between you and your objective, what seemed so clear on the map is tough in real life. So try all the paths and all the tracks until eventually one day you’re standing in front of the top that you yearn to reach.

Learn from someone who has already been up there: no matter how unique you feel, there is always someone who has had the same dream before you and ended up leaving marks that can make your journey easier; places to hang the rope, trails, broken branches to make the walking easier. The climb is yours, so is the responsibility, but don’t forget that the experience of others can help a lot.

When seen up close, dangers are controllable: when you begin to climb the mountain of your dreams, pay attention to the surroundings. There are cliffs, of course. There are almost imperceptible cracks in the mountain rock. There are stones so polished by storms that they have become as slippery as ice. But if you know where you are placing each footstep, you will notice the traps and how to get around them.

The landscape changes, so enjoy it: of course, you have to have an objective in mind – to reach the top. But as you are going up, more things can be seen, and it’s no bother to stop now and again and enjoy the panorama around you. At every meter conquered, you can see a little further, so use this to discover things that you still had not noticed.

Respect your body: you can only climb a mountain if you give your body the attention it deserves. You have all the time that life grants you, as long as you walk without demanding what can’t be granted. If you go too fast you will grow tired and give up half way there. If you go too slow, night will fall and you will be lost. Enjoy the scenery, take delight in the cool spring water and the fruit that nature generously offers you, but keep on walking.

Respect your soul: don’t keep repeating “I’m going to make it”. Your soul already knows that, what it needs is to use the long journey to be able to grow, stretch along the horizon, touch the sky. An obsession does not help you at all to reach your objective, and even ends up taking the pleasure out of the climb. But pay attention: also, don’t keep saying “it’s harder than I thought”, because that will make you lose your inner strength.

Be prepared to climb one kilometer more: the way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think. Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near is still very far. But since you were prepared to go beyond, this is not really a problem.

Be happy when you reach the top: cry, clap your hands, shout to the four winds that you did it, let the wind - the wind is always blowing up there - purify your mind, refresh your tired and sweaty feet, open your eyes, clean the dust from your heart. It feels so good, what was just a dream before, a distant vision, is now part of your life, you did it!

Make a promise: now that you have discovered a force that you were not even aware of, tell yourself that from now on you will use this force for the rest of your days. Preferably, also promise to discover another mountain, and set off on another adventure.

Tell your story: yes, tell your story! Give your example. Tell everyone that it’s possible, and other people will then have the courage to face their own mountains.